Women’s reproductive health, as it is gingerly called, has now been reduced to the right to an abortion. Supporters of Planned Parenthood insist that they want women to be able to choose when they are going to get pregnant, but sex education in schools today centers primarily on how not to get pregnant, how not to stay pregnant, how not to contract an STD and how to gain the most sexual pleasure.
What is missing from this picture? Procreation. Whatever they are peddling over at Planned Parenthood, children in American schools today are taught very little about procreation. One understands the rationale: procreation is what the dimwits are now calling heteronormativity. Thus, we are not allowed to connect sex with reproduction, because we do not want gays and the transgendered feel that their sexuality is somehow different.
For all the talk about reproductive choice, the only choice that contemporary culture warriors respect is the choice not to have a child. Unless, of course, the woman is in her late forties and magically conceives—with significant help from reproductive endocrinologists.
Freezing eggs is fine and good. Hormone treatments are great. Egg donors are wonderful. What is not wonderful is a young woman having a child the old-fashioned way.
Women have been hearing about the biological clock for decades now, but somehow the message has not gotten through. Thus, it comes as something of a surprise when actress Katherine Heigl gets pregnant for the first time at 37 and announces to the world that she and her husband were surprised that she still could. Apparently, her conscientious ob-gyn gave her information that many American women have been at pains to repress: namely that after age 35 female fertility declines precipitously.
Since male fertility does not obey the same timeline, culture warriors have worked hard to ignore the fact, lest anyone imagine that men and women are somehow biologically different.
As Bethany Mandel points out in an article about female fertility, sex education in American schools has systematically repressed the connection between sex and reproduction. It has emphasized: enjoying sex, not contracting an STD and avoiding pregnancy.
… what has been missing from health education in most schools for decades isn’t how to avoid becoming pregnant, but how to get pregnant, when the time is right. Instruction on birth control methods and the horrors of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) form the entire curriculum, but few women are taught the mechanics of their own fertility cycles, or anything about the realities of their biological clocks.
Young women know all about the shades of grey. Many of them have learned about sex education from watching porn or even from starring in their own porn movies. They know everything there is to know about pleasuring themselves. Yet, they know very little about their own fertility and do not much care to know.
This should not come as a surprise. Women today are brought up to put career ahead of family. They are taught that they must not get married young and must not have children young. Thus the norm for marriage and childbearing has extended into a woman’s thirties. From a feminist perspective, this is the only acceptable choice.
Of course, a woman who has a free and open sex life in her twenties is more likely to contract an STD. Some of the STDs compromise fertility. Yes, condoms help, but condoms are not foolproof and many young hookup artists are frankly behaving like fools. Telling women that using a condom will protect them against all STDs is a lie… and a lie that might cost them their fertility.
Mandel points out that thirtysomething women first start becoming fully conscious of fertility when they hear about failed pregnancies.
With friends getting hitched and gestating left and right, women start hearing things we were never taught about school: most notably, that sometimes, for some women, getting pregnant isn’t so easy after all. We hear from married friends facing difficulties starting families, and we hear about infertility and miscarriage, which are more common than most millennials imagine. One in ten couples will face infertility, and as many as one in three pregnancies will end in miscarriage.
It’s not just about age. When women have careers that demand long hours and extensive travel, procreation becomes far more difficult. A stressed-out female body will have more difficulty conceiving or carrying to term.
Of course, no one discusses the point. Men do not have the same problem and we do not want anyone thinking that men and women are different. Besides, women must work as hard as men do, and therefore asking a woman to slow down in order to facilitate fertility must be considered sexist.
As for the biological clock, Mandel describes its reality:
Fertility, the ability to get pregnant, goes into a steep decline around age thirty-five, and the risks of pregnancy increase beginning at the same age. At thirty-five, it becomes harder to become pregnant, harder to stay pregnant (miscarriage risk increases), and harder to have a healthy baby (birth defect rates also increase with maternal and paternal age). The number of eggs (women are born with a finite number) depletes, and the quality of the ones that remain decreases over time.
Of course, it is not just what is taught in the schools. Celebrity culture, Mandel notes, has been regaling us with stories of women in their late 40s or later who have gotten pregnant:
Celebrity culture offers us a seemingly endless number of stars who are apparently untouched by age-related fertility problems. This Mother’s Day, for example, Janet Jackson had extra reason to celebrate. At fifty years old, she was pregnant with her first child. Celebrity-watchers have been transfixed for years by the potential pregnancy of former Friends star Jennifer Aniston, now forty-seven. Just this week, yet another tabloid claimed the star was expecting a child with husband Justin Theroux. These examples are extreme, because the women in question are much older than the average American mother. But mothers in their late thirties or early forties, such as Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Lopez, Reese Witherspoon, and Julia Roberts, are very much the norm in Hollywood.
And yet, Mandel continues, these stories never tell us the cost in terms of fertility treatments. They do not tell us whether these women are having babies using their own eggs. They do not tell us the failure rates of women using frozen eggs:
Just as Botox erases the signs of aging on the faces of celebrities, so too the celebrity pregnancy trackers ignore the fact that many of these women most likely had to avail themselves of expensive and painful fertility treatments to become mothers. And those celebrities rarely discuss those treatments, preferring instead to portray their pregnancies as happenstance (an exception: Sarah Jessica Parker, then in her forties, who talked openly about her use of a surrogate to carry her twin daughters).
And, of course, no one knows very much about the long term effect of fertility treatments, on a woman’s health and on her marriage. Strangely enough, our national conversation about abortion suggests that pregnancy is somehow or other unhealthy, while it says nothing about the potential health risks associated with radical hormone treatments.