Infertility is commonly defined as the inability to conceive after at least a year of unprotected sex, or the inability to carry a pregnancy to a live birth. Infertility is not the same thing as sterility. According to MSNBC, one-third of infertile couples who seek treatment are able to have children.
According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine:
- Infertility affects about 7.3 million people in the United States, which is roughly 10 percent of the reproductive-age population.
- Infertility affects men and women equally.
- About 33 percent of infertility cases can be attributed to male factors, 33 percent to female factors, and one-third to a combination of problems in both partners or unexplained causes.
- Most infertility cases (85 to 90 percent) are treated with conventional medical therapies such as drugs or surgery.
- In vitro fertilization and similar treatments account for less than 3 percent of infertility services performed in the United States.
Causes of Infertility
There is no "typical" infertility patient, and the causes of infertility vary widely. According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, there are several common reasons why couples may find it difficult to conceive.
- Azoospermia: No sperm cells being produced
- Oligospermia: Too few sperm cells being produced
- Adequate quantity of sperm cells produced, but with defects
- Ovulation disorder
- Blocked fallopian tubes
- Birth defects involving uterine structure
- Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome. PCOS, is a fairly complex glandular disorder that is becoming widely recognized. According to the International Council on Infertility Information Dissemination, PCOS affects between 5 to 10 percent of all women and is a leading cause of infertility.
Age also plays a significant role in a woman's ability to conceive. According to MSNBC, female fertility starts to decline in the late 20s. While a 30-year old woman has a 20 percent chance of pregnancy, the probability decreases 3-5 percent per year. By age 40, a woman's probability of achieving pregnancy drops to 5 percent.
The vast majority of infertility cases are treated with drugs or by surgically repairing the reproductive organs. In vitro fertilization (eggs are fertilized outside of the body then placed directly into a woman's uterus) is the method of treatment in a small percentage of cases. Still other couples choose adoption when they are unable to conceive.
Although the causes of and treatments for infertility are primarily physical, infertility is not simply a matter of biology. For many couples, experiencing infertility is a life crisis that evokes emotions similar to those associated with miscarriage or the loss of a child by other means. Often, the pain of not being able to have a child is compounded by a sense of failure and inadequacy.