Misconceiving Reproduction: the Need for Reproductive Education

Standing on your head after sexual intercourse will not help you get pregnant, a study published recently in Fertility and Sterility confirms. Yet many women hold misconceptions like this about reproduction, highlighting the need for comprehensive reproductive education.

The study, the first of its kind according to its Yale School of Medicine authors, surveyed a demographically representative sample of 1,000 women ages 18-40 in the U.S. in March, 2013. It found significant gaps in women’s knowledge about conception, fertility and ovulation and it highlights the need for more education about basic reproduction facts.

Three out of four respondents said a women’s health-care provider was their top source of information about reproduction, but only 50 percent had ever discussed the subject with a provider, and less than one-quarter had discussed specific reproductive issues such as ovulation, smoking and sexually transmitted diseases. The result? Misconceptions about how to conceive or avoid pregnancy.

According to the study, these misconceptions include:

  • the belief that chances of conceiving are improved by having sex more than once per day (half of the women believed this);
  •  the belief that specific sexual positions and elevating the pelvis after coitus would increase the probability of becoming pregnant (one third of the women believed this);
  • the belief that sexual intercourse should be timed after ovulation, rather than before, to maximize the chance of conception (60 percent believed this, and another one-third were unsure).
  • The belief that ovaries continue producing eggs throughout a woman’s reproductive life (40 percent believed this).

In general, the younger women surveyed (age 18-24) showed more gaps in their knowledge about reproduction than women 25 and older, especially regarding the impact of obesity and irregular menses on the ability to conceive and the benefit of folic acid in preventing birth defects. The older group was significantly more likely than the younger group to know that aging increases the time it takes to get pregnant, the chance of miscarriage and the likelihood or having a child with a genetic abnormality.

In light of these worrisome misconceptions, the authors call for a reexamination of how women are educated about their fertility. They recommend broad educational initiatives to close knowledge gaps. Since one-third of women surveyed had visited their health care provider either less than once per year or never, and few women consult books for information on reproductive concerns, the authors suggest web-based tools to improve interaction between women and medical providers and to boost knowledge acquisition.  They also say that education to build reproductive awareness needs to come from schools, colleges and community and health forums.

The facts should be common knowledge. They should reside in everybody’s heads, so women of childbearing age can stop standing on theirs.

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Nanette Fondas is co-author of The Custom-Fit Workplace and former professor of business. Nanette writes, blogs, and curates issues on work-life fit and parenting in a globalized economy. Her award-winning research on the economics and sociology of work, organizations, and management appears in scholarly journals and newspapers, magazines, and blogs including The Atlantic, Psychology Today, Huffington Post, and MomsRising. Follow her @NanetteFondas on Twitter.