What is infertility?
Infertility is the inability to achieve pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse (or after 6 months if the woman is older than 35). The term describes men who can’t get a woman pregnant and women who can’t get pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term.
About 7% of men (4.7 million) and about 11% of women (6.7 million) of reproductive age in the United States have experienced fertility problems.
In 1/3 of infertile couples, the problem is with the man.
In 1/3 of infertile couples, the problem can’t be identified, or is with both the man and woman.
In 1/3 of infertile couples, the problem is with the woman.
What causes or contributes to infertility?
Health conditions and behaviors, age, genetics, and other factors can all cause or contribute to infertility in men and women.
Certain medications, such as testosterone gels/ patches to treat “low T”
Testicular injury or overheating
Men and Women
Exposure to chemicals
Cancer and/or exposure to radiation or chemotherapy
Conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and autoimmune disorders
Smoking and/or alcohol and drug abuse
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Gynecological disorders such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), endometriosis, and uterine fibroids
Problems with anatomy of the reproductive organs
What’s age got to do with it?
People are waiting longer than ever before to start families. Women are now 8 times more likely to have their first child after age 35 than they were in 1970. But waiting too long can cause problems.
As age increases, so does the likelihood of infertility.
- Older men produce fewer sperm and lower-quality sperm.
- Older women have fewer eggs and lower-quality eggs.
- The risk of some health conditions associated with infertility (above) increases with age.
- Age-related declines in sperm and egg quality increase the risk of health conditions, such as Down syndrome, autism, and schizophrenia, in future generations.
After age 30, a woman’s fertility decreases rapidly every year until menopause, usually around age 50. In the decade before menopause, her fertility is also greatly reduced. Male fertility also declines with age, but more gradually.
Get informed! Learn the risk factors for infertility, and ask your health care provider any questions you have about your ability to conceive and the natural course of fertility through your lifespan.
Make a plan! It’s never too early to start. Talk to your health care provider now about how to improve your overall health and eliminate risk factors so that your body is ready to conceive when you are.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Delayed childbearing: More women are having their first child later in life (PDF - 1.8 MB). National Center for Health Statistics Dada Brief, 21.
- Chandra, A., Copen, C. E., & Stephen, E. H. (2014). Infertility service use in the United States: Data from the National Survey of Family Growth, 1982–2010 (PDF - 318 KB). National Health Statistics Reports, 73.
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2013). Infertility and fertility: Overview.
- Lamar, C., Taymans, S., Rebar, R., LaBarbera, A., Albertini, D. F., & Gracia, C. (2013). Ovarian reserve: Regulation and implications for women’s health. Proceedings of the 2012 NICHD-ASRM conference. Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, 30, 285-292.
- Momand, J. R., Guogang, X., & Walter, C. A. (2013). The paternal age effect: A multifaceted phenomenon. Biology of Reproduction, 88(4):108, 1-9.
- North American Menopause Society. (2013). What you should know about your reproductive time span.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health. (2013). Infertility fact sheet.