Writer Elizabeth Day is in her late thirties, divorced without children, and fears that she may never have a family. Having suffered a miscarriage after two cycles of unsuccessful IVF, she has had eggs frozen, though without great hopes of using them. She blames the fact that the men with whom she had been in relationships either haven’t been ready or willing to become fathers, and have been able to concentrate on their careers without worrying about waning fertility. In her school sex education lessons, it ‘was repeatedly drummed into us that contraception was absolutely necessary in order to avoid ruining our lives by allowing a feckless man to impregnate us before we were ready’; consequently she spent most of her 20s ‘fervently avoiding pregnancy as if it were a communicable disease’ and took the Pill for 14 years, unaware of its negative effects. She concludes: ‘Falling birth rates should be a man’s problem too,’ and feels that sex education should focus on the uncertainty of fertility as well as pregnancy prevention. ‘Most importantly, boys should be taught this, too,’ she says.
And yet we cannot blame boys for absorbing the lesson that it is feckless to become a father. Having taken on board the message that if a woman is prepared to sleep with them, no strings attached, they see it as a breach of faith to introduce retrospectively those strings when fatherhood was never ‘part of the deal’. Boys and girls are given the same message in sex education – freedom – and thus they infer that freedom from commitment means happiness.
Far better to tell them to respect the opposite sex by not treating them as disposable objects, thus avoiding the belated realisation that they themselves have been treated as disposable objects. They could be taught to save sex for marriage, and expect babies to be part of the deal – and if they don’t arrive, don’t succumb to the blandishments of the reproductive technology industry and imagine that, having spent your most fertile years suppressing your fertility, you can buy the children you want.
However, sex education is merely an outreach service of the population control movement, which saw the early introduction of birth control and getting women into paid work as essential to reducing the birth rate. To warn about uncertain fertility – or indeed teach anything about it – might introduce authentic choice, which is anathema to the movement.
Teaching children that babies are an obstacle to happiness lowers their self-esteem and also lowers the birth rate. This the movement counts as a success, but as individuals and as a society we are all paying the price, economically as well as emotionally.