Fertility, infertility and subfertility: The most common myths and misconceptions

For Infertility Awareness Week this year, we’ve put together some of the most common misconceptions around infertility and why they’re wrong.

min read

Most of us spend the first part of our lives being told by our parents, our teachers, and most teen films out there, not to get pregnant by accident or how not to get someone else pregnant. It's no wonder then that we spend so much of our lives thinking that it's easy to get pregnant when we want to.

Sadly, that’s not the case for 1 in 6 couples who will experience fertility challenges.

And yet despite subfertility and infertility being so common to experience, there are so many misconceptions out there about why it happens, who it can affect and what your options are for having a child. For Infertility Awareness Week this year, we’ve put together some of the most common misconceptions around infertility and why they’re not true.

Myth 1: Infertility and subfertility are the same thing

Infertility is clinically defined as not being able to get pregnant after having regular unprotected sex for one year or more. Subfertility is a prolonged time of reduced fertility and not being able to get pregnant.

The terms subfertility and infertility are often used interchangeably, but at Fertifa we prefer the term subfertility. The word 'infertility' can imply that someone will never get pregnant or conceive, which is often not the case.

Myth 2: A diagnosis of infertility means you'll never be able to get pregnant or have children

Infertility is a negative sounding word, and naturally it has very negative connotations for lots of people. We want to remind everyone that a diagnosis of infertility does not mean that you'll never have children of your own. Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant after having regular unprotected sexual intercourse for at least one year.

If you do have an infertility diagnosis, there are lots of medical treatments (like IVF) that can help you get pregnant. And some people even get pregnant naturally after an infertility diagnosis.  

Myth 3: Men don't experience infertility

One of the biggest (and most harmful!) misconceptions around fertility is that it is a 'woman's issue' or that it's not something that can affect men, or that men even have to think about. This is of course not true!

In up to 50% of heterosexual couples struggling with subfertility or infertility, there will be male-related fertility factors that have contributed. If a heterosexual or same-sex male couple are trying to conceive, it's so important for both people to have fertility tests early on in the process. The first fertility test a man usually will do is a semen analysis. This test looks at a semen sample and checks sperm count, sperm shape, and whether they can move in the way they're meant to. In a 'healthy' sample, only 4% of sperm actually look normal!

Myth 4: You have to have IVF if you're affected by subfertility

There are lots of different fertility treatments out there that can help someone get pregnant, and IVF is just one of them. Here's a summary of some of the other most common types of fertility treatment:

IVF: With IVF, the menstrual cycle is controlled to ensure that numerous ovarian follicles develop and mature to release multiple eggs (as opposed to one egg that is normally released during each menstrual cycle).​ The eggs are retrieved from the individual’s ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. The fertilised egg, called an embryo, is then returned to the womb to grow and develop. There are different forms of IVF and for most people, one cycle of IVF will take between four and six weeks.

Ovarian stimulation: This is when medication is used to control your menstrual cycle and to stimulate your ovaries to produce mature eggs which can help with conception.

IUI: Intrauterine insemination (also called artificial insemination) is when sperm is directly inserted into the womb to try and fertilise an egg. The main difference between an IUI and IVF treatments is that IVF is a process involving egg stimulation, retrieval, fertilisation, and transfer, whereas, an IUI injects sperm into a uterus to decrease the sperm's travel time to the egg.​ From initial testing and consultations to the IUI procedure, this process usually takes around two months.

ICSI: Intracytoplasmic sperm injection is used to select the healthiest sperm which gets picked up and injected directly into an egg to fertilise it. ICSI is used when there is a male cause of infertility.​ Although one cycle of ICSI treatment takes around four to six weeks, the egg and sperm collection process itself only usually takes half a day to complete.

Myth 5: If you have biological children, you can't be affected by infertility 

Lots of people can have one or more biological children and then when they're a bit older and try to have more children, they can be affected by infertility. This is known as secondary infertility and is very common. Almost 50% of infertility cases are found in people who have secondary infertility. Some common causes of secondary infertility include:

  • Age-related fertility decline
  • Infections
  • Complications in previous pregnancy
  • Complications from surgery
  • Change in health and lifestyle
  • Scar tissue
  • Hormone imbalance

Myth 6: All you need to do is relax and lead a healthy lifestyle then you'll be able to conceive 

We've all heard the stories before. That person who is your grandma's, friend’s, granddaughter's, cousin's, wife who was trying to get pregnant for months and months and as soon as they stopped 'trying', they fell pregnant naturally.

We love hearing stories like this when they do happen, but 'just relaxing' will not help you conceive. We repeat: Going on holiday will have no impact on your fertility. Maintaining a balanced, healthy diet and leading an active lifestyle is very important for both your overall health and mental wellbeing, as well as your fertility. However, tere are numerous reasons someone could be struggling with infertility and diet and lifestyle is just a very small piece to the puzzle.

It's also important to remember that every individual and couple is different and there is no one size fits all when it comes to fertility treatment and holistic fertility care. What worked for one person might not work for you!

If you are affected by subfertility or have been trying to get pregnant for an extended amount of time and nothing seems to be working, the best thing you can do is speak to your doctor, or Fertifa Patient Advisor, about what the best next step is for your personal situation 💜