Analysis Maternity and Birthing

Egg Freezing: Taking a Closer Look at the Experimental Label

Sona Makker

Should young women who aren’t ready to have children have their eggs extracted and frozen as an “insurance policy” for future motherhood? Several recent media features seem to be promoting egg freezing, with little or no mention of the risks involved for women who undergo egg retrieval procedures or for the children that might be born as a result.

Should young women who aren’t ready to have children have their eggs extracted and frozen as an “insurance policy” for future motherhood? Several recent media features seem to be promoting egg freezing, with little or no mention of the risks involved for women who undergo egg retrieval procedures or for the children that might be born as a result.

A January 23 article in Newsweek / The Daily Beast leads with Diane Sawyer encouraging young women who work for her to freeze their eggs and is illustrated with glamorous photos of celebrities who have themselves used egg freezing, egg donors, or surrogates. The article is unabashedly enthusiastic about egg freezing, but makes no mention at all of the significant down sides.

CNN special report, titled Baby Quest, features an inside look at the vitrification process behind freezing eggs. The report encourages women who are concerned with their fertility to consider taking the leap by stimulating the growth of as many eggs as possible in their twenties and thirties, and freezing them “in time.”

And last week the Huffington Post published a first-person account of a 34-year-old woman freezing her eggs to safeguard her future fertility. She encourages more women to start talking about egg freezing, but within the article itself there is no discussion of the relevant risk factors women might consider before opting in.

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While the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) clearly states that all egg freezing should be considered experimental, this recent media coverage has sent a different but also clear message: egg freezing can prevent infertility – and you need it as an “insurance policy.”

Diane Sawyer has even endorsed a particular egg freezing go-to clinic: New York University’s Langone Medical Center Fertility Clinic. Sawyer froze her own eggs there, and urges colleagues and staff to similarly attain “reproductive autonomy” from her personal fertility specialist, Dr. Nicole Noyes.

Noyes and her Langone partner, Dr. James Grifo, were also featured in the recent CNN segment, which is light on information and heavy on infomercial. Their comments neglected any of the risks associated with egg retrieval or freezing.  Perhaps this is unsurprising in light of Noyes’ comment in Nature last August that the experimental label should be eliminated. “The change in perception,” she says, “will make freezing more widely available and advance the field.”

One has to wonder whether the incentive to “advance the field” might be tied to egg freezing’s $15,000 price tag, and to the new business opportunities opened by a procedure that can be marketed to large numbers of young women rather than only to people with medically known fertility problems.

There are good reasons that egg freezing has been deemed experimental. ASRM’s focus was on the unpredictability of successful pregnancies initiated with embryos made from thawed eggs, and on the lack of research about the effects of the procedure on children born from frozen eggs. As ASRM Practice Committee Chair Samantha Pfeifer pointed out, “Some of the chemicals used in the freezing process are toxic to embryos, and no one knows how much the eggs absorb. Moreover, there has been no systematic follow-up of children born from frozen eggs.”

In addition, it’s important to consider the short-term and long-term risks of egg extraction, which are known to be significant but are also under-studied and under-reported. If the recent spate of media treatments is any indication, many women who consider egg extraction – whether for immediate fertility treatment, possible future fertility treatment, or to sell their eggs – will remain unaware of these risks.

Culture & Conversation Media

‘The 1970s’: A Quirky, Scattershot Look Back at Feminism Four Decades Ago

Eleanor J. Bader

The collection captures the giddiness of the decade and the unbridled enthusiasm for creating new ways of being and doing.

Readers looking for a comprehensive history of the feminist social movements that existed four decades ago will not find it in The 1970s, a quirky, scattershot collection of 31 academic essays, poems, memoir fragments, fiction, and artwork published as the fall/winter edition of WSQ, formerly known as Women’s Studies Quarterly. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Like all anthologies, individual readers will likely find some contributions in The 1970s, edited by Shelly Eversley and Michelle Habell-Pallán, more alluring than others. Nonetheless, they will also walk away with a new or renewed respect for the foremothers of modern feminism, including the first Black woman elected to U.S. Congress, 1972 presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm; the Our Bodies, Ourselves collective; and those who organized festivals and conferences in order to strategize and socialize with other women and political thinkers.

