Empower Teens with Education about Fertility

Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Sex Ed for Teens: Where’s the Mucus?
by Lisa Leger
February 24, 2012

Teen girls are getting pregnant, in part, because they don’t understand their menstrual cycles. It’s time for sexual health educators to step up and teach girls the primary sign of fertility.

Photo by Acaparadora // CC-BY-SA-2.5

A recent report by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on teen pregnancy in the U.S., based on a survey of close to 5,000 young mothers who got pregnant unintentionally, found that half of them had not used birth control.  When questioned further, a third of those said that they didn’t think they could get pregnant. Their reasoning ties in with previous research findings that girls who get pregnant in their teens have misconceptions about their menstrual cycles. They don’t seem to understand how ovulation works and are failing to correctly identify the fertile days in their monthly cycles.


My colleagues in sexual and reproductive health education should take notice. These findings reveal a knowledge gap in sex education: Teens don’t know about the easy-to-spot sign of fertility that precedes ovulation – cervical mucus secretions. Let’s fix it by adding one simple phrase to our sex ed classes: “When you have mucus, you can get pregnant.”

We would also need to explain the ovarian cycle, how estrogen promotes cervical mucus production, the role of mucus in sperm survival and how to check for it. This is arguably among the most useful information young women and men could receive before leaving high school.

If girls had this knowledge then I believe that at least some of them would more accurately identify fertile days in their cycles and at least some unintended pregnancies would be prevented. When a girl knows that mucus on the toilet tissue means she is fertile and able to get pregnant, she may be empowered to avoid intercourse, insist on a condom if she has sex, or know if she needs to seek out emergency contraception. Or she may decide to just hang out with her girl friends. I’m not saying that fertility awareness is a magic wand. Of course, many factors influence our decision-making. But teens are capable of making wise choices when they have accurate information on which to base them.

I’ve talked to many public health nurses throughout my 20-year career as a fertility awareness instructor. They usually quibble about the effectiveness of fertility awareness as a birth control method and seem reluctant to mention the existence of cervical mucus for fear that “a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.” They worry that some students, if taught fertility awareness, might screw it up, thinking they were “safe” when they were not. But the CDC report tells us that garbled understanding about how ovulation works is doing more harm than good.

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.


  1. Lisa Leger says:

    Checking in to see if any comments. Curious about opinions as to how the fertility cycle could be taught in a more compelling way. How about passing the egg white around the class like Toni Weshler does? Its a cheap teaching tool.
    Then say, “When you see stuff that looks like this on the tissue when you wipe, that means you could get pregnant that day.”

  2. Hello, Lisa – Yeah remember the good ol’ days when we would pass the mirror around and look at our cervix’s? Long time ago. There is so much missing in teen education. These days it is all done on apps. Not a bad way to track – but impersonal.

    Thanks for taking the time to visit.

    Hormonally yours,


  3. Lisa Leger says:

    Hi Leslie – I wonder if you would be willing to read a short story I’ve written to gauge reactions to a menstrual sex scene. My aim is to eroticize the fertility cycle and I started with menstruation because of all the sexy vampires in the media these days. I will send it to you as an attachement if you wld be able to give me some feedback on it. What email address shd I use?

  4. I would love to! Thanks for liking my Holy Hormones FB page too! Please email to: leslie@holyhormones.com We should Skype sometime! My user name is ‘hormonegoddess’.

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