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Causes of Infertility for Men and Women Who Can’t Get Pregnant

Gene mutations in men and obscure viruses in women can cause infertility. Here’s a basic list of the most commonly known reasons men and women can’t get pregnant, plus four research studies that describe lesser known causes of male and female fertility problems.

cant get pregnant infertility causeIf you’ve been trying to get pregnant for more than a year, you may be wondering about the signs of male and female infertility. I can’t tell you if you’re infertile, but I have gathered a list of 20 possible causes of infertility – one of which may be stopping you from conceiving a baby. Because this article is so popular, I also added four scientific research-based reasons men and women can’t get pregnant.

An important thing to remember about whose “fault” it is if you can’t get pregnant: “In about 40% of the cases [of infertility], the problem resides in the woman, and in 40%, the problem is in the man’s reproductive system,” says obstetrician, gynecologist, and fertility expert Robert Thompson, MD. “The rest of the time there may be a problem with both the man and the woman.” (alive magazine, February, 2009). The most common causes of infertility are equally male and female based. So, if you’re searching for reasons you can’t get pregnant, makes sure you look at both the man and the woman.

If you can’t get pregnant, spend some time exploring various university and hospital-based resources and websites about health and fertility issues. Try to avoid personal blogs, because one person’s experience with infertility isn’t representative of an entire population.

And, don’t let your reading cause you to feel anxious or stressed! I know you want to get pregnant and you’re eager to start your family. But, if you succumb to anxiety and fear, you will only make it more difficult and stressful to get pregnant.

Here are a variety of possible causes of infertility for men and women…

Commonly Reported Causes of Infertility for Women

  • Age – fertility decreases after age 30, decreases more after 35, and practically plummets after age 40.
  • Underweight or overweight – women with Body Mass Indexes (BMIs) over 30 and under 20 are less likely to get pregnant. Ideal BMI is between 20 and 30.
  • Hormonal changes – some health problems cause hormonal changes, which can cause decreased fertility or infertility.
  • Miscarriages – the more miscarriages a woman has, the less likely she may be to get pregnant
  • Sexually transmitted diseases – can affect a woman’s reproductive system.
  • Fibroids or endometriosis – depending on how advanced the disease is.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease – can cause problems for women who can’t get pregnant.

The only reliable way to determine if you are affected by one of the above causes of infertility is to make an appointment with a gynecologist. Get tested for whatever the doctor thinks might be the problem. Be upfront and honest about the health issues you’re dealing with now and in the past.

And, as difficult as it may be, try not to get anxious when you read through these causes of infertility for women. Don’t assume you have one of these health issues, just because you can’t get pregnant! Trust that whatever is causing fertility problems is temporary, and you WILL find ways to heal or work around the issues.

Keep the faith.

Research-based causes of female fertility problems

Female infertility affects approximately 6% of 15-44 year old women or 1.5 million women in the United States. Approximately 25% of female infertility cases have no explanation or cause, which doesn’t leave women (and men) with many options for getting pregnant…other than expensive and often disappointing fertility treatments.

An uncommon virus found in women with unexplained infertility

The HHV-6 Foundation found a virus that doctors weren’t well aware of, which may contribute to unexplained infertility in women. This little-known member of the human herpesvirus family is called HHV-6A, and it infects the lining of the uterus in 43% of women with unexplained infertility. Since this virus isn’t found in fertile women, researchers believe it may be linked to problems with fertility and getting pregnant. This study also reported that the infection is exacerbated by hormone estradiol, which fluctuates with the menstrual cycle. High levels of the hormone estradiol may trigger an active infection in the uterus, and causing fertility problems in women.

“This is a surprising and potentially important discovery,” said Dr Anthony Komaroff, a professor at Harvard Medical School who has also researched the HHV-6 virus “If confirmed, the finding may lead to treatments that improve the outcome for a large subset of infertile women.”

The study also found that the response of the woman’s immune system may contribute to making the uterus less hospitable to a fertilized egg. The virus seems to activate immune cells called “natural killer cells” in the uterus; they are triggered to produce chemicals called cytokines. Cytokines are tools the immune system uses to orchestrate an attack on a foreign invader, like a virus.

To learn more about this cause of infertility in women, read Presence of HHV-6A in Endometrial Epithelial Cells from Women with Primary Unexplained Infertility.