The collection captures the giddiness of the decade and the unbridled enthusiasm for creating new ways of being and doing. As someone who came of age in the 1970s, I was reminded not only of the excesses of the period, but of the deeply felt thrill of creating spaces centered on women. The fact that many newly minted feminists, like me, truly believed that a social revolution was imminent sounds naïve today—and maybe even ridiculous—at the time it seemed not just possible but probable.

The 1970s captures this spirit, but as a non-linear collection does so in fits and starts. Instead, the anthology is divided into five thematic sections: Powerful Sisterhoods; Sex, Representation, and the Uses of the Erotic; New Sounds, New Sights; Form and Content: Popular Platforms; and Classics Revisited: The Equal Rights Amendment. Nearly every entry was written specifically for the collection, a fact that makes the anthology a modern-day look backward, full of both concrete information and the wisdom of hindsight.

In “Sex and the Me Decade: Sex and Dating Advice Literature of the 1970s,” Smith College Lecturer Anna E. Ward zeroes in on the changing ethos about sex, marriage, and gender that emerged thanks to the previous decade’s counterculture. The shifts, she writes, were initially apparent in the marital advice manuals that began circulating in the early 1960s and that directly acknowledged women as sexual beings. The impetus for this change was the public admission that unmarried people fooled around—a revelation credited to Helen Gurley Brown’s taboo-breaking 1962 bestseller, Sex and the Single Girl. Until then, Ward explains, all sex guides had been written by men and were exclusively addressed to husbands and their physicians.

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As the 1970s took hold, female sexual desire was finally noted and “how-to” texts were published by both mainstream print shops and newly forming feminist presses with the explicit aim of increasing female satisfaction. Feminists took the idea of female sexual agency even further, Ward writes: demanding that sex itself be seen as a political act. After all, they argued, wasn’t sexuality impacted by the gender inequities and the power imbalances that existed within many heterosexual families? If women were considered inferior to men and naturally subservient, how could this not impact one’s sex life?

So what to do?

During the 1970s, Ward explains, the primacy of the vaginal orgasm became fodder for debate, and women began to contest the many fallacies they’d been taught. Consciousness Raising [CR] groups, as they were called, formed, and, among other things, helped women understand their bodies, including the clitoris as a pleasure site. Not surprisingly, as women opened up about their sex lives, the discussion grew to include how they had been miseducated and mistreated by men. Indeed, as anger and frustration bubbled over, so did organizing. According to Ward, “Women and Their Bodies, published in 1970 and later renamed Our Bodies, Ourselves, grew out of CR sessions. In addition to the anatomy and physiology section that discussed women’s reproductive and sexual anatomy, the text devotes an entire section to sexuality. As was common at many feminist CR sessions, the text encourages women to examine their bodies, particularly their genitalia.”

A host of books, by women for women, soon emerged: Free and Female: The Sex Life of the Contemporary Woman, Woman’s Orgasm: A Guide to Sexual Satisfaction, and Sex for Women Who Want to Have Fun and Loving Relationships with Equals among them.

An even bigger shift involved the expansion of intended audience. Ward reports that ‘70s sex manuals recognized the sexualities of LGBTQ and people with disabilities, and touched upon previously ignored topics including the impact of illness, pregnancy, menopause, and aging on sexual behavior. The ways sexual abuse impacted body image and performance were also explored.

That said, Ward writes that almost all of these books were authored by straight, cis, white “experts,” who ignored the centrality of race, sexual preference, and class in the formation of sexual identity and the everyday choices that were—and still are—available to different populations. Still, she concludes that their work played a discernible role in expanding gender and sex norms throughout society, developments that prompted wider acceptance of difference overall.

Meanwhile, Canada-based writer-teacher Lise Weil’s “Beginning With O,” taken from her in-progress memoir, In Search of Pure Lust, addresses what coming out for the first time meant for her. The piece is a funny, tender, and sweet reflection on an all-women’s weekend she attended in 1977. Attentive to the over-the-top enthusiasms of the era—including an “elaborate vagina slide show presented by a tall, energetic woman with a pointer”—it beautifully captures the moment, and then some.

