10 Fertility Myths and Facts | Understanding Your Body and Health

December 4, 2020Bríd Ní Dhonnabháin

Infertility affects 1 in 6 couples, and many face their fertility journey in silence. Fertility is deeply personal and often shrouded in secrecy and uncertainty leaving people navigating their fertility journey feeling lost and overwhelmed. 

Whether you’re starting a family, preserving your fertility, or are simply curious about the science behind conception, we equip you with the knowledge and awareness you need to make well-informed choices and embrace your fertility journey with confidence.

Fertility Myths vs. Facts

In today’s age of online information overload, it can be challenging to separate fertility facts from myths. From questions around age and gender to addressing whether contraception or lifestyle factors can really cause infertility, we present you with evidence-based fertility facts to dispel those fertility myths and stop misinformation during a sensitive and stressful time.

Myth 1: “Infertility only affects people over 35” 

Age is the most important factor in determining female fertility; this is because we are born with all the eggs we will ever have. Therefore, as you get older, the number and quality of your eggs will decline. As you approach your mid 30s the rate of decline increases which makes it more likely that you might experience difficulty getting pregnant.  

However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t experience fertility issues before that, there are causes of infertility that can happen at any age such as PCOS, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, fibroids, and cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy exposure.

If you are under 35 and have been trying to conceive for a year with no success, you should then seek medical advice. Also, you should seek help after 6 months if you have been trying to conceive and are over 35 or have an underlying health condition. Often knowing where and when to seek help is quite overwhelming, but don’t worry, 

Myth 2: “Infertility only affects women and those assigned-female-at-birth”

Infertility is often looked upon as a women’s issue, but this is simply not true. About one-third of infertility cases are due to male factors, another third have inconclusive or unknown causes, and the remaining third are due to female factors. There are a variety of reasons that can cause male infertility such as poor sperm quality, number, erectile dysfunction which can cause issues when trying to get pregnant.

While male fertility isn’t limited by age (and some men can father children well into their 60s and 70s), it doesn’t mean that male fertility is limitless.

Myth 3: “Male fertility doesn’t decline with age”

Just like a woman’s egg quality, sperm quality declines with age. There’s an increased risk of miscarriage, birth defects, autism with increased paternal age. 

Hormonal changes can affect male fertility, affecting sperm production, mobility and motility (the ability for sperm to move and swim in a coordinated and purposeful manner to its destination: the egg).

Myth 4: “Infertility won’t be a concern if you already have a child” 

Unfortunately, even if you have had one or more children previously without any issues, you still might struggle to conceive or give birth in the future. If you are struggling to conceive after having a child, this is called secondary infertility and affects approximately 10% of people.

Secondary infertility can be caused by factors such as age, complications from a previous pregnancy, medical treatment or damage to your reproductive organs. 

If you and your partner have been trying to conceive again for some time without success, there are a few things you can do to make sure your body is ready for pregnancy and you are having sex during your fertile window. 

Myth 5: “Irregular periods mean you’re infertile” 

False. Irregular periods are common, but it’s possible to become pregnant even if you have them. 

Lots of factors impact the regularity of your periods and menstrual cycle. Stress, sleep disruptions, changes to your exercise routine, medication and more can impact your hormonal balance.

Irregular periods can mean irregular ovulation, which can make trying to conceive difficult because it is more difficult to know when your fertile window is. It means you may not know when you’re ovulating (and therefore when the best time to have sex to encourage conception is). In this way, irregular periods can impact fertility. That’s why it’s advised to use various methods for tracking ovulation to pinpoint the right timing.


Irregular periods, coupled with heavy, painful or infrequent periods (if they happen more than 35 days apart), can be a sign there’s something else going on. If this is the case, it’s worth getting a hormone and fertility test to understand if there might be any underlying hormonal issues that might be causing your symptoms.

Myth 6: “Long-term contraception will negatively impact your fertility”

The idea that hormonal contraception will cause infertility is a very common misconception, but thankfully it’s not true. Whether you’re on the pill, have an implant, an IUD (the coil) or the injection, the evidence suggests that there is no permanent impact on your fertility.

