Young People Totally Think They're Infertile

You know how today's young women are just waltzing through life, oblivious to their shriveling ovaries? Actually, for a lot of women (and men) the opposite is true — they wrongly assume they're infertile. And that can cause its own set of problems.

According to a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins, 13% of men and 19% of women ages 18-29 think they're probably infertile. Actually, only 6% of women in this age group are likely to be infertile, so women are overestimating their risk quite a bit. People who identified as Hispanic were more likely than those of other races to think they couldn't conceive; guys were less likely to think they were infertile if they were college-educated, had taken sex ed, or, interestingly, were single. And at least among men, presumed infertility was linked to a cavalier attitude towards birth control — guys who figured their sperm didn't work were more likely to say they'd probably have unprotected sex in the next three months.

There's a lot of focus these days on women assuming they're fertile when they're actually not — one recent study found that women were generally ill-informed about how much fertility declines with age. But it appears that not every lady assumes she can easily conceive into her forties — some young women figure it's already too late. And both these assumptions can cause problems. Overestimating your own fertility can lead to disappointment later on (though the extent to which this overestimation actually affects women's decisions is unclear). Underestimating it, on the other hand, could lead you to skip condoms and pills because oh well, you're probably barren anyway.

Anecdotally, I'd say worrying about infertility is pretty common among young people — common enough that it's always hard for me to relate to the women in trend pieces who thought they could wait til 45 because some celebrity did. Really, it seems like women are starved for accurate information about reproduction, both in general and specific to them. Specialized testing to determine a woman's (or man's) potential fertility is available but by no means accessible or affordable for everyone, and most school sex ed doesn't focus on what happens when you actually want to get knocked up. What we do have is a lot of yelling: don't have sex ever! But start now and have babies right away! Have a baby ASAP, even without a partner! But single moms are selfish and horrible! Add to that the economic and social realities that make it hard to just decide to have kids one day (for every lady who's like la-di-da I have plenty of time, I'd wager there are several who would like to procreate right now but lack the right job/health insurance/home/savings/partner), and you have an extremely confusing and difficult environment for anyone who might ever want to spawn. One thing that would help would be accurate information for all. Clearly, young people aren't getting real numbers on their infertility risks — educating them on this would be a first step toward replacing guesswork, assumptions, and guilt trips with actual data.

Missed Conceptions or Misconceptions: Perceived Infertility Among Unmarried Young Adults In the United States [Guttmacher Institute]

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