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What is Infertility?

Infertility Myths and Facts On Fertility


Updated April 27, 2011

What is Infertility?

Infertility is usually defined as the inability to get pregnant after a year of unprotected sex. According to statistics collected by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 6.1 million women between the ages of 15 to 44 have an impaired ability to have children, and 2.1 million married couples are experiencing infertility. The statistical study also found that 9.2 million women had made use of infertility services at some time in their life.

Quite clearly, if you and your partner are experiencing infertility, you are not alone.

The definition of infertility can be further broken down into three groups:

  • Primary Infertility: Primary infertility refers to women who have never achieved pregnancy in the past.

  • Secondary Infertility: Secondary infertility refers to women who have achieved pregnancy and given birth in the past, but are now having difficulty conceiving.

  • Recurrent Miscarriage: Women who experience recurrent miscarriages may also receive a diagnosis of infertility if they experience two or more successive miscarriages. While miscarriage is not uncommon (occurring in up to 25% of recognized pregnancies), less than 5% of women will experience two miscarriages in a row, and less than 1% three or more successive miscarriages.

Infertility Myths

This might be a good time to look at some infertility myths, and consider what infertility is not.

Infertility is not limited to women.

Infertility affects women and men equally. According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, one-third of infertility cases are due to female factor infertility, one-third are due to male factor infertility, and the remaining third due to problems from both sides, or unexplained reasons.

Infertility is not all in your head.

Infertility is a disease of the reproductive system, and is not caused by not “wanting” to have a baby enough. Infertility can not be imagined into being. If not wanting a baby was enough to cause infertility, then there would be far fewer unintended pregnancies in the world.

Infertility is not limited to unhealthy people.

While living a healthy lifestyle is a good place to start when trying to achieve pregnancy, it does not cure infertility. Poor diet, smoking, drinking, and STDs can threaten your fertility, but the majority of infertility cases are not the result of lifestyle choices.

Infertility is not limited to older couples.

As we age, our ability to achieve pregnancy lowers. Fertility in women peaks during the late teens and 20s, after which it begins to drop, with age 35 beginning the most rapid decline. (This is why couples age 35 and older are encouraged to seek help for infertility after only 6 months of trying.) However, infertility can and does affect men and women of all ages.

Infertility is not going to go away if you just “relax and go on vacation.”

How many times have couples coping with infertility been told, “If you just stop thinking about it, you’ll have a baby.” Not only is this advice incorrect, it’s also hurtful. Extreme stress can disrupt a woman’s menstrual cycle, but stress alone does not cause infertility.

Ignoring infertility does not help, either. While two-thirds of couples seeking infertility treatments will get pregnant and have a baby eventually, couples with diagnosed infertility who do not receive treatment have a 5% or less chance of having a baby.


Infertility Myths and Facts. RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. Accessed January 29, 2008. http://www.resolve.org/support-and-services/for-family--friends/myths-and-facts.html

Fast Stats A to Z: Infertility. National Center for Health Statistics. Accessed January 29, 2008. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/fertile.htm

Patient Fact Sheet: Recurrent Pregnancy Loss. American Society of Reproductive Medicine. Accessed January 29, 2008. http://asrm.org/uploadedFiles/ASRM_Content/Resources/Patient_Resources/Fact_Sheets_and_Info_Booklets/recurrent_preg_loss.pdf

Patient Fact Sheet: Reproductive Aging. American Society of Reproductive Medicine. Accessed January 29, 2008. http://asrm.org/uploadedFiles/ASRM_Content/Resources/Patient_Resources/Fact_Sheets_and_Info_Booklets/reproaging.pdf

Infertility. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Accessed January 29, 2008. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/infertility.html

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