For as long as people have been having children, they've been trying to understand the mystery of fertility. We've come a long way, but many misconceptions remain. Here's a look at the top modern infertility myths:
Myth 1: Infertility is almost always a woman's problem.
Fact: When there's an identifiable cause of infertility, about half the time men contribute to the problem, according to Resolve, a national infertility organization. Resolve explains that a male factor is responsible in about 35 percent of infertile couples, and male and female factors together contribute to the problem in another 20 percent.
Myth 2: Many infertile couples are trying too hard. If they would just relax, they would conceive right away.
Fact: Relaxation alone won't help anyone become a parent. Instead of booking that Puerto Vallarta vacation, infertile couples should schedule a doctor's appointment. One or both partners may have a correctable medical condition that stands in the way of conception. If there's no obvious physical explanation for infertility, a doctor can suggest lifestyle changes that could boost the odds of parenthood.
Myth 3: Most couples can conceive any time they want.
Fact: According to Resolve, more than 7 million Americans of childbearing age have fertility problems. Even under the best circumstances, conception is tricky. It's not unusual for a perfectly healthy, fertile couple to try for several months or more before achieving a pregnancy. And the longer couples wait to have children, the more difficult it can be: By the time the average woman reaches her early forties, half of her eggs are no longer viable. However, most couples who can afford fertility treatments can eventually conceive, if they are open to the use of egg donation.
Myth 4: Women don't start to lose their fertility until their late 30s or early 40s.
Fact: According to a report in the journal Human Reproduction, a woman's fertility starts to decline at age 27, although this isn't clinically significant. Most women of this age can still get pregnant, of course, but it might take a few more months of trying. But by the time a woman reaches 35, her chances of getting pregnant during any particular attempt are about half of what they were between the ages of 19 and 26.
Myth 5: Boxer shorts and loose pants are the ideal garb for prospective fathers.
Fact: Researchers at the University of New York at Stony Brook put this piece of conventional wisdom to the test and concluded that underwear style is unlikely to significantly affect a man's fertility. What that comes down to is that wearing roomy shorts probably won't help a man become a father -- but on the other hand, it won't hurt, either.
Myth 6: Little can be done to improve a man's sperm count.
Fact: No matter how sparse his troops may be, a man still has reason for hope. Many men who produce little or no sperm have blockages or other treatable conditions. Lifestyle changes -- such as quitting smoking, losing weight, and staying out of hot tubs -- may also help. Some research also found that men who bicycled more than five hours per week had a lower sperm concentration than either couch potatoes or men doing other types of exercise. For this reason, some fertility experts recommend holding off on biking if you and your partner are trying to conceive (and resuming the sport after you're successful).
Myth 7: A man's fertility doesn't change with age.
Fact: While some men can father children into their 80s or 90s, male fertility isn't age-proof. As reported in Human Reproduction, a man's fertility usually begins to dip after about age 35. The decline is generally slow and gradual, but it can speed up dramatically if a man develops a condition that hampers sperm production (such as an infection in the genital tract).
Myth 8: Vasectomy reversals are rarely successful.
Fact: According to a report from the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutes, some patients have a better than 50/50 chance of fathering a child after a vasectomy reversal. However, the longer a man waits to have a reverse vasectomy, the lower the odds.
Myth 9: Infertility means you can't have a child.
Fact: Infertility means that you have been unable to have a child naturally after a year of trying. With the proper treatment, many people go on to have children. In addition, there is a possibility of a couple conceiving without treatment if the woman is ovulating and has one open tube, and the male partner has some sperm in his ejaculate. This rate may be lower than you would hope, but it is not zero.
If you're struggling with infertility, you undoubtedly have many questions of your own -- and maybe even a few misconceptions. Schedule an appointment with a fertility specialist and find out where you stand. Thanks to modern medicine, many infertile couples become parents -- and that's no myth.
And if that doesn't work, you may want to consider adoption. Many infertile couples have become parents this way -- and say they couldn't be happier.
Dunson DB, Colombo B, Baird DD, "Changes with Age in the Level and Duration of Fertility in the Menstrual Cycle," Human Reproduction: 17(5):1399-403.
Alvero, Ruben, MD. How Bicycling Affects Male Fertility. University of Colorado. https://arm.coloradowomenshealth.com/doctors-blog/bicycling-affect-male-fertility/
RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. Infertility myths and facts.
Sandlow, JI. Shattering the myths about male fertility. Postgraduate Medicine 107(2)
Jarow, JP et al. Best practice policies for male infertility. The Journal of Urology 167: 2138-2144.
Munkelwitz R and BR Gilbert. Are boxer shorts really better? A critical analysis of the role of underwear type in male subfertility. Journal of Urology 160(4): 1329-1333.
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutes. Department of Urology. Vasectomy Reversal.
DB Dunson et al. Changes with age in the level and duration of fertility in the menstrual cycle. Human Reproduction 17 (5): 1399-1403.
University of Iowa. Male Infertility: Frequently asked questions.
Resolve. Infertility Diagnosis.
Resolve. Demystifying Infertility.