The sex educators preaching to our teenagers are beginning to realise that, if they want young people to view having babies in a positive light, they might have to change their focus from simply drumming home how not to get pregnant.
Having reached the grand old age of 31 this week, I am increasingly encountering friends who are not finding it quite as easy to get pregnant as they had always thought it would be. For many, there is a mind shift from babies as something to be avoided at all costs (a mind-set many have drummed into them through their teens), to a desperate desire to get pregnant and the realisation that children are a gift and that fertility is not forever.
Recently, Sex and Society, the non-profit group that provides much of Denmark’s sex education, has adjusted its curriculum. It has gone from a sole emphasis on how to prevent getting pregnant to one which now also talks about pregnancy in a more positive light. Marianne Lomholt, the national director of the group, comments:
“For many, many years, we only talked about safe sex, how to prevent getting pregnant. Suddenly we just thought, maybe we should actually also tell them about how to get pregnant.”
The change reflects the growing concern in much of the world that women are not having many babies. In Denmark, the birthrate has been below the replacement rate needed to keep a population from declining — just over two children per woman — since the early 1970s. It is not the only one. We have discussed the dire situation that Japan, Italy and numerous other countries find themselves in many times over on this blog.
In March last year, I discussed Lord Winston of Hammersmith’s visit to New Zealand in a bid to educate New Zealand students about infertility and the dangers of waiting too long to have children. New Zealand’s fertility rate has averaged just below replacement rate over the last few decades (while still low, it is currently one of the higher rates in the developed world). That article commented that:
It’s interesting – and a little ironic – that the fertility expert, who pioneered IVF while it was still in its trial stages, is now warning that the rapid advance in reproductive technologies is making people too complacent about having children.
In Japan, too, a leading obstetrician and infertility expert has recognised the need for a shift, commenting that:
“Japanese sex education is all about birth control … it seems to me it also needs to be taught that under 30 is the most suitable time of life for women to begin giving birth.”
Really, sex education for students should go even further to recognise the immense value of motherhood itself, and the incredible gift that children are. In fact, education as a whole should acknowledge that women will someday most likely be mothers. For students, this might quite validly affect career plans and the subjects taken at high school level. It would be worthwhile for teenagers, both male and female, to think about the sorts of careers that might suit their desired family life, or that offer engaging part time work if that is what might be wanted in the future. Research has found that students are highly influenced by their teachers when choosing a career path. We do students a disservice if we choose to ignore that family life will likely be a huge part of their lives.
I, for one, chose to do a law degree (albeit wanting at the time to do journalism with it) with very little knowledge or research of the realities of the long hours of corporate legal jobs and little regard for how part time work might one day balance with children. Currently having two young children, I can’t imagine myself wanting to work full time again for many years to come. Wouldn’t it be beneficial for our students to at least be encouraged to consider these factors if we want them to choose to have families and to raise our future citizens well? Many women find themselves lost upon having their first baby – no wonder, if their entire education to date has focussed only on the importance of career, and never on the importance of family and home life.
Students should be encouraged to recognise from an early age that family life is immensely valuable both economically and socially. Maybe then we wouldn’t find ourselves with such dire fertility rates. It is encouraging that we are beginning to see a change.