Misconceptions about infertility abound despite the ready availability of data. Most people do not know, for instance, that male impotence is the sole cause of infertility in one-third of cases or that after five months of consistent unprotected sex, only about 80 percent of couples become pregnant. And it may come as a surprise to many to learn that overall sperm counts have been in sharp decline since the 1970s, but only among Western men. Knowing these things isn’t going to help get anyone pregnant, but knowledge does make the process a lot calmer. Understanding is at least part of the battle.
Here’s the scientific data that can help trying couples contextualize their attempts at baby making.
Whose Fault Is It When You Can’t Conceive?
Of course, it’s nobody’s fault per se. But we tend to think of infertility as being a female problem. It is decidedly not. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that infertility is solely due to men and women at about the same rate — one-third, each. And one-third of the time, it’s a combination of factors or undetermined. This is one reason why it is important that couples struggling to conceive also explore potential causes of male infertility.
Is Low Sperm Count The Problem?
Not really. Physicians look for semen with at least 39 million sperm per ejaculate. Less than that can cause fertility problems, and that is indeed the reason why some couples have trouble getting pregnant. But at the national or global scale, low sperm count is almost certainly not causing higher rates of infertility. Although it’s true that sperm counts among men in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand have been in sharp decline since the 1970s, average semen samples still boast well over 100 million sperm per ejaculate.
How Likely Are Couples to Get Pregnant?
Not as likely as you think. One recent study found that nearly one-fifth of young women suspect that they are infertile solely because they had unprotected sex once and did not get pregnant. The reality is that even partners who have frequent, unprotected sex only have between an 80 and 85 percent chance of becoming pregnant within one year. The odds of becoming pregnant increase with every passing menstrual cycle, until they peak at about 95 percent.