Depending on the type, your use of hormonal contraception may temporarily suppress your ovarian reserve and it can take several months for both your ovarian reserve and periods to return to what is normal for you. For example If you’ve been on the pill, it could take 2-3 cycles for things to return to normal. If you were on the depo injection, it might take up to 8 – 12 months. This delay happens because it takes time for your hormones to get back to baseline.

So, whilst there is no evidence to suggest that hormonal contraception can impact fertility in the long term, it’s worth knowing your body may need time to get back to normal when planning future pregnancies.

Myth 7: “Your lifestyle doesn’t matter because it’s all about sex” 

In order for conception to occur, sperm must meet the egg to become fertilised, which means you need to have sex at the right time but it’s not the only factor that impacts fertility.

Leading a healthy lifestyle including exercising in moderation, eating a healthy, balanced diet, keeping stress to a minimum and avoiding or limiting alcohol and smoking may shorten the time it takes to get pregnant.

If you need personalised diet recommendations to support fertility, you can speak with one of our fertility nutritionists.

Myth 8: “The more sex you have, the better your chances of conceiving”

The narrow fertile window exists only around ovulation—in the 6 days leading up to ovulation, the day of ovulation, and the day after. This is because of the limited lifespan of an egg and sperm. Your egg will only survive about 2-24 hours after ovulation if not fertilised, while sperm can survive in the genital tract for up to five days. This  is why detecting when you’re ovulating is key.

Knowing when to have sex when trying to conceive can cause tension between couples as it may start to feel clinical or forced which doesn’t feel attractive, and pinpointing exactly when you are ovulating may not always be easy, this is why it is recommended to regularly have unprotected sex every 2 to 3 days through your cycle. 

Myth 9: “Stress causes infertility” 

It can be frustrating when someone tells you to “just relax” when you’re struggling to conceive. (Wouldn’t it be great if it were that easy?)

While it’s unlikely that stress alone can cause infertility, it can impact fertility

It can be difficult to discern whether you feel stressed due to struggles with fertility or the other way around. Often, they go hand in hand.

It’s worth considering your response to stress. For some, stress may cause you to over-eat, under-eat, exercise excessively (which can lead you to lose your period—hypothalamic amenorrhea), consume more alcohol or smoke more. All these lifestyle factors can impact fertility. It can also cause sexual dysfunction which can make things difficult. 

Taking action to manage your stress can support you. Exercise, breathing techniques, meditation and taking the time to rest can all help to reduce stress.

Myth 10: “Your reproductive health is out of your control” 

You can take control of your reproductive health and Hertility can support you every step of the way.

Understand your hormones with a hormone and fertility test, and get advice from fertility advisors, fertility counsellors and nutritionists. Improve your knowledge of fertility and the options available to you including egg freezing, same-sex fertility, planning future children and IVF treatment with science-backed, inclusive pathways to care.

Understanding the fertility facts and dispelling any fertility myths will allow you to make the most informed choices when it comes to your fertility and reproductive health.

National Fertility Awareness Week is the perfect opportunity to learn more, educate others, share experiences and take part in events that help to support and empower individuals and couples in their fertility journeys. Share this article with someone who would benefit from more awareness about fertility.

References:

  1. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pelvic-inflammatory-disease-pid/
  2. https://www.macmillan.org.uk/cancer-information-and-support/impacts-of-cancer/fertility?gclid=cj0kcqiauqkqbhdxarisafzelmjwyr8qw5hw0dzhekwcfrfetbugehu9t8pytwar8wxxvdhraqaym9qaariyealw_wcb&gclsrc=aw.ds
  3. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/infertility/causes/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3253726/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3253726/
  6. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/
  7. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/combined-contraceptive-pill/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6016043/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7456349/#:~:text=Next%20to%20a%20higher%20frequency,.%2C%202012%3B%20Kobayashi%20et%20al
  10. https://hertilityhealth.com/blog/fertility-myths-the-common-misconceptions-about-conception/

 

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