Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Sex Ed for Teens: Where’s the Mucus?

February 24th, 2012 by Laura Wershler

Guest Post by Lisa Leger

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.

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

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.

I hasten to reassure my public health colleagues that I am not proposing we teach teenagers natural birth control. What I’m proposing is the awareness part, that we correct this critical gap in teenagers’ knowledge by explaining that mucus is an obvious sign of fertility.

I won over my local sex educator to this idea by showing her the evidence-based Justisse Method of Fertility Awareness User’s Guide. She now teaches the meaning of mucus in her ovulation lessons.I predict her students will benefit. When they feel that slippery wetness when wiping, they will remember that it has something to do with being fertile. When they see clear, stretchy mucus on the tissue, they will know it’s a fertile day. It seems obvious that reducing confusion about the fertile phase would result in fewer unplanned pregnancies among girls who are currently confused about when they’re safe and when they’re fertile.

Instead of withholding useful information about what cervical mucus means, let’s tell teens that avoiding sex when they observe mucus can prevent pregnancy.

SMCR member Lisa Leger teaches the Justisse Method of Fertility Awareness & Body Literacy and is a Natural Health Consultant on Vancouver Island.

  

17 Responses to “Sex Ed for Teens: Where’s the Mucus?”

  1. Laura Wershler says:

    Yes! We need to tell girls about cervical mucus,and a bunch of other stuff,and not only in sexual health education classes. Another great way to help the girls in our lives learn about their bodies is to give them a book called Cycle Savvy: The Smart Teen Girl’s Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body ( http://www.cyclesavvy.com ) by Toni Weschler. How I would have loved to read this book when I was 15.

  2. Jacqui says:

    If you step back from all the moral issues and what effect this information will have on teens, what you see is a denial of basic body literacy. When my nose starts running, I know I’m getting a cold. Why should I not know that my body has a cyclical life? Why should I not know that some days I am more fertile than others? If we were just keeping this information back until girls were 18 or some such, it would be bad enough but most women go through their entire lives without knowing what is happening in their own bodies! What a crazy concept…

    • Lisa Leger says:

      As my daughter says, “What’s the diff? You taught me how to blow my nose and wipe my bum and brush my teeth and use a tampon and grill a sandwich. Of course you teach me what that slippery stuff means. Its just part of having a human body.” Such a pragmatic young woman – I’m so proud.
      Unfortunately, not all moms have the knowledge to pass on to their kids. Thats why our sex educators have to fit more body literacy in to their classes.

  3. Geraldine says:

    Thank you Lisa for your straight up helpful blog. Indeed, it has been my experience that awareness about the most fundamental events of the menstrual cycle empower women to make choices that come closer to meeting their needs than not. t is a misguided and antiquated notion, though it persists like those d.. blood spots that plagued Lady MacBeth, that keeping young women ignorant about fertility awareness will prevent them from becoming sexually precocious. In fact, there is much evidence that opposes that notion. So rave on about the mucus and let us work towards more body literacy for each generation of women.

  4. Kerri Isham says:

    Thanks so much for posting this Lisa and thanks so much for spending a couple of hours with me explaining the Justisse Method. I teach in 10 school in Nanaimo and all of the students are getting this information in Grade 7 when I teach about conception. I will be teaching this again when I teach contraception in Grade 10 at Ladysmith Highschool.
    I did not have this information when I was young. Most adult women I know didn’t even know about this. Hard to believe it is such a big “secret”.

    • Robert says:

      I’m a 60 year old guy, and nobody ever taught me this stuff! This is =awesome= (and very helpful) information to teach our young people. Another helpful factoid: Q: What is a contraceptive? A: A device to be used on EVERY conceivable occasion!

  5. [...] Sex Ed For Teens: Where’s the Mucus? – This is article is relevant to my undergraduate thesis, which was a study about the lack of information young women are provided about menstruation. Part of what we’re not taught is how ovulation works. Lisa Leger argues, and I agree, that if the ovarian cycle and how estrogen production promotes cervical mucus many young women and their partners could better understand when she is more fertile and possibly avoid more unwanted pregnancies. [...]

