Teenage girls and boys should be taught they will not be fertile forever, the women’s health ambassador says.
Professor Dame Lesley Regan said they should watch videos explaining that “ovaries get worn out” so they can “take charge of their fertility”.
Regan is a former president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and a professor at Imperial College London.
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, particularly after the age of 45.
In 2020 the average age at which 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.
Regan told the annual conference of the fertility charity Progress Educational Trust, that society needed to “do a lot more” to help to 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: ‘Remember that your ovaries get worn out or they get tired or they get too old’. 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 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.”
Dr Gitau Mburu, of the World Health Organisation, said: “We do need 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, chairwoman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said that long NHS waiting lists were affecting couples’ chances of having a baby because many were being forced to delay starting fertility treatment.
She said that the NHS should prioritise giving care that women needed before accessing fertility treatment, such as removal of fibroids.