The FEI (Fertility Education Initiative) has told the government, as exposed by the The Times last week, that we should all be teaching women how and when to get pregnant.
Over the last few decades the percentage of teenage pregnancies has rapidly decreased. In 2005, it fell to 21 un-planned pregnancies in 1,000 – half of what it was in the 1990’s. These figures serve to prove what sex education set out to do: curb the number of accidental or unthought-out pregnancies, which can scar women and stigmatise the act of sex for the rest of their lives.
Having been made to feel like they can wait, biding their time and being justly cautious when it comes to contraception, sex education has been successful in allowing women to understand the gravitas of becoming pregnant before they’re ready.
But now, it seems that doctors are worried we might be heading towards the opposite extreme. According to medical professionals, we are now seeing a generation of disillusioned thirty-something women, who are struggling to get pregnant past the age of 35.
With the average age of conception rising to 30, a 4-year increase from the 1970’s, women aren’t feeling the sense of urgency their elders once felt growing up, encouraged to live their lives for themselves and compete with the men dominating high-power jobs in top-grossing industries.
With this new, progressive attitude to sex and childbearing being cast as negative and unnatural, many would argue that such a backlash to the ‘modern woman’ is undoing decades of hard work. The number of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies is at an all-time high, but it is still far too low, with only 6.4% of women directing these growing companies. If the government decides to back-track on the kind of sex education we have offered thus far, it may jeopardise this already-depleted percentage.
Despite the decrease in teenage pregnancies in schools, and the increase in female leaders in the workplace since the introduction of sex education, scientists still believe that taking away the urgency to conceive young will damage women’s chances to have children all-together.
Most worryingly, it seems that national research has exposed an alarming misconception over the success rate of IVF. Jessica Hepburn, an unsuccessful IVF user, and now a campaigner for the FEI, told The Times that young people “urgently deserve the full story about fertility and its limits, so that they can make informed decisions about their future…They’ve heard things in the media about egg freezing and IVF but don’t really understand what these things entail, the costs or the limits of the science.”
At Kings College Hospital, freezing your eggs costs £2,500, then an additional £250 annually for storage past 24 months. Eleanor Morgan decided to freeze her eggs after her fallopian tubes became scarred due to a ruptured appendix. Morgan bared all to The Guardian, describing the overpowering amounts of oestrogen that are pumped around your body daily, the rapid decline you see in your mental health, and the menacing thick needle that they inject through your vaginal wall each time they retrieve your eggs.
You don’t just chuck them in your freezer like a frozen pizza, as one housewife in Cheshire so candidly put it over dinner with other forty-something housewives on ITV2.
Whilst the trauma of IVF and freezing your eggs should be exposed as common knowledge, the government will have to be careful in how they approach the topic with young girls. It needs to be careful not to conflate the ambitions of a ‘modern woman’ with the sterility of unnatural pregnancy.
Many women have, and continue to do, both. As a society, therefore, it is vital that we give our younger generation balanced choice, with all the honest evidence we can provide.
The main message from professionals seems to be that IVF and egg-freezing should not be a woman’s only alternatives to premature motherhood. When we listen to the media throw around the phrases “egg freezing” and “IVF” as if it’s some sort of revolutionary solution to the apparent sell-by date on our fertility, we have a duty to take these flippant references in our stride.
We don’t need to teach our girls how to get pregnant, we just need to have far more frank and open discussions about the options they have from an earlier age. The government has a clear responsibility here to keep sex education relevant, explaining more than just the birds and the bees. Now fertility is becoming a part of advanced medical technology, sex education needs to mirror this, and keep up with the changing times. Unfortunately, a practical tutorial on how to put a condom on a banana just won’t cut it in 2018.