What Women Don't Know About Babymaking

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

A new study from Yale School of Medicine found too many American women don't know much about how fertility and reproduction work. The science of baby-making is still a mystery for many, study authors say. For instance, about 40 percent of women in the study believed that ovaries continue to produce new eggs every year. I scoffed a little when Reuters reported that grown women in China were flocking to sex-ed classes, but maybe we could use more of that kind of adult education here in America.

While women surveyed had the basics of the birds and the bees down, many facts about fertility still eluded them. Knowledge gaps were particularly pronounced when it came to the underlying causes of infertility and factors that influence the ability to conceive. Some 50 percent of women surveyed believed having sex more than once per day would increase their chances of conception, and more than one-third believed specific sexual positions or elevating the pelvis would do so — neither of which are true. Meanwhile, only 10 percent realized that having sex before ovulation, not after, optimizes conception success.

"This study ... brings to the forefront gaps in women's knowledge about their reproductive health," said senior author Jessica Illuzzi, an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at Yale. Published in the journal Fertility & Sterility, the research is based on data from 1,000 U.S. women between the ages of 18 and 40 (aka "women of childbearing age").

From the tenor of this study, one might think American women were lacking messages about fertility. But perhaps we're just lacking the right kind of messages. While we receive ample scaremongering about how fertility declines with age, the extent of this decline is quite overblown. Meanwhile, we hear much less about how weight, diet, tobacco, physical activity levels, shift work, and other lifestyle factors can affect reproductive health.