Polycystic ovary syndrome as a cause of infertility in women

I was surprised to learn that polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of female fertility problems.

Causes of Infertility Can’t Get Pregnant

Causes of Infertility for Men and Women Who Can’t Get Pregnant

PCOS is a serious metabolic disorder that occurs when your body produces slightly higher than normal amounts of testosterone and other androgens (which are sex hormones associated with male traits). The resulting imbalance of hormones causes irregular or absent periods, weight gain, acne, excess hair, or even thinning hair on the scalp. Up to 5 million women in the United States have PCOS, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Women’s Health.

Past research has linked polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) as a reason women can’t get pregnant, but new studies show that weight loss and exercise can improve fertility. A study from The Endocrine Society found that women with polycystic ovary syndrome who underwent “lifestyle modifications” (increased exercise and weight loss) were more likely to get pregnant than women who just took birth control pills to regulate their hormones.

This study was called “Clinical trial compares preconception treatments for common cause of infertility”, but it’s no longer available online. To learn more, read Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and Pregnancy.

Common Causes of Infertility for Men

  • Age – but a woman’s age affects her ability to get pregnant more than a man’s age.
  • Warm temperatures for testes – laptop computers and “tighty whities” (close fitting underwear) can affect sperm production, motility, and count.
  • Prescription medications – can affect sperm and prevent pregnancy.
  • Testicular abnormalities – such as varicocoeles can damage or eliminate sperm

If you can’t get your wife pregnant, read 5 Foods That Improve Sperm Count, Health, and Motility.

Research-based causes of male infertility

Again, try not to get anxious when you read through these scientific reasons you can’t get your wife pregnant. The chances aren’t high that you have one of these health issues that cause infertility in men.

X-linked gene mutations cause male fertility problems

According to the University of Pittsburgh, some cases of male infertility are due to mutations in the maternal X chromosome. This genetic mutation prevents development of viable sperm, which can prevent pregnancy. These researchers found that nearly 50% of cases of male infertility that weren’t caused by a physical obstruction have genetic roots. About 20% of infertile men have azoospermia, meaning they don’t make sperm.

“This research suggests screening for TEX11 gene mutations might be useful in cases of otherwise unexplained azoospermia,” says Alexander Yatsenko, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine, Pitt School of Medicine, and an MWRI investigator. “It might be possible to one day correct these problems with gene therapy and other interventions. More work must be done to identify other genetic causes of male infertility.”

To learn more, read X-linked gene mutations cause some cases of male infertility on the University of Pittsburgh’s website.

High sperm DNA damage causes unexplained infertility in men

Sperm health research from Queen’s University in Belfast found that 80% of couples who can’t get pregnant because of “unexplained infertility” actually have a reason for not conceiving. That reason is high sperm DNA damage. This new research study is the first of its kind, and might lead to better fertility treatments for men and women who can’t get pregnant.

“The majority of couples experiencing problems with fertility are able to receive an explanation for their infertility,” said Professor Sheena Lewis from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s. “These causes range from low sperm count and poor sperm motility in the man to blocked fallopian tubes or endometriosis in the woman. Once the causes for infertility have been established, the appropriate course of assisted conception treatment can be undertaken.”

Dr Lewis added that almost 30% of couples do not have a reason or cause for infertility. They’re often given the diagnosis of unexplained fertility, and they invest a lot of time and money in fertility treatments (such as intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization). “In our study we have now had a breakthrough which explains the cause of infertility for many of those couples,” she said. “Now that we have found the cause of infertility for these couples (high sperm DNA damage), suitable treatments can be tailored for them which will direct them straight to the best treatment and increase their chances of having a baby.”

This article was called High sperm DNA damage a leading cause of “unexplained infertility”, but it’s no longer available in Reproductive Biomedicine Online.

Causes of Infertility for Both Men and Women

  • Environmental toxins – pesticides, lead, and even common household cleansers can contribute to problems getting pregnant.
  • Career stress – can lead to physical and emotional problems getting pregnant.
  • Recreational drug use
  • Poor diet, no exercise
  • Radiation treatments for cancer
  • Smoking – does not increase fertility and can be a cause of infertility for men and women

If you’ve been wondering why you can’t get pregnant and some of the above causes of infertility are familiar to you,  talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Fixing possible obstacles to pregnancy and getting pregnant can take months or years…so you want to deal with potential problems right away! 

