Primary school children should be given sex and fertility education to help them make informed family-planning choices in later life, fertility specialists in the UK have said.
The recommendation came from speakers at the Fertility Health Summit: Choice not Chance event in London, which aimed to address ways to overcome a perceived lack of public understanding of age-related decline in fertility.
Dr Joyce Harper, professor of human genetics and embryology at the Institute for Women's Health at University College London, said that, regarding sex and fertility education: 'We need to start at primary school, maybe even younger. Yes, kids are going to ask about their anatomy […] so it's a good time, as a parent, to follow that on.'
Her views were echoed by Professor Adam Balen, chairman of the British Fertility Society, who helped organise the summit. 'We should look at three and four-year-olds being introduced to ideas about where babies come from,' he said.
The organisers also released details of a survey of 1000 16 to 24-year-olds, which they said revealed 'worrying gaps' in young people's understanding of reproductive health.
The survey showed that 80 percent of young people thought that female fertility only declines after the age of 35, whereas in fact it normally begins to decline during a woman's late 20s and then falls off more rapidly at 35.
Meanwhile, two-thirds of those surveyed thought that male fertility only starts to decline after the age of 40, with a third believing that the drop did not start until age 50. However, men normally also become less fertile in their late 20s, although the effect is less dramatic than for women.
'The findings of this survey confirm our fears that many young people encounter few opportunities to learn about their reproductive health until they try to conceive,' Professor Balen said.
At the conference, Professor Harper said that without robust sex and fertility education, young people would receive their first facts on the subject from internet sites or social media, where there is 'some really bad information'.