Bioethics Blogs

How should we define infertility and who counts as infertile?

The concept of infertility seems relatively straightforward, yet there are many myths, confusions, and disagreements regarding who counts as being infertile. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), infertility is “a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.”Like many definitions of infertility, this one is based on a woman’s body since she is the one who experiences pregnancy. However, this definition may make it more difficult to understand and recognize male factor infertility.Indeed, defining infertility based solely on a woman’s ability to achieve pregnancy reinforces the myth that women are more likely to be infertile than men. In reality, women and men are equally likely to be infertile. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) definition of infertility is more inclusive: “the inability of a woman or man to conceive a child or the inability of a woman to carry a pregnancy to term.”
Another concerned with the WHO definition of infertility is that it is based on being in a heterosexual relationship.According to this definition and many others like it, people can only be considered infertile if they engage in “regular unprotected sexual intercourse.” This definition does not explicitly state that this it is referring to heterosexual intercourse, which is problematic. Given the narrow scope of this definition, how then should we diagnose infertility in lesbian and gay couples and heterosexual individuals who are singleand not engaging in regular unprotected sexual intercourse.
Some people find it useful to distinguish betweenphysiological infertility (i.e.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.