The misleading messages of fertility in the media and in our schools

Pregnancy test adverts show the happy heterosexual couples hugging over the ‘pregnant’ message that appears on the tiny screen they hold in their hands. They fail to show a diverse range of realities: the lesbian couple distraught after another failed self insemination, or those grieving after their 8th failed round of IVF.    

The message that having children is easy could be damaging to the futures of young people in school who don’t yet realise infertility statistics such as 1 in 7 couples are infertile and that ‘1 in 5 women are childless by midlife’. 

Last week Cambridge University made headlines with the revelation that female students will be told ‘not to leave having a family too late’. President Dorothy Byrne who is behind the fertility education seminars at the all female college Murray Edwards said she wanted to ‘stop young women from forgetting to have a baby’ after her own IVF experience.

The article caused controversy due to the mixed messages we are sent throughout our lives regarding sex and fertility. 


Guardian columnist Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett reacted to the article in a Tweet:

‘People when you’re a teenage girl: DO NOT GET PREGNANT. If you get pregnant, it will ruin your life. People when you’re a woman in your twenties: GET PREGNANT! If you leave it too late, it will ruin your life. People to men of all ages: You just keep on doing you.’
How can we change the narrative around fertility education in schools?

Professor Joyce Harper is co-founder of The Fertility Education Initiative  and author of Your Fertile Years, a book that addresses the misconceptions around fertility- a guide from puberty through to menopause. Harper, who is Professor of Reproductive Science at UCL has, along with her colleagues, campaigned for fertility education to be included in Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) lessons. 

RSE lessons must now include ‘the facts about reproductive health…and the potential impact of lifestyle on fertility for men and women and menopause.’ 

Joyce Harper is preparing for a UK tour of schools to talk about fertility. 

Your school can be a part of this

Joyce Harper is looking for a more year 12 or 13 students to participate in the survey. In the survey they will reflect upon the RSE they have received in school; it identifies gaps of knowledge and quizzes the students on:

  • their understanding of reproductive health
  • their future family wishes 
  • their concerns with their ability to have children in the future (if desired)

The Fertility Education Initiative have said: ’We want to understand 16-18 year olds knowledge and attitudes to having a family in the future. Question on sex education, fertility education and reproduction will be asked to understand what you already know about fertility, and what you think about your future’

To get involved

To involve your 6th formers in Professor Harper’s survey and to help change the future of fertility education in schools contact 

If you would like to Joyce Harper to come to your school to talk fertility then you can contact her directly via Twitter @ProfJoyceHarper or Instagram profjoyceharper

What do you want your students to know about fertility?