Infertility & Fertility

"Infertility" is a term that describes when a couple is unable to achieve pregnancy after 1 year of having regular, unprotected sex, or after 6 months if the woman is older than 35 years of age.

"Subfertility" is sometimes used to mean the same thing as infertility, but they are slightly different. Subfertility means that pregnancy is likely to occur without medical intervention, but it takes longer than usual.

The term "infertility" also is used to describe the condition of women who are able to get pregnant but unable to carry a pregnancy to term because of miscarriage (sometimes called clinical spontaneous abortion), recurrent pregnancy loss, stillbirth, or other problems.

Recurrent pregnancy loss is considered distinct from infertility. Although there may be some overlap, the causes of pregnancy loss, recurrent pregnancy loss, and stillbirth are often different from the causes of infertility.

How common is infertility?

About 9% of men and about 11% of women of reproductive age in the United States have experienced fertility problems.

  • In one-third of infertile couples, the problem is with the man.
  • In one-third of infertile couples, the problem can't be identified or is with both the man and woman.
  • In one-third of infertile couples, the problem is with the woman.

Studies suggest that after 1 year of having unprotected sex, 12% to 15% of couples are unable to conceive, and after 2 years, 10% of couples still have not had a live-born baby. (In couples younger than age 30 who are generally healthy, 40% to 60% are able to conceive in the first 3 months of trying.)

Fertility declines with age in both men and women, but the effects of age are much greater in women. In their 30s, women are about half as fertile as they are in their early 20s, and women's chance of conception declines significantly after age 35. Male fertility also declines with age, but more gradually.

What are some causes of infertility?

When a couple experiences problems with fertility, the cause(s) can be multiple and overlapping. Problems in the male are just as likely as problems in the female, and it is equally likely that the cause is a combination from both partners.

In many cases, the exact cause of the infertility remains unknown or unexplained—a situation called idiopathic infertility.

Because so many things factor into infertility, this website can provide only a summary of the most common problems related to infertility for both males and females. In some cases, these causes or factors overlap and occur at the same time, compounding their effects on fertility.

What do we know about idiopathic or unexplained infertility in females and males?

When health care providers cannot find a specific or even likely cause for infertility in females or males, they will diagnose the infertility as "idiopathic" or unexplained.

This diagnosis applies to about 30% of female infertility cases and about 50% of male infertility cases.

In some cases, however, knowing the exact cause may not be necessary. The health care provider may begin treatment to improve the chances of conception, including fertility treatments, even if no cause can be identified.

When should I consult a health care provider?

Couples should consult with a health care provider about fertility problems if they have had unprotected sex for 1 year without a successful pregnancy.

Exceptions to this recommendation apply to:

  • Women older than age 35 who have had 6 months of unprotected sex without a successful pregnancy
  • Women who suspect they may have underlying problems that will affect fertility, such as irregular periods
  • Individuals who have been diagnosed with specific conditions that are known to reduce fertility

What infertility treatments are available?

Treatments for infertility can range from medications to embryo implantation through assisted reproductive technology (ART). There are treatments that are specifically for men or for women and some that involve both partners. In 85% to 90% of cases, infertility is treated with conventional medical therapies, such as medication or surgery.

If fertility treatments are unsuccessful, it is possible to use eggs or sperm donated by a third party or to have another woman carry a fetus. Select a category of treatment to learn more

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Last updated: 6/3/2022