Perceived Infertility May Lead to Unintended Pregnancies and STDs

Unintended pregnancies represent nearly 50% of all pregnancies in America. Half of the couples experiencing unintended pregnancies do so because they do not use any form of contraceptives. Couples choose not to use contraceptives for various reasons, one of which is assumed infertility. Teenagers are most likely to have sex without contraceptive use because they believe they are infertile. Many teens who have had sex in the past without getting pregnant think that they cannot conceive and therefore consider contraceptive use unnecessary. Although some of these teens may truly be infertile, the majority of them are not. Even those who have had spontaneous miscarriages or have a family history of infertility cannot be assured they are infertile without verification from a doctor. And few of these teens seek medical attention for infertility prior to engaging in sexual activities. Adolescents are already more susceptible to increased stress from hormonal, academic, and social changes, and deciding not to use contraception makes them more vulnerable to added anxiety and worry about the potential for becoming pregnant or contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

In an effort to understand what other factors influence young adults’ decisions not to use contraception, Chelsea Bernhardt Polis of the Department of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore assessed the attitudes towards infertility among 1,800 young couples between the ages of 18 and 29. She found that a nearly 20% of the participants believed that they could not conceive, a rate much higher than the national average of people who have been medically diagnosed as being infertile. Of the women who thought they were infertile, 20% of had never even been examined by a doctor for infertility.

Bernhardt Polis believes that messages designed to encourage contraceptive use among young people may actually be leading people to question their infertility. Public services messages tell people that they can get pregnant after just one sexual encounter. So when women do not conceive, after multiple sexual encounters, they may think that they are incapable of conceiving and stop using contraception. Additionally, cultural stigmas and financial conditions may present further barriers to contraceptive use, increasing one’s risk for unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Bernhardt Polis believes these findings underscore the importance of addressing perceived and actual infertility among young people. She added, “Improved provider counseling and sex education may be useful in helping them to better understand their actual probability of infertility, and this knowledge may lead to improved contraceptive use.”

Polis, C. B., Zabin, L. S. (2012). Missed conceptions or misconceptions: Perceived infertility among unmarried young adults in the United States. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 44.1, 30-38.

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.

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  • Julia


    April 4th, 2012 at 4:13 AM

    I get it that there could be older couples who would assume that they were infertile and that they could not get pregnant and then oops! we’re not infertile after all. But why on earth would any teenager or young person these days not use some form of protection? Why do many of them automatically assume that they are invincible, and that this could not happen to them. It can happen to anyone if you are dumb enough to have sex without any protection. But assuming that you can’t get an STD, no matter your age? Now that is ridiculous!

  • Bryce Collins

    Bryce Collins

    April 4th, 2012 at 1:00 PM

    I say make condoms and the pill readily available for these kids!
    If they know that they can get these with no questions asked, maybe they would be more willing to use them on a regular basis and use them responsibly!
    If they are not going to make the decisions to remain abstinent until marriage, then we have to be willing to provide them with other solutions that protects their health.

  • Rex


    April 5th, 2012 at 7:34 AM

    It happens when you least expect it. I know of a few couples who have even waited for ever to get pregnant and finally adopted, and then three months later they are miraculously pregnant with their own. Can’t ever rule anything out.

  • P L

    P L

    April 5th, 2012 at 12:15 PM

    Never heard of someone THINK they are infertile and hence skip contraception. Sounds really foolish of those youngsters to be doing something like that. I mean come on!

  • Barbara


    April 6th, 2012 at 7:49 AM

    How ridiculous to automatically assume that you can’t get pregnant just because you have never gotten pregnant YET. Just because it has never happened doesn’t mean that it won’t happen. If people like this are stupid enough to engage in unprotected sex then they are dumber than I thought. A baby is a good thing you can get when you have sex, good if that is what you wanted and are in the frame of mind to deal with it. But has everyone forgotten that STDs are something else that you can get from having unprotected sex?

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