Like Weil, other writers move between the personal and political. In “Programas Sin Vergüenza (Shameless Programs): Mapping Chicanas in Community Radio in the 1970s”, Monica de la Torre, a PhD candidate at the University of Washington, writes about the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s attempt to diversity its staffing and programming. Part of the third section of the anthology, New Sounds, New Sights, Programas Sin Vergüenza references a 1974 survey that revealed CPB to be a bastion of whiteness.

After the survey’s findings were released, the CPB attempted to bring in new voices from the Asian, Black, and Latino communities. “Chicano sound activism,” De La Torre writes, was one of the bi-products: a way to bring a diverse Chicano population into radio broadcasting. In 1979, California’s Radio KDNA became the country’s “first, full-time Spanish-language, noncommercial radio station,” De La Torre writes. Along with KBBF FM 89.1, a Santa Rosa, California station set up by farmworkers, these community-run stations helped nonprofessionals acquire the skills to create programs explicitly directed toward low-wage workers and their families.

It did not take long for women to become immersed in them, learning production and going on air to address their concerns: relationships, poverty, child-rearing, abortion and contraceptive availability, and the lack of educational and vocational opportunities open to them. “These radio programs were powerful,” De La Torre writes, “and worked to inform women and to break the silence of discussing sex, sexuality, and reproductive rights. Rather than conducting them in private spheres, Chicanas were bringing these conversations to the public airwaves, giving women the knowledge that they may not have received elsewhere.”

Sadly—frustratingly—these heady advances were not sustained; De La Torre reports that in 2014 “people of color held just over seven percent of radio licenses while women held less than seven percent of all TV and radio station licenses.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the only place where there has been backsliding. As is obvious, feminist radio programming, especially that controlled by women of color, has fallen off since its heyday in the 70s; the Equal Rights Amendment has still not passed; abortion and contraception are still not universally accepted as social benefits; and sexism, sexual violence, and misogyny are still ubiquitous.

Equally appalling, despite some progress towards egalitarian parenting, raising kids remains a largely female responsibility—and society often pushes individual mothers to concentrate on their own families rather than on the isolating structures that make their situations more difficult. Kara Van Cleaf’s “Of Woman Born to Mommy Blogged: The Journey from the Personal as Political to the Personal as Commodity,” parses contemporary motherhood by critiquing 47 “Mommy Blogs” written between 2010 and 2013. Although there are obviously exceptions, unlike Adrienne Rich’s 1976 book, Of Woman Born, Van Cleaf writes that today’s “mommy bloggers,” everyday women writing about the challenges of motherhood, “rarely connect their feelings or experiences to gendered structures of power.” Typically, she writes, “The challenges of motherhood are overwhelmingly couched as personal problems that can be overcome by readjusting one’s mind rather than, as the feminists of the 1970s asserted, by readjusting society.”

It’s a sobering insight, and it’s impossible to read the essay and not wonder how and why this happened. Indeed, the full story of how the exuberance of the 1970s was undermined by Reaganism and the New Right remains to be written. Nonetheless, as feminists and progressives of the ‘70s used to say, la lucha continua, the fight continues. So let’s go. There’s absolutely no time to waste in organizing to build a better and fairer world.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: For Couples, Sex Once a Week Is Ideal for Happiness

Martha Kempner

This week, research shows that sex once a week helps with happiness, the Cleveland Clinic searches for women who want uterine transplants, and a Mississippi teacher is suspended when a student does a condom demonstration in class.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Sex Once a Week Is the Happiest Number for Long-Term Couples

It is not startling that there is a correlation between how often a person has sex and how happy they are, but we might be surprised by how much sex is just right for most couples. Results from a new study published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science, found that for long-term couples, once-a-week sex appears to be the perfect number for long-term couples.

Researchers looked at data from 25,510 people in the United States, ages 18 to 89, from the years 1996 and 1998. About two-thirds of them were either married or in a romantic relationship. More sex correlated with more happiness for those who were married or in long-term relationships, but this correlation was not statistically significant for single people.

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The interesting thing about the results for those in relationships is that the correlation peaked at having sex one time per week. Anne Muise, the lead researcher on the study, told NPR in an email, “This showed a linear association between sex and happiness up to a frequency of once a week, but at higher frequencies there is no longer an association. Therefore it is not necessary, on average, for couples to aim to engage in sex as frequently as possible.”

