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What’s the difference between infertility and sterility?

What’s the difference between infertility and sterility?

Although the terms “infertile” and “sterile” often get thrown about like they’re the same thing, there’s actually a big difference between the two. So what is that difference exactly?

Infertility and sterility differences to consider

A person is considered clinically infertile if they have been unable to conceive with unprotected, well-timed sex for 12 months or more (6 months for those 35 and older). Infertility is extremely common, and once the reason for the infertility is diagnosed and treated, most formerly infertile couples do in fact conceive successfully. Men and women alike can be the source of infertility with a variety of different causes. Some common ones include:

There are a number of different medical and surgical options available for treating the conditions of infertility, though many who are considered clinically infertile can still conceive naturally despite these conditions. Many infertile women will also consider assisted reproductive technologies like intrauterine insemination (IUI), intrafallopian gamete transfer (GIFT), or in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to achieve a successful pregnancy.

Sterility is totally different. A person who is clinically sterile is unable to conceive, whether through medical or surgical intervention, or through assisted reproductive technologies. Sterility is most commonly a result of a medical condition or surgical procedure, like a vasectomy, hysterectomy, or ectopic pregnancy that results in the removal of a fallopian tube. Chromosomal disorders like Klinefelter’s syndrome could also result in sterility.

The bottom line

The difference between infertility and sterility is quite significant, but often overlooked. Infertility DOES NOT mean that a person can’t conceive – it’s just a bit more difficult. Sterility DOES mean that a person can’t conceive, regardless of the medical or surgical intervention.

  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Infertility” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. March 8, 2018. Web. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/infertility/symptoms-causes/syc-20354317

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