Written by Nancy Fitzgerald

Starting a family would seem fairly simple. After all, reproduction is one of the most basic, primitive functions a human can carry out.

But as anyone who’s attempted to conceive with no luck might tell you, having a baby can be a less-than-straightforward process.

In the United States, about 11 percent of women—and 9 percent of men—have experienced fertility problems. And studies show that after one year of having unprotected sex, as many as 15 percent of couples are unable to conceive. After two years, some 10 percent still haven’t been able to have a child. [1]

As for why that difficulty exists, a quick Google search will show you a multitude of reasons––from the logical (being older than 35 can reduce your chances of conception) to the plain wacky (your cycle is tied to the moon). Try these at-home fertility testing options now.

The reality is, there are so many reasons why infertility occurs, says Amy Paris, M.D., director of family planning at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire. “Anything that improves your general health will improve your fertility: Maintain a healthy body weight, get regular exercise, eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.”

Other common-sense tips, says Dr. Paris, include saying no to smoking and recreational drugs and limiting caffeine to one or two cups of coffee a day. And take a pass on alcohol, which is harmful to a developing fetus—after all, you could be pregnant for weeks before even realizing it. [2]

Here’s a look at five of the most persistent fertility myths—and the reasons why you should stop worrying about them.


Fertility Falsehood #1: Your Hormones Need to Be in Perfect Harmony


Rather, Dr. Paris notes, ovulation (or simply having regular periods) is often your best sign of fertility. And when it comes to reproductive hormones, she explains, it’s not so much about balance as it is about interplay. When you produce an egg, your body focuses on making more estrogen. And when your estrogen levels get high enough (at around day 14 of your cycle), an egg matures and is released. That means all systems are go for fertilization. [3]

Then comes the second half of your cycle, when the hormone progesterone takes over and gets the uterus ready to support the fertilized egg. [3]

Dr. Paris adds one last bit of reassurance: “If your periods are coming regularly, your hormones are doing their job.”

If you’ve been trying to conceive for a while with no luck, be sure to get outside medical input.


Fertility Falsehood #2: Women Should Lie Flat and Still for 30 Minutes After Sex


It has often been said that if you stand upright after intercourse, gravity will kick in and those sperm will rush out of your body and prevent pregnancy. Sounds logical—but is it true?

Hardly, according to Dr. Paris. “There’s absolutely no indication that resting after sex can increase your ability to get pregnant,” she explains. “Sperm are persistent little swimmers and they’ll reach your fallopian tubes within minutes, no matter what position you’re in.” [4]

Still, you can help those sperm do their job, Dr. Paris says. “A recent study showed that some lubricants people might use for intercourse—like Astroglide, K-Y Jelly, or olive oil—can interfere with sperm movement and decrease fertility.” A better option, she suggests, is mineral oil.


Fertility Falsehood #3: Your Cycle Is in Sync with the Moon


There’s no doubt that your period being tied to the lunar cycle is an intriguing idea. After all, the average menstrual cycle is 28 days, pretty close to the 29-day lunar cycle (from new moon to new moon). But do moon phases really influence a woman’s fertility or the likelihood of conception? Science says no. Put this one in the old-wives’-tale column. [5]

“There’s no research to support that concept,” says Dr. Paris. “Instead of looking at the phases of the moon, a woman should know the phases of her own body.” She notes that tracking your menstrual cycles for a few months can help you learn when you’re most likely to conceive. To help, Dr. Paris suggests using a smartphone app.


Fertility Falsehood #4: The HPV Vaccine Can Make You Infertile


This misconception is particularly dangerous. Since its debut in 2006, this vaccine has prevented infection from nine of the most common strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is linked to cervical, vulvar, and vaginal cancer in women and penile cancer in men. (So not taking it could lead to serious medical conditions if you encounter the virus.)

“The HPV vaccine is extremely effective,” says Dr. Paris. “There’s no evidence that it prevents fertility.” In a 2018 study that included nearly 60,000 young women who received the HPV vaccine, researchers found there was no risk of infertility. [6,7,8]


Fertility Falsehood #5: Men Are Fertile Forever


While men don’t experience the abrupt hormonal changes that women do during menopause, their levels of sex hormones, especially testosterone, start slowly declining at around age 40. And that leads to fewer, less mobile sperm and a general decline in fertility. [9]

Younger men aren’t exempt from fertility worries either. “Obesity is linked to impaired sperm production,” says Dr. Paris. “So, maintaining a healthy weight is really important for couples who want to have a baby.”

She also notes that a daily multivitamin with vitamins E and C may also boost sperm counts, as can a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. “Some studies have shown that smoking—both cigarettes and marijuana—is linked to reduced fertility,” she adds.

Another tip for men looking to boost their sperm count? “Wear boxers instead of briefs to keep the temperature around the scrotum lower,” suggests Dr. Paris. “Anything that raises the temperature can cause a decrease in sperm quality. And it’s a good idea to avoid hot tubs too.” [2]


References


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
    National Institutes of Health
    Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
    How common is infertility?
    https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/infertility/conditioninfo/common

  2. Ohio Reproductive Medicine
    Lifestyle Changes to Improve Fertility
    https://www.ohioreproductivemedicine.com/fertility-treatments/lifestyle-changes-to-improve-fertility/

  3. Cleveland Clinic
    Pregnancy: Ovulation, Conception & Getting Pregnant
    https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11585-pregnancy-ovulation-conception--getting-pregnant

  4. USC Fertility
    DIY: How to improve your chances of getting pregnant
    https://uscfertility.org/diy-improve-chances-getting-pregnant/

  5. Staboulidou I, Soergel P, Vaske B, Hillemanns P.
    The influence of the lunar cycle on the frequency of birth, birth complications, neonatal outcome, and gender: a retrospective analysis.
    Acta Obstetrics Gynecologica Scandinavica 2008;87(8):875-9

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    Questions about HPV Vaccine Safety
    https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/vaccines/hpv/hpv-safety-faqs.html#:~:text=CDC is aware of public,cause reproductive problems in women.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    Cancers Associated with Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
    https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/basic_info/cancers.htm

  8. Naleway AL, Mittendorf KF, Irving SA, Henninger ML, Crane B, Smith N, Daley MF, Gee J. Primary Ovarian Insufficiency and Adolescent Vaccination
    Pediatrics. 2018 Sep;142(3): e20180943

  9. Harris ID, Fronczak C, Roth L, Meacham RB.
    Fertility and the aging male
    Reviews in Urology 2011;13(4):e184-90