. PSHEeducation | Fertility education required?
PSHEeducation

18/05/15
More young women are inquiring about egg freezing procedures in Britain than ever before. Professor Geeta Nargund calls on the government to start teaching our schoolgirls (and boys) about fertility in the classroom.
By Professor Geeta Nargund, Medical director of Create Fertility

Britain is facing a fertility time bomb. Around one in six couples now have trouble conceiving.

Infertility can be distressing for all affected – but particularly the woman. It can be made all the more agonising by the knowledge that, had they been armed with more information at an earlier stage, any problems might have been avoided.

Through my work at St George’s Hospital and at my own IVF clinic, I have witnessed the shock and agony on the faces of women who realise they have left it too late to start a family.

For many of them the news comes as a genuine surprise and the sense of devastation and regret can be overwhelming.

These experiences are a world away from the everyday concerns of secondary school pupils. But in my opinion educating our young people about their fertility is the first step towards preventing infertility.

The heartache I have seen has made me determined to do what I can to push for changes in education that will help young women take control of their fertility.

We have been successful in reducing teenage pregnancies through education on contraception – conception rates in England and Wales are now at their lowest since records began (although there’s still a need for well-rounded ‘relationships education’ for the internet age).

We must give girls the option to plan fertility like their careers (Alamy)

But conception and contraception are two sides of the same coin.

We need to empower our young people by providing them with fertility education, so they can plan when to have a family, just as they might plan their career path.

Addressing fertility can give young women the power to ‘have it all.’ This is only possible when women have accurate information about their fertility health, giving them the chance to think ahead.

At the most basic level young women (and men) need to understand the fundamental facts about their fertility.

Facts that seem familiar to us – such as the decline of female fertility from the age of 35 - are little known among secondary school children.

In my role as a school governor, I’ve seen that there is even less awareness that issues such body weight, smoking, alcohol, drugs, STDs and thyroid problems can have a direct effect on fertility.

I would advise young women to find out more about their own family history. I’d urge them to speak to their mothers openly: knowing her age of menopause can give a broad indication of your own likely fertility window.

Egg freezing inquiries have risen by 400 per cent

The next generation deserves better. They have a right to up to date, accurate, unbiased information on the technology available.

This should cover modern fertility testing – where results are now available much faster in a ‘one-stop’ test; safer 'mild IVF' that uses lower doses of fertility drugs; and new egg freezing techniques.

Soaring numbers of young women are now inquiring about putting their eggs on ice – interest has risen by 400 per cent over the past year.

We owe it to girls to educate them in the option of preserving their fertility and tell them what it involves, whether they want to delay motherhood for medical or social reasons.

Above all else, this is an issue of gender equality.

It’s a debate that rightly focuses on equal pay and job opportunities. But for women to thrive in the workplace, health equality is also essential. It’s something that companies such as Apple and Facebook have recognised – offering their female employees egg freezing as a benefit.

New technology means women are a step closer to achieving equality, by being able to preserve their fertility for a later stage in their lives. But such technology is only useful if girls and young are educated about their options. We need to prepare them for happier and healthier lives across the board.

This is something which touches on us all. The cost burden to the NHS of providing IVF treatment stands at some £400 million, and is only set to rise. Some of this could be avoided by early education.

To this end I am a calling on the government to add fertility - as part of sex education or 'life lesson' classes - to the secondary school curriculum.

I believe that complete reproductive education, including fertility issues, is the right of all our young people.

We need to shift the conversation from treatment to prevention in fertility as a matter of urgency. It's something that could take up to a generation to achieve. We must start now. [The Telegraph

*Professor Geeta Nargund is founder and medical director of Create Fertility, and Senior Consultant Gynaecologist and Lead Consultant for Reproductive Medicine services at St George’s Hospital, London.