Would fertility education in schools be a good thing?
A recent survey of more than a thousand young people in the UK found that most weren’t aware of when their fertility might begin to decline
Would knowing more about your fertility from an early age have made a difference to you? Do you think it would be helpful if fertility education was on the curriculum for every school pupil? It’s an argument that has been the subject of much recent debate, but what are the pros and cons of teaching children about their fertility?
What do young people know?
The first question to answer is whether young people currently know enough about their future fertility. With the endless stories in the media about the risks of “leaving it too late”, one might expect youngsters to have informed views about their biological clocks.
In fact, a recent survey of more than a thousand young people in the UK found that most weren’t aware of when their fertility might begin to decline, and this isn’t the first study to come to this conclusion. Young people also tend to overestimate the chances of getting pregnant each month and to underestimate the risk of miscarriage. They are not always aware of the way that lifestyle factors such as diet, weight, alcohol and drug consumption may affect fertility, and many do now know about the fertility risks from sexually-transmitted infections.
The case against fertility education
So why not teach youngsters more about their fertility at school to ensure they are properly informed? Those who are against the idea fear that teaching school pupils anything about infertility could lead to increases in the rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections. It is thought that young people might take more risks if they are taught that getting pregnant is not always as easy as they anticipate.
Others suggest that mentioning infertility at school will add to existing pressures on young people. They believe talking about the subject would mean throwing adult concerns at school pupils who are at an age when they should be carefree and enjoying life rather than focusing on worries about possible problems in the future.
Women today are often not ready to have children at the time when they may be most biologically suited for motherhood. With more and more females entering higher education, it is simply not realistic to expect them all to be having children in their twenties. Economic security, finding a home and a partner may all be obstacles to parenthood and knowing that your biological clock is ticking does not make any of this easier.
The case for fertility education
Many of those in favour of putting fertility into the school curriculum work with people who are experiencing fertility problems, and see at first hand the way that misinformation can affect choices Although adults may be aware of the effects of age on their fertility, many are over-optimistic about what fertility treatment may be able to achieve. They are sometimes surprised to learn that IVF success rates decline as you get older too, and that treatment with donor eggs may be the best option for most women after a certain age.
The proposals for fertility education are not focused on teaching children about infertility, but rather about teaching them fertility awareness so that they understand more about their bodies and how they work. The aim would be to help young people have a good knowledge of fertility and reproductive health so they are equipped with the right information to make informed choices about their own futures.
Writer and journalist
Kate Brian is a journalist, writer and author of four books on motherhood and fertility, including The Complete Guide to IVF. Kate started writing about the patient perspective on infertility after having IVF herself.
Currently, she contributes to various types of media as an expert on fertility and writes her own blog, where she gives all the latest news and views on fertility issues, as well as useful advice and links for anyone trying to have a baby.