Volume 44, Issue 1
Pages 30 - 38

Missed Conceptions or Misconceptions: Perceived Infertility Among Unmarried Young Adults In the United States


Perceived infertility is an individual’s belief that she or he is unable to conceive or impregnate, regardless of whether this belief is medically accurate. This perception may lead to contraceptive nonuse, which may, in turn, lead to unintended pregnancy. Little research has examined perceived infertility among young adults, including potential associations with contraceptive behaviors.


The frequency of perceived infertility among young adults was assessed using 2009 data from a nationally representative telephone survey of 1,800 unmarried men and women aged 18–29. Multinomial regression analyses assessed associations between respondents’ perceived infertility and selected background, reproductive knowledge, sexual experience and contraceptive use characteristics.


Overall, 19% of women and 13% of men believed that they were very likely to be infertile. Hispanic women and women who had received public assistance in the past year had elevated odds of perceived infertility (odds ratios, 3.4 and 3.0, respectively), as did Hispanic men and men of other racial or ethnic minorities, except blacks (2.5 and 6.1, respectively). Men who had some college education, had received sex education or were not in a current relationship had decreased odds of thinking they were very likely to be infertile (0.3–0.4). Among men, perceived infertility was associated with the belief that they were likely to have sex without using a contraceptive in the next three months (2.6).


A substantial proportion of young adults believe they are infertile. 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.

Authors' Affiliations

Chelsea Bernhardt Polis is an associate in the Department of Epidemiology, and Laurie Schwab Zabin is professor emeritus in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health—both at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore.

The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the Guttmacher Institute.

Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health

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