Fertility taboos and the cycle of stigma

No one’s talking about it and no one’s asking for help.

When it comes to fertility issues, people often suffer in silence.

A lack of education and societal pressures prevents important conversations around fertility from taking place.

Outdated ideas about fertility, dating back to an age when people started families younger, proliferate, while misconceptions around fertility and gender are also common. These problems are shrouded in silence, with the stigma surrounding the discussion preventing individuals from seeking help, or delaying intervention and by extension diminishing the efficacy of treatments – or reducing treatment options.

Heteronormative pressures still grip society. Natural conception and the nuclear family remain the norm in the minds of many, and the inability to start a family in this way can feel like a failure. This sense of failure, and an individual’s assumption that “there’s something wrong” with them, can obscure the truth: that these issues are common, and solutions exist.

Explore the key issues below

Sex education needs an update to reset how we think about fertility

A lot of this stigma starts at school. Many received a sex education curriculum taught through the lens of avoidance: how to avoid pregnancies or access abortion, and how to avoid STIs.  Young people are hardwired to believe that we are all fertile and that not using contraception will inevitably result in a baby, instead of being educated in the complex realities of conception: that fertility decreases with age, and one in seven couples in the UK will struggle to conceive.

Assisted reproduction only becomes front of mind when it is needed. For the taboo to lift, a realistic and pragmatic conversation about sexual health and fertility needs to start at a younger age and continue into adulthood. In the UK, The British Fertility Society is leading a task force to bring issues, including future fertility, into the national curriculum – which is an encouraging initiative for the next generation.

“When we are biologically ready to be parents we are not psychologically ready. Overture wants to bridge human biology and psychology, to help people become parents when they are ready.”

Martin Varofsky, founder of Prelude and Overture Life

Bold startups are challenging the status quo

Startups are playing an active role in breaking down fertility and sexual health taboos, triggering a domino effect of societal change.

Disruptive brands tackling taboos and encouraging open conversations

Direct-to-consumer brands, such as Flo, Natural Cycles, Elvie, mojo and Hims & Hers are normalising the discussion of previously taboo topics. It can be extremely difficult to take conversations that typically happen in private and shift them into a more open discussion.  

However, in many respects, startups are extremely well placed to do so, as their brands and marketing are naturally designed to be bolder and more disruptive, which is often necessary when trying to challenge a long-standing taboos.

Menopause and family planning

Menopause occurs when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally (NHS). For more than 80% of women this is accompanied by physical and psychological symptoms.

Typically, the drive to start a family does not coincide with this natural hormonal shift, but it can sometimes occur early with 1% of women in the US experiencing premature menopause. Innovative companies, such as Peppy, are creating ways for women to address menopausal symptoms within employer channels, and research efforts are focusing on ovarian longevity and rejuvenation.

Companies to watch

Get in touch with our Health team to find out more

Octopus Ventures is the most active health investor in the UK, investing across all stages but with a bias towards the earliest stages (Seed and Series A). We are committed to backing pioneers who are transforming the health industry from digital therapeutics through to biotechnology.

Navigate the rest of the report

Introduction – Future of Fertility
Click here
Chapter 1 – Fertility Tech
Click here
Chapter 2 – Improving access to fertility treatments
Click here