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Fertility classes the missing link in Catholic school sexuality programs

Catholic couple Simon and Nicky Ashley

Catholic couple: Teacher Simon Ashley and his wife, Creighton practitioner Nicky Ashley, are encouraging calls to include fertility classes in high schools. Photo: Simon Ashley

CATHOLIC teacher Simon Ashley believes fertility classes taught by Catholic educators would not only help improve Australia’s low birth rate, but also set teenagers up for healthier relationships in their adult life.

Mr Ashley, a Brisbane Catholic teacher who is developing a nuptial formation course for teachers, parents and parishes, made his comments following a call to introduce fertility classes in high schools to improve the country’s historically low birth rate.

Westmead Fertility Centre medical director Dr Howard Smith told The Daily Telegraph last month Australia’s low birth rate could be solved by teaching teenagers “life planning”.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the country’s fertility rate is 1.79 children per woman.

In the 1950s, the rate was above 3.4 children per woman.

Australia needs to hit a birth rate of 2.1 babies per woman to replace herself and her partner. 

Mr Ashley said if Catholic schools were to offer fertility classes to students, the benefits would go beyond improving the country’s birth rate.

“If we’re going to build the culture of life, we need to put the focus not just on sex but on life as well,” he said.

“Life is the pivotal point on discussions about euthanasia, abortion, reproduction, relationships, and if it’s not taught, the Church is going to continue to be irrelevant to a lot of people.”

Mr Ashley commended the program offered by Catholic schools in the Brisbane Catholic Education network but said it lacked a focus on fertility awareness.

“There are very good programs and initiatives coming out of the Brisbane Catholic Education Office, and I commend (BCE executive director) Pam Betts and Archbishop Mark Coleridge for introducing these to schools, but it won’t bear the fruit they want to bear if the fertility is left out of it,” he said.

“Fertility is an important piece of the puzzle.”

Any programs offered in Catholic schools should adopt the accompaniment model, a formation mode endorsed by Pope Francis where a mentor guides the students, and parents should ideally be involved in the training, Mr Ashley said.

“The easy way to do it is to get an expert in to deliver the content who then leaves at the end of the day,” he said.

“The model doesn’t necessarily bear fruit in the long run.

“You need to adopt the accompaniment model, an apprenticeship method, where you have a mentor.

“It then becomes a relationship where you journey with (the student) as a pilgrim.

“Parents are the primary educator, and the best one to do that.”

Mr Ashley’s thoughts about offering fertility classes are also backed up by his wife Nicky Ashley, who has been a fertility practitioner for Catholic program, Creighton, for more than two years.

Half her clients are referred to her by doctors for reasons to do with gynaecological health and fertility.

The efficacy rates of achieving a pregnancy through Creighton are higher than the success rates of conception through artificial methods such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

The program also boasts a success rate of 98 per cent for avoiding a pregnancy.

The Ashleys went through the Creighton program as an engaged couple.

It not only taught them a “natural option” for avoiding or achieving a pregnancy, it also identified health problems “I never knew I had”, Mrs Ashley said.

She said teenagers, especially girls entering puberty, would benefit from learning the fundamentals of fertility awareness-based methods like Creighton because it could pick up disorders like endometriosis, infertility and polycystic ovary syndrome.

“There’s no reason why girls in high school shouldn’t be learning about this stuff, like what it’s like for a normal cycle to look like,” she said.

She said it could also help teenagers have to better relationships and make informed decisions about their parenting future.

“I went to a state high school where you put condoms on bananas but I had no education on gynaecological health or making healthy decisions about responsible parenthood,” Mrs Ashley said.

“Fertility classes fall into a much bigger arena, where it’s about having healthy relationships.”

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