Introduction to Infertility

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Not everyone has the goal of becoming a parent, but for those who do, being unable to conceive a child is an exquisitely painful reality. Many of us spend a portion of our lives attempting to avoid unplanned pregnancies, and assume that once we are ready to conceive, it will happen with little difficulty. We tend to think that shifting gears from preventing pregnancy to planning conception and childbirth will proceed in a relatively smooth and orderly fashion. A failure to conceive, then, is a major life stressor, which can wreak havoc on otherwise well-adjusted couples.

Even in today's society, we tend to assume that individuals in committed relationships have the goal of procreation. Woman are often identified with their ability to give birth. Both men and women are supposed to pass on their genetic and generational legacies. Failure by either party to "fulfill their end of the bargain" can be devastating, humiliating, and emotionally destructive. The continuing taboo against discussing the subject of infertility compounds these reactions. Even though tremendous strides have been made in treating this relatively common condition, infertility is typically not openly discussed.


The current article is designed to break through some of those taboos and provide you with information, treatment options, and resources to guide you through this painful time. Infertility medicine is a rapidly advancing science, so be sure to check this topic center periodically for new research and treatment updates.

Defining Infertility

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Infertility is typically defined as the inability to become pregnant after one year of sexual intercourse without contraception. For women over age 35, this condition is diagnosed after 6 months of an inability to conceive. Using this threshold, there will be women, albeit a minority, who meet the criteria for "infertility" but who go on to conceive without medical intervention. However, this definition is used to ensure that people who are experiencing problems that can be remedied will seek timely medical intervention.

Having trouble conceiving is more common that you might think. Despite what we were taught in our sex education classes in school (if any such class was offered), in any given month a typical couple has a 20% chance of conceiving. In a lifetime, 10-15% of couples will experience infertility. This number jumps to 33% in couples with a woman is over 35 years of age. In about 45% of cases there is a male-origin for the infertility, female-origin infertility accounts for 30% of cases, and 20% of the time both partners are the source of difficulties.

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