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Australia's Sex Ed Curriculum Might Get Something It Was Missing

This isn't just for young women.

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It has been more than three decades since Candice Thum, 37, and Rebecca Featherstone Jelen, 35, were born via in vitro fertilisation (IVF), but the pair say most Australians still have no knowledge of their own fertility, or lack thereof, until it is too late.

The pair first campaigned together against cuts to IVF funding in 2005 proposed by then health minister Tony Abbott, and are now fighting to have fertility education included in school sexual education curriculums.

In the meantime Thum and Featherstone Jelen are building their own educational resources via their health education campaign Fertility Matters.

Here are some of the things they reckon most Australians might not know about fertility.

"One in six couples will face fertility issues," Thum, who in 1980 became the first baby born in Australia via IVF, told BuzzFeed News.

Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive a pregnancy after 12 months of unprotected sexual intercourse, and the causes can involve the production of sperm or eggs, the structure or function of male or female reproductive systems; and/or hormonal and immune conditions.

There are things women can do to ensure they can have kids even if they or their partner become infertile.

Egg freezing is a method of storing unfertilised eggs to allow a woman to attempt conceiving at a later date, when natural conception might not be possible.

"There is no information for young women who might want to freeze their eggs because they haven't found a partner when they're 23," Featherstone Jelen told BuzzFeed News.

"It isn't an insurance policy, but it can keep options open ... just say you freeze your eggs when you’re 25 and then you go back to have a baby when you’re 30. Your egg is still of a 25-year-old.

"Fertility preservation is great for cancer patients."

In fact, the issues are evenly split — in 40% of couples the cause of infertility is attributed to a sperm factor, in another 40% the cause is found within the female reproductive system, and 20% will have a combination of male and female factors.

"We need to be talking to young men as well as young women about their fertility and in particular in relation to lifestyle choices," Thum said.

"For guys we want to talk about using steroids and the [negative] impact that has on your fertility."

Common conditions like endometriosis can impact on fertility.

Endometriosis is a condition where the tissue similar to that which normally lines the inside of the uterus grows externally, typically on ovaries, fallopian tubes, or pelvic organs.

This can cause severe pain, inflammation and the formation of scar tissue.

If affects more than an estimated 600,000 women across the nation and has been linked to infertility.

"Endometriosis is often undiagnosed because young women are told it is normal to be in that much pain, but they're not told how this condition, and [sexually transmitted diseases], can affect their fertility," Featherstone Jelen said.

"That is one reason why we want our resources to be taught to Year 10 students, because it is an age where young women might be discovering they have conditions like endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome."

Age is the biggest preventative issue of all in terms of a woman's chance of giving birth to a healthy baby, Featherstone Jelen and Thum said.

"As you get older your egg quality declines rapidly, as does your sperm quality," Thum said.

"I don't think people realise just how hard it can be to conceive when you're older," Featherstone Jelen said.

"[Female] fertility dramatically drops by the age of 32."


Gina Rushton is a breaking news reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Gina Rushton at

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