I recently heard a talk by a colleague on the issue of age related fertility decline. Her basic claim was that, although most women know it exists, most women badly underestimate how serious the problem is and how limited a solution assisted reproductive technology provides, with the result that many women who want children end up not having them. One policy proposal she offered was that sex education classes ought to include information on fertility decline.
It struck me, listening to the talk, that in this case as in many others, the same facts can be used to support a wide range of different political conclusions. In this case ...
It sounded as though opposition to the idea of warning women about the risks, including criticism of the data on which the warnings were based, came largely from feminists concerned that such warnings would scare women out of career paths that included delayed motherhood. That is indeed one possible consequence. Pushing the argument further in that direction, one could argue that fertility decline is not only an argument in favor of the traditional family pattern, women marrying reasonably young and putting most of their efforts into the job of wife and mother, it is even an argument in favor of traditional sexual mores. In order for women to marry young there have to be men willing to marry them, and one reason why, in a more traditional society, men were willing to marry was that it was the only reliable way of getting sex. The more common and accepted nomarital sex is, the weaker that argument.
On the other hand ...
Someone with a different political orientation could use the same facts to argue for a different set of conclusions. If waiting to have children until late in one's thirties or after risks never having them, and if having children earlier than that makes a serious career difficult or impossible under current circumstances, that might be an argument for changing those circumstances. If you take the desirability of career options for women as a given, fertility decline becomes a reason why husbands should do more of the work of taking care of children, employers be more willing to provide on site nurseries, offer extended periods of leave or part time work to new mothers, why social institutions should change to make it easier for women to combine career and motherhood before they get too old to make the latter a reliable option.
Similar considerations apply to the proposal to include information on fertility decline in sex education. As another member of the audience pointed out, that might make sex education more popular with conservatives, since it would be teaching how to have babies as well as how not to have them, the latter being how current sex education is often viewed.
On the other hand, one might argue that fully accurate information about fertility would have a perverse effect. Current campaigns pushing contraception leave the impression that unprotected sex is likely to lead to pregnancy, which is an argument both for contraception and against sex. Accurate information, as best I can tell by a little online search, would tell students that a single act of unprotected intercourse, randomly timed, has only about one chance in forty of resulting in pregnancy—less if the couple make an attempt to avoid the woman's fertile period. To adventurous teenagers, one chance in forty might look pretty safe, especially if they tell themselves that they are only going to try it once. So accurate information, not about fertility decline but about fertility, might easily produce an increase in the teen pregnancy rate.
My own conclusion from such considerations is that the best rule is to try to tell the truth. Whatever information you provide people, you cannot predict how they will use it, so trying to bias the facts to produce the result you want is quite likely not to work, might even have the opposite of the intended result. At least if you tell people the truth, you reduce one source of incorrect decisions.
Which is part of why I try, in my own writing, to give the arguments against my position as well as the arguments for. In support of which immodest claim I offer Chapter 55 from part V of the new third edition of my first book, which presents and discusses an argument against the stability of the set of institutions that I spent part III of the book describing and defending.