It's Valentines Day! We talk fertility and reproductive health with Dr Emmalee Ford

Feb 14 2022

Education = Empowerment

It’s Valentine’s Day! What better time to get up close and personal with HMRI fertility and reproductive health researcher Dr Emmalee Ford?

When Emmalee Ford first set out to inspire the next generation of scientists, she imagined she’d become a secondary school science teacher. Instead, Emmalee found her calling as a fertility and reproductive health researcher.

Emmalee’s current project sees her working within a multi-disciplinary team of academics and industry leaders to research sex education and fertility knowledge in Australian high schools.

“It’s funny,” she says. “Here we are on Valentine’s Day - a day dedicated to showing appreciation and respect for good partners and emphasises the importance of love and fulfilling relationships. But this is just one day in the calendar! We need to be having conversations about good relationships all year round.”

Emmalee’s current research aims to deliver just that by creating a comprehensive sex education program that seeks to foster student wellbeing and a culture of respect.

“The current sex educational focus is firmly centered on the 'here and now',” Emmalee explains. “We might best describe it as ‘bugs, babies, and bodies.’ But this isn’t the kind of information that will necessarily help young people to develop a lifelong appreciation of their own sexual and reproductive health.”

As a fertility researcher, Emmalee believes that providing students with a strong understanding of a healthy reproductive system is invaluable.

“There is a surprisingly high number of adults who are not aware about the prevalence of infertility in Australia, which affects about 15% of the population.”

“Adults are also unaware about just how successful (or unsuccessful) assisted reproductive technologies like IVF are at fixing infertility. It’s why it’s critical that we incorporate that information into student sex education.”

Thanks to previous research, the U.K. has mandated that facts about reproductive health, and the potential impact of lifestyle on fertility be included in its national curriculum. Emmalee hopes that Australia schools will follow suit.

“Rightly, the current sex education program’s focus on preventing unwanted teen pregnancies. But if we solely focus on this, there’s a danger that we’re instilling them with the idea that it’s very easy to get pregnant, when that’s just not the case.”

Emmalee and her team believe that educating young people at this critical period in their lives, will help them understand their bodies and empower them to make informed decisions about their lifestyle and future family planning.

“It makes me very hopeful that by talking to young people about what they want, we can build a solid case for Australia to adopt comprehensive sex education.”

The team will work closely with Family Planning NSW, and soon be recruiting high school student for their survey and interview/focus groups. They will be looking to understand what students want to know about topics that are currently part of sex education, and topics that they think should be (and currently aren’t) included in a sex education program. Watch this space to learn more!

Breaking the ice with Dr Emmalee Ford.

1. What’s something that you’re awesome at?

Spilling coffee on myself! I’m constantly in awe of how I manage it so frequently.

2. If you had to pick a superpower, which one would it be, and why?

Without any hesitation, I’d choose teleportation. It would be very convenient since I’m not well-travelled, but I’d like to be. And it would be hard to become a supervillain with that power (we all know that having a PhD is already very common in supervillains)!

3. If you won a trip to go anywhere on earth, where would you go?

I read a book about the ecological history and incredible dynamics of the environment of Americas. So if I could, I would do a big trip from the Amazon tropics to the badlands, to the deserts and the redwood forest. There’s so much to see!

4. Any shows that you’re currently bingeing?

Well, speaking of superpowers… I’m currently bingeing DC’s Doom Patrol. It’s kind of silly, is lots of fun to watch and has a bit of heart. The last episode I watched, the team of misfits on their quest to try and be heroes, had help from a talking street. Like, a neighbourhood street that communicated through signs and debris on the street! Very wacky

5. What is your hidden talent?

I make funky rugs! I make them as coasters, floor rugs, wall hangings and even tote bags and stool cushion covers. I’ve always loved art and drawing but never channeled it to anything original. I use a technique called punch needling, I’ve made things like Garfield, Minnie Mouse, even science-themed rugs like a placenta and an ovarian follicle.

6. What background music track would you choose that sums up your life?

This Must Be The Place by Talking Heads. I’ve never been one to settle in one place. Home is what you make it, and finding those people in life who make you feel like you belong