If you can’t get pregnant and you’ve been trying for over a year, read 5 Signs You Should See a Fertility Doctor.

I welcome your thoughts on these causes of infertility in men and women – but I can’t offer advice or medical counseling. If you can’t get your wife pregnant – or if you can’t get pregnant – you need to make an appointment with your family doctor or a fertility specialist.

Don’t rely on the internet for personal medical advice. The internet is a great place to get general information – such as research or scientific-based causes of infertility and reasons couples can’t get pregnant – but it is no place for personal medical health advice.

Are you trying to get pregnant? Fairhaven Health's Hormone Balance Bundle improves egg quality, encourages cycle regularity, and helps your body ovulate regularly.

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44 thoughts on “Causes of Infertility for Men and Women Who Can’t Get Pregnant”

  1. Thank you for this article! I think that it can be pretty useful for a lot of people. It is a real fact that nowadays so many people are infertile! It is a huge problem of the XXI century. Hope that one day the situation will be better. Moreover, I think that usually we are talking about female infertility. But men are also suffering from it! So it is highly important to talk about this problem. Usually, people say that men have to be quite masculine. That they have to cope with all problems without any doubts and fear. That men can cry. So sometimes it can be pretty hard to disclose your real feelings and share with other your personal problems. I am infertile. So it was almost impossible for me to talk with my family or friends that it is all because of me. That it is my fault and I can’t help my wife to get a kid. But thanks God that I have such a wonderful wife! She supported me. So onсe she came to me and asked if I wish ready to go in a kind of Eurotrip with her. The real goal I got to know only when we got to Kiev. She said that she found there one pretty good Center for Human Reproduction. And I agreed with her! There were a lot of high-quality professionals and there was no pressure on me. Of course, now it is only the first step to our happiness but I feel that everything will be ok.

  2. Hello sir i am Mainul and i am 35 years old and my wife is 24 years, for last two month we tried to get pregnant but we failed twice. So sir do you have any more suggestions for fertility?

  3. I’d love to get pregnant with a baby girl, thank you for sharing causes of infertility. I will keep looking for fertility tips.

  4. I have had a problem due to medication in my 30s, maybe this is a cause of male infertility and stopping us from getting pregnant. One trip to the hospital or an illness with a medication can cause big unforeseen problems. As we know all medicines have side effects that can cause infertility in men and women. What is to say that those side effects are not deliberately structured in the medications, vaccinations and such?

  5. I m 27 n my husband is 28 I got pregnant in 2010 due to bp fluctuation on 7 month dr delivered child .child was dead. So since 2012 I was trying to conceive. But there is no positive result.mine and my husband test is normal.so whats the reason I fail in conceive.

  6. If you know you can’t get pregnant because of a specific cause of infertility, have you thought about adoption? I don’t think that all fertility problems can be fixed with supplements or pregnancy products. Sometimes you just can’t have a baby — like me and my husband can’t. It’s sad and disappointing…but it’s just the way it is. I’m sorry to hear of your cause of infertility, but I encourage you to find meaning and hope in a different source.

  7. Am 35 years trying to conceive for six years now , but I have visit hospitals but they said I cant conceive due to my blood group which is 0 negative and also the weight. I head that forever living product they have product which can assist me so please help me because I want baby.

  8. If you’re having trouble getting pregnant, the best thing is to see a fertility doctor, gynecologist, or urologist in person. That’s the only way to get a diagnosis and figure out why you’re having trouble conceiving a baby.

  9. hi,

    i’ve been trying to get pregnant for the 2nd time. i did give birth to my 1st chid 9/2006 and see died 11/2006 and then from there i’ve tried and this 2012 and preset been trying so hard to get pregnant but it seems that i am too old. i’m 35 yrs. old (female) and my bf is 32 yrs. old. he is also unable to make his gf(1st) pregnant. would it be possible that he has a problem or me? i really would like to have a baby again even just one. i don’t know what to do anymore.

  10. Hi there, I am 33years old this 2013. I started trying to make a woman fall pregnant 2011 and she she was conceived but later had a miscarriage towards her fourth month. We separated and had another woman, but her menstruation started to be abnormal as it takes 2weeks full and before it was only 4days and she can’t fall pregnant. I try eat healthy and food full of antioxidant but I fail. i haven’t visited the doctor about this, what can i do..

