A lot of couples face infertility. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 6% of American women ages 15-44 aren’t able to get pregnant after one year of trying. And in the U.S., nearly 9% of men ages 25-44 said they or their partner had visited a doctor about it.
For couples who are trying to conceive, infertility often remains mysterious. Outside the doctor’s office, the topic is rarely discussed openly — couples often feel shyness or embarrassment about their infertility struggles. This secrecy keeps others in the dark. Myths about infertility make their way into the culture, where they affect peoples’ decision-making.
We wanted to correct these myths and misconceptions, so we talked to Sohaib Kayani, MD, an OBGYN at Banner Health Center in Arizona. Here are 11 common infertility myths and the actual facts behind them.
Myth 1: Infertility is typically the woman’s fault
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), one-third of infertility cases are caused by male reproductive issues, one-third by female reproductive issues, and one-third by both parties or by unknown factors. Dr. Kayani put it this way: “Infertility is a people problem, not just a female problem.”
Myth 2: Couples should always try for at least a year before seeing an OBGYN
Usually, infertility is defined as one year of unprotected intercourse without conception. However, this is more of a guideline, than an actual rule. Many couples should seek medical help sooner — for example, women over age 35, those with a history of irregular periods, fibroids, endometriosis, pelvic adhesive disease, ectopic pregnancy or multiple miscarriages. Same for couples with a male history of surgery, infection or trauma to the genitals.
Myth 3: Woman can’t get pregnant after 35
This myth is incredibly common. While a woman’s peak reproductive years begin in her late teens and continue into her late 20s, “many women will go on to have healthy pregnancies later in life,” Dr. Kayani assured. For example, about one in six couples in which the woman is 35 and older have fertility problems, according to the CDC — that means plenty of women age 35 and above are doing just fine fertility-wise.
Myth 4: Using birth control can cause infertility
The pill doesn’t impact fertility, either positively or negatively. And a woman’s normal menstrual cycle will almost always continue within a month or two after she’s stopped taking the pill. But if things haven’t gone back to normal within three months of stopping birth control, make an appointment with your OBGYN.
Myth 5: If a man can ejaculate, he’s not infertile
In reality, male infertility isn’t that simple. Most men with infertility have no noticeable signs that there’s any problem. The cause can be a low sperm count — this is usually what people imagine — but sperm movement (motility) and sperm shape (morphology) also play a part. Studies have shown that men who work physically demanding jobs or who take two or more medications may have lower sperm counts, and high blood pressure can negatively impact a sperm’s shape.
Myth 6: Irregular menstrual cycle = infertility
Irregular menstrual cycles are pretty common. “Sleep disruptions, stress levels and exercise routines can alter the delicate balance of hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle,” Dr. Kayani explained. “If you have concerns about irregular cycles, it’s worth bringing up to your gynecologist sooner rather than later,” especially if you’ve gone more than three or four months without a period.
Myth 7: Infertility can’t happen in young men and women
Sure, increased age is often to blame — women over 35 and men over 50 have lower fertility rates, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine — but young men and women still deal with it, too. Dr. Kayani pointed out that nearly 1 in 10 women face infertility before reaching age 30.
Myth 8: Certain sex positions improve the odds of pregnancy
There’s just no evidence to support this one. Ejaculated sperm can be found at the cervix within seconds, and within the fallopian tubes within minutes, no matter the coital position.
Myth 9: Infertility is always fixable
It’s true, most couples experiencing infertility will get pregnant eventually. But most doesn’t mean all. Some folks have issues that just aren’t fixable, while others face problems that can’t even be explained. “The truth is, not everyone can get pregnant even with interventions,” Dr. Kayani said. “Those experiencing infertility should not feel as if they are to blame or aren’t trying hard enough.” Sometimes it’s just not in the cards.
Myth 10: Your overall health doesn’t impact fertility
Truthfully, general health is the biggest factor for fertility, in both men and women. Drinking too much alcohol, exercising too much, being underweight or overweight — it all matters.
Myth 11: If you can’t afford expensive procedures like IVF, you shouldn’t consider treatment
For couples dealing with infertility, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is rarely the first option. There are many other treatments (that are far less expensive). These treatments are often determined by a simple blood test. According to the NIH, 85-90% of infertility cases are treated with conventional medical therapies like medication or surgery. For you, the solution may be as simple as a pill or a minor medical procedure.
What should I do next?
If you’d like to read more about infertility and pregnancy, check out these helpful articles written with help from Banner Health experts.
- 10 Do’s and Don’ts for Helping a Friend Through Infertility and Pregnancy Loss
- Diagnosing Fertility: Common Tests on the Pathway to Pregnancy
- Five Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before Getting Pregnant