Getting away with it? Contraceptive Awareness Week, 8–14 February, 2010
Open any national newspaper and it isn’t hard to find articles by fertility experts warning women that after they pass 35 their fertility will decline, that they’ll have problems getting pregnant and that they're leaving it far too late to start a family.
It’s true, fertility does decline as you get older. And some women do struggle to become pregnant because of their age. But this is only one side of the story. Women are having unplanned pregnancies in their late 30s and 40s, just like younger women.
Looking at the abortion statistics – the most obvious and reliable illustration of unplanned pregnancy – you’d expect the rate of abortion to be very low in the over 35 age group. However, in 2008, women aged 40–44 years old had the same rate of abortion as women under the age of 16. And almost 20,000 women aged 35–39 had an abortion.
The birth rate in the over 35s has gone up too.
Every day we talk to women who ring our helpline, who are still fertile, still able to get pregnant, but who are not using any contraception because they think they’re too old to conceive and that they don’t need to worry about it anymore.
The message is that if you’re over 35, although your fertility is declining, it hasn’t disappeared completely. Fertility is an individual thing. It changes with lifestyle, health and from one reproductive system to another. It varies hugely from woman to woman and essentially from couple to couple.
If you are over 35, ovulating, having regular periods, unprotected sex and you know you or your partner is not clinically infertile, every month there’s a chance you’ll get pregnant.
Don’t assume that your age automatically makes you infertile and you don’t need to use contraception anymore. Yes, it declines as you get older but your fertility still exists. If you don’t want to get pregnant the bottom line is to keep using contraception right up until the menopause. You need to use it for two years after the menopause if you’re under 50 and for one year after the menopause if you're over 50.
If you’re in your late 30s or early 40s and want a baby our advice is don’t wait, not because it will never happen, but because the younger you are the better your chances of getting pregnant are.
Read our information page for journalists, health and other professionals to find out:
Download our briefing sheet for professionals below.
Press release: Has the age and infertility message gone too far?
With five other sexual health charities, FPA has launched SHout Loud a website which enables you to have your say about sexual health, contraception and HIV services in England.
Take action to highlight the importance of community contraception services to women of all ages by writing to your local NHS. Get your voice heard – take action now.