Fertility Awareness for Young Adults

Becoming adult is a process that lasts from the onset of puberty until the end of the teen years, and affects all girls and boys physically, emotionally, intellectually and socially. Maturity, however, is an on-going process of change that continues throughout an individual’s life.

At puberty particular hormones, oestrogen in girls and testosterone in boys, cause their bodies to develop until each one comes to full physical and sexual maturity. Puberty is an event marked by menstruation in a girl, showing that she is capable of conceiving a baby, and wet dreams (ejaculation) in a boy showing he is capable of fathering a baby.

Growth spurts vary within the sexes, as well as between the sexes. ‘Late maturers’ often feel embarrassed as do ‘early maturers’, causing both girls and boys to feel awkward about their appearance. 

The obvious changes that take place in girls are enlarged breast and hips, public hair and underarm hair; the vagina, uterus & oviducts grow, menstruation occurs, and there is vagina; moisture leading up to ovulation. 

The obvious changes for boys include increased muscles in the upper body, greater strength, the voice breaks, facial, underarm and pubic hair, the penis and testicles grow, and an erection can occur when sexually aroused or during sleep (wet dreams).

Emotional turmoil usually accompanies these physical changes.  Adjustment to these changes is made easier for those adolescents who feel secure in a family who listens and encourages discussion on sexuality and issues of concern. At the same time, an adolescent is becoming increasingly independent of parents.  This appears obvious by choice of dress, music and increasing peer involvement.  Young people need space to work out their own values which though not apparent at first, usually follow the foundation set by parents in early childhood.

The peer group can be both a source of information and emotional support, as well as provide misinformation about sex and exert pressure that may conflict with the adolescent’s own value system.  Peer acceptance is important to a young person but they will discover that self-esteem is not dependent on what others think about them.  Ridicule can be hurtful. However a person is usually respected for standing by her or his own values.

Relationships are an important part of becoming adult, as they provide the opportunity to grow in learning more about oneself and how to love another and prepare for a life-long relationship.  Feelings can be confusing enough without the media, societal values and peer pressure adding to the difficulties by promoting the macho image of the male, who must indulge his sex drive, whenever he wants and the accommodating girlfriend who is expected to respond to his needs, irrespective of her own.  The myth is perpetual that girls are free to do what they want.  Yet the reality is, that girls are still programmed to conform to their stereotyped image and are often left literally ‘holding the baby’.

Respecting the wishes of a friend is essential in a relationship and consent is an important issue, for to coerce or pressure a person is sexual abuse or rape.  Such an experience can have devastating effect on future relationships.  Everyone has the right to say “NO” and needs to know what they are saying no to.  Setting boundaries in a relationship will help two people develop trust and self-confidence without the pressure to conform to other expectations.

Teenagers often do not realise that the consequences of sexual behaviour can be a pregnancy if intercourse occurs during the fertile time of the girl’s menstrual cycle. It is important for young people to learn about their own fertility and that of the opposite sex, so they can behave respectfully and responsibly towards each other, rather than exploit or treat the other person as a sex object for their own selfish satisfaction.

Teenagers who have casual sexual relationships with a number of different people are often open to

  • exploitation and to exploiting others,
  • impregnation and impregnating others,
  • acquiring sexually transmitted infections
  • (STI’s)  and AIDS and giving these to others,
  • having feelings of insecurity and worthlessness   
  • and causing these feelings in others,
  • remaining emotionally immature and inhibiting  
  • the maturity of others

 

Sexual Responsibility means that both male and female sexuality is understood and that neither partner is exploited or treated as a sex object by the other. Young people can refuse to have sex before marriage and have the right to expect that their choice will be respected by their friends and that they will not be ‘pressured’ into having sexual intercourse before they are ready to do so.

The pressure by young men on women for intercourse can be intense, and a girl may think that if she refuses, the boy will think she does not love him.  Yet so often a young man will dump a girl after he gets what he wants from her.  The young men themselves often feel pressured by peers into having sexual relations, because their friends do, or to conform to the traditional masculine image of aggressive genital gratification, regardless of the consequences.

Boys discuss sex in terms of performance, rather than emotions, often behind a façade of confidence.   Boys need to know that having and expressing certain feelings are signs of being caring and adult rather than signs of weakness. 

Accurate knowledge about sex, and honesty about one’s own feelings, combined with a deep respect for other people, will help teenagers develop realistic attitudes that will determine their decision making and consequent behaviour.  

Young people of fertile age are the healthiest age group in society.  They have survived childhood illnesses and have not yet developed the chronic or degenerative diseases that afflict the elderly.  Yet young people through experimentation, peer pressure and pop music are more exposed to reproductive health damage.  They may regret such behaviour later in life.

Reproductive Health is promoted through the media as the ability to use one’s reproductive organs without getting pregnant or contracting sexually transmitted infections.  Unfortunately the media does not present the failure rate of contraceptives and condoms or show the number of young lives that have been emotionally destroyed through one or multiple one night stands.

 

Responsibility

Young people need to discover that reproductive health is in their hands.  They have the right to protect themselves from emotional distress, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.  They need to rediscover that the fullness of sex can only be realised in a permanent committed relationship, such as marriage. In a committed monogamous relationship, a couple’s reproductive health will not be affected by sexually transmitted infections.  Likewise the spouses can choose when to conceive their children by understanding and heeding their patterns of combined fertility and infertility

 

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