The correlation held steady regardless of gender, age, or length of relationship. Moreover, Muise and her colleagues checked their results to make sure the data was not too old (an online survey of 355 current couples confirmed the once-a-week sweet spot) and that it made sense (analysis of a different national data set found frequency of sex counts for only 7 percent of the relationship between relationship satisfaction and happiness).

The takeaway from the study, according to Muise: “[It’s] important to maintain a sexual connection with a romantic partner, but it is also important to have realistic expectations for one’s sex life (given that many couples are busy with work and family responsibilities.)”

Cleveland Clinic Announces Uterine Transplant Study

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic announced last week that they are looking to accept ten women into a study testing the possibility of using uterine transplants for women with uterine factor infertility (UFI), which includes those who were born without a uterus, lost their uterus, or have one that does not function.

As Rewire has reported, attempts at uterine transplants have been done in other countries with varying levels of success. In September of 2014, the first baby gestated in a transplanted uterus was born to an unidentified Swedish woman. The mother was part of a study of nine women who received transplanted uteruses, however, and not all of them fared as well. At least two of them had to have their donated uteruses removed.

For the new study, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic began screening women in September, putting them through medical and psychological evaluations to determine suitability. A chosen patient will first have eggs retrieved from her own ovaries. The eggs will be fertilized with sperm, and the resulting embryos will be frozen. Researchers will then search for a donor uterus from a deceased donor—other studies have used live donors, such as older relatives—and transplant the uterus within six to eight hours of the donor’s death. The woman will be put on anti-rejection medications and monitored for a year while the transplanted uterus fully heals. Then the researchers will attempt to implant the frozen embryos. If she becomes pregnant, she will be monitored by a team of high-risk obstetricians through delivery.

After one or two pregnancies, the woman will have a hysterectomy to remove the transplanted uterus and can then stop the anti-rejection drugs. The researchers note that the risk of the transplant should not be higher than comparable procedures, and note that it is intended to be temporary.

According the New York Times, eight women have started the screening process. One of them, a 26-year-old woman who has two adopted children, traveled more than 1,000 miles in hopes of being including in the trial. She told the Times: “I crave that experience. I want the morning sickness, the backaches, the feet swelling. I want to feel the baby move. That is something I’ve wanted for as long as I can remember.”

Mississippi Teacher Reportedly Suspended Over Condom Demonstration in Her Class

An English teacher in Mississippi has reportedly been placed on leave after a student in her class demonstrated to peers how to use condom. The story came to light as a result of a petition to reinstate the teacher, which garnered more than 2,000 signatures.

According to the petition, a student in Sherre Ferguson’s Honors English class at Starkville High School used her career presentation to discuss her goal of becoming a sexologist. The petition, seemingly written by family members of the student, says the student took the project seriously. The presentation was reportedly not graphic, but the student did demonstrate to her peers how to use a condom with the aid of a cucumber.

The school apparently became aware of this when the student posted a video of her presentation taken by a friend to Facebook. According to the petition, administrators felt that allowing a student to present on this topic was inappropriate and placed Ferguson on leave as a result.

A Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District Board of Trustees member confirmed the presentation to the Columbus Dispatch on Wednesday and said that the school had launched an investigation into whether the district’s sex education policy was violated. The district, however, has declined to identify the teacher or the student and has also declined to say whether any disciplinary action has been taken.

As of November 20, the petition had been updated to say that Ferguson would “be returning to the classroom.”

“This was all we wanted to see happen. We felt terrible that anything we might have supported would have harmed a cherished teacher,” the petition’s creators wrote in the update. “We are so pleased that the school administration values their faculty! We want to thank everyone for their support and are proud of our Yellow Jackets!”

Mississippi laws on sexuality education are very strict. Schools are required to teach either an “abstinence only” or “abstinence plus” program. Students must be separated by gender for these classes. Instruction may include discussion of condoms and contraceptives, so long as such discussions include “a factual presentation of the risks and failure rates.” Condom demonstrations, though, are expressly forbidden by the law.

It is unclear whether the law extends outside of sex education classes and whether it applies to student demonstrations. Either way, many educators believe such restrictive sex education laws are bad for students. Jesseca Boyer, the interim president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States told Rewire in an email, “Knowing how to use a condom correctly is an essential tool to lifelong sexual health. Mississippi’s prohibitive law prevents students from learning how to make empowered and healthy decisions.”