  6. Camas Blues says:

    If, 30 years ago, if sex ed regarding menstrual cycles were clearer, I might have gotten to a dr. sooner. We were taught that when girls start having menstrual cycles they might be ‘irregular’ for awhile, don’t worry. But they did not define how irregular was within normal. What they probably meant was a day or two or three; I would skip periods for two or three months. When I was 15-16, I did not have a period for a whole year. Eventually they settled down a bit, then got crazy again. Turned out I had PCOS – but I didnt get diagnosed til I was 30. A little more clear info when I was young might have helped me prompt my family to get to a gyno/endocrinologist.

  7. Bravo, Lisa! If we can reach out teens, then perhaps they can even enlighten their mothers. This is yet another of many ‘secrets’ that as adults, we women are just not aware of! Go forth spreading the word about mucus – we will all benefit.

  8. If we empower girls with education about their bodies they may become more proactive about preventing pregnancy. Menstrual Cycle Education and fertility awareness is crucial for teen girls and for boys.

    Perhaps if teen girls were taught something relevant about their bodies and their roles as women – they may begin to understand they have more value than what lies between their legs.

    My co-author and I are creating a Menstrual Health Education curriculum for adolescent girls specifically for this purpose. We will also be launching a series of books on Menstrual Health Education.

  9. Alison says:

    I would have found this helpful as a teenager as most of the mis-information we received led me to believe for many years that we all ovulated on day 14 of our cycles. It wasn’t until I used a fertility predictor kit as part of a university research trial that I realised I ovulated around day 17. Armed with this useful info I then went to work on trying to conceive when it was most likely to happen. So, useful for preventing pregnancy but also for achieving pregnancy when the time is right in your life.

  10. Geraldine says:

    The other day I was reviewing some archival material and ran across an article I wrote for the media in Toronto more than 20 years ago — almost identical in content to what Lisa is talking about here, and the reader responses too were similar to what is posted here. Also, every single woman I have worked with in the area of fertility awareness since 1977 (thousands of women) has at some point in our relationship told me that fertility awareness would have been such a helpful thing to have been taught as a teenager. So what I have a hard time understanding is why then if such a consistent need is expressed that it so consistently is unmet. What are care providers and educators missing? What is the covert purpose for keeping women ignorant about fertility awareness? For me it is the most reasonable thing to teach young women and yet the society I live somehow has a big problem doing so to the detriment of women and sometimes that just makes my blood boil!!!

    • Laura Wershler says:

      So let’s figure out a way to make the information “stick” this time. Maybe we could put stickers on mirrors in women’s washrooms that read: “If you have mucus, you can get pregnant.” With a brief explanation in the fine print. Geraldine,I’d like to have a copy of your article from 20 years ago. There might be a story here. It reminds me of reading somewhere about how the clitoris has been lost and found, lost, and found again over the last two hundred years. What other ideas do readers have about how to make information about cervical mucus stick around to do some good?

  11. Lisa Leger says:

    I sent a link out to the blog to some of my contact list and got a heartfelt response from a professional associate. She said that she was one of the ill-informed teen moms 17 years ago who would have benefitted from a better understanding of her fertiity cycles. I only hope that she shares the “secret” of cervical mucus with her now 17 year old son so that he will have the knowledge that could protect him from an unplanned pregnancy.
    spread the word! (PS the word is Mucus…haha)

  12. There’s another modern age twist to this… I’m sure most of you have seen the “period tracker” iPhone app’s out there..? There are heaps of them, and all of them offer up “your fertile days” .. NONE (I’ve seen)Of them ask for mucus tracking nor mention it at all, so the only method they could be using is the good ol rhythm method!! As most women don’t even know the connection between fertility and mucus, they don’t even question it!! I don’t know what the rate of usage or relience upon these apps is… But scary! I understand the Jane Hardwicke Collings is building an app for the phone that does record the mucus!! So will pass that on when it’s available.

    • This is exciting to hear of charting apps that are resisting reinventing the rhythm method. I will be excited to hear about when Jane’s app comes out. Also Justisse is nearly done developing an charting app that track mucus and teaches the user how to observe, chart and interpret her mucus, bbt, and other cycle events. It will be able to be used on phones and on the www.

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