What does infertility mean?

06 November 2018

Question

What does infertility actually mean?

Answer

On the Naked Scientists forum, David asked what we mean by the word "infertile". Chris Smith directed this question to fertility nurse Laura Carter-Penman from Bourn Hall...

Laura - Infertile is actually quite an old term that was used, really. We say that couples are infertile if they've been trying for a year and haven't conceived naturally. But we would actually consider most of our patients to be something more subfertile really, that they have issues with their fertility but that can be assisted. Or mainly, there’s a lot that can be done with just lifestyle changes. Weight has a huge impact. Smoking, alcohol. Heat, we talked about. Stress factors, environmental factors. So really I think infertile is quite an old fashioned term and we should be moving to more the term of subfertile.

Chris - To what extent do you think that the rising trend in infertility is because of our modern lifestyles? We’re living life where we’re burning the candle at both ends, aren't we?

Laura - I think it has a huge impact. We like to have it all and do it all, as females you know we all want to have these amazing careers. And unfortunately our bodies don’t match with that. Our bodies still want us to be having children in our 20s and early 30s. Our bodies aren’t designed to be having babies in our late 30s and early 40s. We spend a lot of time talking about reproduction in schools and how not to have children but we don’t tell people when to start having children.

Chris - So what should we be saying then?

Laura - I think we should be explaining how you get pregnant. We need to go back to basics but we need to be explaining to people that, you know, when fertility is going to have an impact. And for women, you know, it’s 32, 33 - 35 is a real start of the cliff. And it does have an impact on men as well. You see lots of, you know, old men! You know, Mick Jagger with his hundreds of children that he seems to be having...

Chris - Allegedly!

Laura - Yeah, yeah

Chris - And that, what, gives people the impression that “I can put it off till tomorrow”?

Laura - Yeah. And I think, you know, lots of older pop stars… funnily enough they all seem to have twins in their forties really easily. You know it makes you think, you know are they actually having reproductive therapy and not talking about it? So I think we should be being more honest with ourselves and more honest with the younger generation, and making it easier to be back to work. All the things that go with that, the social factors that go with that, that you can be at work and be a mum and it’s not a bad thing.

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