The Birds, the Bees and Fertility Treatment: A Sting in the Tale?

Progress Educational Trust
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 27 Sussex Place, Regent's Park, London NW1 4RG
13 April 2016
This public event was organised by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) and sponsored by the British Fertility Society, and was held at University College London's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
An evening event about sex education, schools and (in)fertility, organised by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) and sponsored by the British Fertility Society.
'If one in seven of us in the modern world is going to have problems with infertility then instead of all the teaching at school being about how to stop getting pregnant someone had better start teaching about how you do get pregnant, because there are going to be a lot of extremely disappointed people out there.' So said the late Lisa Jardine, who began her tenure as Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority by calling for a focus on infertility in secondary education.
Under the 1996 and 2002 Education Acts, certain aspects of sex and relationships education (SRE) are mandatory for schools to teach and for pupils to learn, as part of the science curriculum. Other aspects of SRE fall under personal, social and health education (PSHE), and these are optional. Schools delivering SRE in either category are obliged to refer to Sex and Relationship Education Guidance, a Government document published in 2000, which has not been updated since.
The only reference to fertility in the 2000 guidance is to 'some medical uses of hormones, including the control and promotion of fertility'. Conspicuous by its absence is any reference to fertility over the human lifespan, and how it declines with age - sometimes sharply, and sometimes prematurely. Some have argued, along similar lines to Lisa Jardine, that this omission should be remedied and that it is vital to discuss (in)fertility in schools. Initiatives to date have included a pilot scheme in south-west London, where fertility is being discussed in school lessons.
Not everyone agrees with this approach. Some argue that fertility is not - or at least, should not be - a concern for the average teenager. Teaching youngsters about fertility is perceived by some to be at best a distraction from, and at worst an undermining of, the aim of avoiding teenage pregnancy (and offering options when this occurs). There are also concerns that fertility lessons will add to already unhelpful pressure on women to have children earlier in life, and concerns that such anxiety serves the commercial interests of fertility clinics - particularly at a time when egg freezing is being widely promoted as a means of postponing motherhood.
This argument takes place in a wider context of heated political debates about SRE. There have been campaigns and calls from across the political parties for the 2000 guidance to be updated, thus far to no avail. There have also been calls - most recently from four House of Commons Select Committees - for either PSHE in general or SRE within PSHE to be made mandatory for schools to teach (even if parents can still choose to withdraw pupils from lessons). In February 2016, however, the Government announced that PSHE would remain optional for the foreseeable future.
Should (in)fertility - in the context of reproductive choices - be a specific and integral part of secondary school education? If so, then how we should we - and how shouldn't we - go about teaching it?

Dr Melanie Davies
Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at University College Hospital's Reproductive Medicine Unit, and at the Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health
Helen Fraser
Chief Executive of the Girls' Day School Trust, and former Managing Director of Penguin Books
Justin Hancock
Sex and Relationships Educator at Bish and Bish Training, and Trustee at Sexpression:UK
Susan Seenan
Chief Executive of Infertility Network UK, and Co-Chair of Fertility Fairness

Professor Adam Balen
Chair of the British Fertility Society, and Consultant in Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at the Leeds Centre for Reproductive Medicine

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