Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die
7th July 2018
Public Health England published their first ever report on reproductive health last week. It raised a very important point – women of all ages cited school as the place where they had gained most of their knowledge about their reproductive health. But the information they received was basic and out of touch with their lived experience.
We all know the famous Mean Girls quote “don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die.” And in fact, for most us, our sex education probably wasn’t far off that. Fuelling years of anxiety that we might be pregnant.
The reality of trying to get pregnant
The report finds that for most women, preventing pregnancy was the most important reproductive issue throughout most of their lives. But this awareness of the need to prevent pregnancy means women lack an understanding of what the process of trying to get pregnant is likely to be like:
“You spend years not trying to get pregnant, and then when you’re trying to get pregnant, you think it’s just going to happen.”
In fact, it normal for it take up to a year for women to conceive. And one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, and one in seven couples experience infertility.
Yet we are not preparing women to understand the reality of these challenges, and how they can be proactive in managing their fertility and pregnancy health. Instead, women feel unable to speak up about these challenges and confused about what to do next.
An increasing trend
More and more women are having children later, for a variety of reasons. PHE found that women experienced conflicts between their own personal preferences about having children, relationships, career and financial pressures against broader societal expectations of whether and when pregnancy is expected to happen.
“You go to primary schools, you see a lot of the parents are quite older…you know it’s (because of) career choices…”
In particular there was a perception that not having children or having them later was negatively viewed – particularly by healthcare providers.
“My GP just said, ‘well you should have had your children earlier…you’re going to find it very difficult now. You’re just about to hit 30. The optimal time is about 22.”
Women felt that societal, social and personal expectations made it more difficult to make individual choices freely and seek appropriate care. For example, women could feel judged when seeking care if they believed that they could be seen to have made a poor reproductive choices (such as obtaining emergency contraception or information about abortion or sexually transmitted infections). Equally they might feel embarrassed that they had failed to fulfil a proscribed female role.
“If you can’t carry a child, you’re not a mum, you’re not a woman.”
This is just not acceptable – no woman should feel judged or ashamed about their reproductive health choices. They have the right to choose, and must feel empowered with the right education to make those choices.