To empower the next generation, they need a greater understanding of fertility. We chat to Professor Geeta Nargund, Medical Director of CREATE Fertility to discuss.
Infertility has now been found to affect 1 in 7 couples yet, despite growing discussion, for many young people there is still a significant gap in understanding fertility and the factors that may impact it. Amendments to the Sex & Relationships curriculum in 2020 mean it now includes some aspects of fertility, but much more needs to be done to empower young men and women with the knowledge they need to protect their natural fertility and or take steps to access early diagnosis and treatment if they experience delay in conceiving naturally.
By highlighting the causes of infertility with education, we can shift the paradigm from one of treatment to prevention of infertility, as well as alter the misconception that fertility is a woman’s issue.
So, what should young men and women be made aware of?
The effect of age and the biological clock on fertility is a particularly important factor, for both men and women. The quality of women’s eggs declines as they get older, particularly after the age of 30. However, male infertility actually contributes to roughly half of couples’ issues when conceiving, as their fertility also starts to decline past the age of 40. Men are also in need of education about their fertility health, as past the age of 45, the quality and quantity of their sperm deteriorates and will carry a higher risk of miscarriage as well as conditions such as autism and ADHD in children. Young people must also be made aware of lifestyle choices, medical and genetic conditions that can affect their fertility. Sexually transmitted diseases can lead to fallopian tubal blockage in women and smoking can contribute to deterioration in sperm and egg quality, as can a sedentary lifestyle – eating healthily and exercising regularly both have a positive effect on fertility. Women with a family history of early menopause are more likely to end up with an early menopause. Fertility education is a comprehensive education to empower both boys and girls with the knowledge about their reproductive choices.
According to the ONS, the number of women having children before the age of 30 is falling, meaning that the longer women wait to have children, the more likely they will be to need fertility treatment to conceive. It is important to make the distinction that women do not simply forget to have children when they are working, but by introducing effective fertility education we empower women with the knowledge needed to protect their fertility, so they do not have to choose between the two.
Therefore, as well as making positive lifestyle choices, technologies such as egg freezing are transformational in enabling women to bank healthier eggs when they are younger if they are not ready to start a family and use them when the time is right for them to consider motherhood. Egg freezing does not offer a guarantee, but it offers a choice for women to plan their family and career. The modern vitrification (fast freezing) technology has helped to improve success rates of egg freezing. But women need to have medical consultation to help them make an informed decision.
I launched fertility education in some secondary schools in London some years ago but if
we want to make a real difference, fertility education should be part of the national curriculum in secondary schools.
Knowledge is power and let’s empower our next generation with fertility education, so that they can make informed decisions about their life choices.