Teens should be taught fertility is time-limited with TikTok videos explaining how ‘ovaries wear out’, claims Government’s women’s health tsar
- Dame Lesley Regan said society needed to ‘do a lot more’ to prepare teenagers
- Research shows women are at their most fertile in their twenties, data shows
- But fertility begins to decline after the age of 30 and drops off sharply after 35
- Men’s fertility also declines over time, particularly after the age of 45
- READ: From pineapples to herbal teas, TikTok’s fertility myths laid bare
Professor Dame Lesley Regan suggested young women should be able to watch TikTok videos which explained to them that ‘ovaries get worn out’, to help them ‘take charge of their fertility’
Teenagers should be taught in school and on TikTok that their fertility is time-limited, the Government’s women’s health ambassador has said.
Professor Dame Lesley Regan suggested young women should be able to watch TikTok videos which explained to them that ‘ovaries get worn out’, to help them ‘take charge of their fertility’.
Research shows women are at their most fertile in their twenties but, on average, fertility begins to decline after the age of 30 and drops off sharply after 35.
Men’s fertility also declines over time, particularly after the age of 45.
In 2020, the average age a woman had her first child in the UK was at a record high of 30.7 years, up from 26.4 in the mid-1970s, according to the latest official statistics.
Speaking at the annual conference of the fertility charity Progress Educational Trust (PET), Dame Lesley said society needed to ‘do a lot more’ to help prepare teenagers for adulthood, including spreading educational messages about fertility in magazines and on social media.
‘We need TikTok videos don’t we, and all of those sorts of things [like]: ‘Remember that your ovaries get worn out or they get tired or they get too old’,’ she added.
‘We’ve got to impress on them [young people] the importance of all of those things and of taking charge of their fertility, either to explore it or to or to curtail it.
‘So, I think the education side of it is absolutely crucial. And I don’t think it should just be schools, I think it should be all of us in society making sure that we give adolescents the tools that they need to make the best decisions for themselves later in life – and I include the boys in that as well as the girls.’
World Health Organization scientist Dr Gitau Mburu said if a teenager was old enough to be taught about contraception and avoiding unplanned pregnancy, then they were ready to be taught about the limits to their fertility potential.
What is infertility?
Infertility is when a couple cannot get pregnant despite having regular unprotected sex.
It affects one in seven couples in the UK – around 3.5 million people.
About 84 per cent of couples will conceive within a year if they have unprotected sex every two or three days.
Some will conceive quicker, and others later – people should visit their GP if they are concerned about their fertility.
Some treatments for infertility include medical treatment, surgery, or assisted conception, including IVF.
Infertility can affect men and women, and risk factors include age, obesity, smoking, alcohol, some sexually transmitted infections, and stress.
Fertility in both genders decreases with age – most rapidly in their 30s.
He told the online event: ‘We do need to try to try to engage them [young people]. It doesn’t have to be bombarding them with: ‘Plan your fertility now’, that’s not what we are saying. But they need to have some age-appropriate information, using the right language, to pass on that information – as we need to break the barriers.’
Julia Chain, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), said she had spoken to many ‘independent young women’ who didn’t fully appreciate that fertility wasn’t guaranteed, despite modern advances in fertility technologies, such as egg freezing.
‘[It needs to be explained] to young women that actually fertility is something that is time-limited, and that whether you freeze your eggs or whatever you do, there is no guarantee that at the end of it that you will have a baby – and that you cannot take your fertility for granted and be sure of success, like [you can] in many other areas of your life,’ she told the conference.
The head of the UK’s fertility regulator also warned long NHS waiting lists were affecting couples’ chances of having a baby because many were being forced to delay starting fertility treatment.
She said: ‘We know that post-pandemic, with NHS waiting lists growing ever longer, many patients who might require interventions before they can start treatment might be hugely disadvantaged if they have a long wait.
‘It means they’re older when they start fertility treatment, with the result that their chances of success reduce… The chance of a successful birth decreases with a woman’s age, so time really is of the essence.’
She said the health service should prioritise giving care that women needed before accessing fertility treatment, such as removal of fibroids – growths inside the womb.
These serious issues were often ‘put on the back burner’ by the healthcare system because they were not life-threatening, but the complications that arose as a result cost the NHS much more, she warned.
She added: ‘The longer a woman has to wait before she can access treatment, not only the less successful the outcome, but also the more cycles or interventions she might need – all of them cost a lot more and take a lot more time.’