Here's a crazy idea: What if all kids, boys and girls, were required to learn about reproductive health?
If your ears automatically translated “reproductive health” to “sex,” then I suggest you fall in line with the class, too.
Everyone knows that “SEX EDUCATION” is a hot topic of public and political debate. I'm not talking about teaching kids about sex. They get plenty of that now from the media. I'm suggesting we step up whatever they call it nowadays in some places – hygiene? Health class? – so that girls learn about more than menstruation and boys learn about more than... whatever it is they learn about in those classes (nocturnal emissions?) And that those classes need to be more than a one-shot attempt at vaccinating our children against unplanned pregnancy.
Okay, Junior High happened for me well before the Internet, I'll give you that. But from my work in infertility, it seems to me that either reproductive health classes aren't happening at all or classes that are supposed to be covering that topic are failing woefully. If young women are seeing the same shtick that I did in the 1970's, then they're getting an eye-full of how to handle your period with the right name-brand products plus a fleeting mention of how the menstrual cycle is related to getting pregnant. That's not reproductive health education, folks.
Most cases of female infertility (and some of the male-factor cases, too) that are seen in specialists' clinics today started off as preventable conditions. And just like every other thing in this fix-it-now society of ours, the focus has been so intensely on getting those folks pregnant after the fact, that most attempts at prevention education have been half-hearted at best.
Hold up, you're saying – this is old news. True, and there are already a lot of existing organizations and services with the goal of “reproductive health”, but you and I both know that most of that is focused on contraception. Nothing wrong with that. It's good, even. But zeroing in on contraception is either short-sighted or not connecting the dots to the bigger picture. I know that big NGOs and smaller agencies have their hands full with the relateds – HIV & other STD prevention, the legal and social rights related to gender, sexuality, and healthcare, and contraception, contraception, contraception. But take a look at this little post on the International Planned Parenthood Federation website and you might get an idea of how education about fertility (or infertility) gets lost in the shuffle.
So what, you say – isn't it more important to prevent pregnancy than to promote it, overall? No way could I address that directly without a firestorm ensuing. But I will add this to that: The Fertility Industry is a several-billion dollar industry of elective medicine. (I know that “elective” sounds caustic to some fertility patients' ears, but let's be honest here – you won't die or even be physically debilitated if your infertility is left untreated.) That a handful of physicians and their staff and all the people swirling around their energy are able to make a very good living off of helping people get pregnant is not wrong, in and of itself. What is wrong is our seeming disinterest in taking the cart and putting it behind the horse again. It's not just a bass-ackward waste of energy to put all of our focus on how well the cart wheels turn; the horse that's supposed to pull it is not only behind the cart, it's practically starving to death.
In short, people reach reproductive age without a clue as to how their own bodies work, let alone how those bodies function when they are sexually active with a partner. The result is not just unplanned pregnancy. The result is plainly growing numbers of inability to achieve pregnancy even when it is very thoroughly planned. And both are preventable with comprehensive reproductive health education.
So, you ask: what the heck made your coffee bitter this morning? It might seem unrelated, but you know me... all roads seem to lead to this industry. Here's what set me off today: a report issued by the CDC that reveals one percent of pregnant women binge drink, i.e. have 4 or more drinks on one occasion.
Um. Infertility... pregnant women drinking... um...
Okay, here's my mind today: I saw the report and immediately raced to “Other than maybe someone with alcoholism, seems to me I cannot imagine a single woman I've ever known who went through infertility later binge drinking during her kid's gestation period.”
From there, it was just a quick step to “What we should try is having infertility patients – current and past – teaching young people about reproductive health! That might add some emphasis to self-care before and during pregnancy!”
And that's how a rant is born. But you have to admit, I have a point.