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.
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.