14 October 2020
HFEA data reveal big increase in female same sex couples conceiving via IVF
Latest figures from the fertility sector regulator, HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority), show that although IVF is still predominantly used by heterosexual couples with fertility issues, more female same sex couples and single women are now conceiving babies via IVF.
Heterosexual couples account for 90 per cent of all fertility patients, but, in what HFEA Chair Sally Cheshire describes as ‘an increasing shift in society’s changing attitudes towards family creation and relationships’, around seven times more same-sex couples used IVF in 2018 than 10 years previously. Nearly three-times as many single women are now also using IVF than a decade ago.
The report also highlighted that women in same-sex relationships had the highest birth rate per embryo transferred relationships (31 per cent) followed by patients in heterosexual relationships (23 per cent). Single women had the lowest birth rates at 17 per cent.
This may be because the average age of single women giving birth via IVF is 39, compared to 35 in female same-sex and heterosexual relationships. The higher birth rate for female same-sex couples may also be because most use IVF to conceive without having experienced earlier fertility problems. The statistics may also be positively affected by using sperm donors.
Jessica Holden from equality campaign group Stonewall described the increase in the number of female same-sex couples using IVF as likely a result of legislative changes such as equal marriage in 2014, but also ‘changing societal attitudes which have allowed people to feel comfortable being open about who they are and that they are part of a same-sex family’.
Ongoing impact of Covid-19
With Covid-19 having forced many to temporarily halt fertility treatment or surrogacy arrangements, more good news from HFEA comes in its recent statement reassuring the public that fertility clinics, forced to close during lockdown, now have in place the processes and procedures to be able to treat patients again safely, while following Government safety guidelines.
HFEA Chief Executive Peter Thompson acknowledged the significant emotional impact on patients of closing the clinics but was pleased to announce that nearly all fertility clinics have reopened and are again offering services to patients. And, as of 13th October, HFEA states that despite new local lockdowns coming into force, it is hopeful fertility clinics will remain open, with the advice:
‘We expect clinics to follow professional and local guidance and to review and adapt their treatment strategy to ensure fertility treatment can continue to be provided safely.’
Returning to the HFEA figures, the 2018 data also show that more than half of women freezing their eggs do not have a partner. Anecdotally, with lockdown making it near impossible for people to meet new partners, it seems likely that more women will now decide to freeze their eggs to prolong their option of conceiving in the future.
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