  11. I am infected with STDs but im worried.Can i get pregnant? I have gone to hospital but nothing has being done please help me.

  12. i hv a son who was born on 21st March, 2009 and i got pregnant in 2010 january and had a miscarriage in march 2010, i decied to rest for about 7 months and we were using condoms and then we stopped using condoms inorder for me to get pregnant but all in vein upto now what could be the problem and am 40years this year. kindly help for me to conceive

  13. Hi my name is Vanessa and I been trying to get pregnant for the past 4 years! I been married for two years now and me and my husband been trying and nothing. I try not to stress out everytime I get my period but it’s so hard. What should I do?

  14. Hi laurie, just to let you know, not pregnant,
    Rather sad being 5 days late! But still hopefull
    That one day we-ll be blesed with a baby!

  15. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hello Wendy,

    I hope you’re pregnant! I’ll send fertility and pregnancy prayers your way….

    After your period is a week late, then it’s time for a pregnancy test. Let me know how it goes!


  16. Dear Laurie

    Ok I hope im not getting excited for nothing, im 2 days late, breasts are tender but normally do get when i am due my period, and I’m tired and up and down to the loo.
    But there are light cramps and im having what feels like heart flutters. Lol strange?

  17. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hi Pamela,

    If you’ve been trying to get pregnant for two years and nothing has happened, it means that you and your partner need to get checked for possible causes of infertility!

    Go see your doctor, my friend. Get a few basic fertility tests done, and take it one step at a time…


  18. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Pamela ~ Congratulations on having your first child 3 years ago — I join you in thanking God! About trying to get pregnant again, I encourage you to talk to your obgyn or a fertility doctor. I don’t know how long you’ve been trying to get pregnant, but remember that it’s normal to take up to a year to conceive. If it’s been less than a year, then keep trying with the ovulation tests and healthy living. Let me know how it goes!

    Karen ~ Yes, tenderness and cramps could be a sign of pregnancy….but the only thing you can do is keep waiting and praying. I sure hope you are…have you taken a pregnancy test?


  19. Hi, I have been trying for about 4 months now, still not pregnant. I am TTC. I have ovulated on Nov.6th and Nov. 7th. Right after that I have been having mild cramps and breast tenderness. What does that mean? Can I be pregnant?

  20. Hey I been trying to get pregnant for 2 and a half years now! Thank god I was blessed with my first child 3 years ago! But me and my husband been trying and still nothing work! We even tried the ovalation tests out the store and those didn’t help! Can somebody please give me some ideas or help! I love my marriage and I really need help!

  21. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Griezl ~ Yes, you still have hope for getting pregnant! The first thing you need to do is quit smoking and drinking — same with your husband. Next, you need to learn about your ovulation cycle so you know when you’re most fertile. And finally, remember that it takes most couples a year on average to get pregnant. Five months isn’t that long…so keep trying!

    Tanya ~ I encourage you to see a fertility doctor or ob/gyn. It’s great that you don’t have any blockages, but there may be other reasons you’re not getting pregnant. And, it’s a good idea for your partner to have his sperm checked.

    Jane – Definitely, use the ovulation predictor kit! That’s one of the best ways to get pregnant successfully. If you can’t get pregnant after a year of trying, then it’s time to see a doctor.

    Remember, it takes most couples a year on average to get pregnant….it seems like a long time, but it’s normal to take a year!


  22. Hello
    Me and my partner have been trying for a baby for the last 8 months of so. My periods are really regular and on time every month and get really depressed about it, as time goes by im starting to get more worried about this. Before I met my partner I did take the morning after pill twice with previous partners. I also had a irregular smear test result but i went for tests but it turned out to be very mild and was fine. Im 25 and my partner is 24, and my weight is 7 and a half stone but i do find im a healthy girl and so is my partner, we used to have intecourse 4 times a week but now its once or twice a week as we find it impossible. I did buy an ovulation kit but I have not used it yet. Hope you can advise us

  23. Tanya: Try using Ovulation Test kits ,lots of woman used this and very high success rates. and other thing put your husband on a healthy diet. Lots of OB/GYN Dr said that after intercourse to put a pillow under your buttocks for atleast 20minutes.

  24. Hi There,

    I am married for a year and i am 27 years old. I have regular cycle (34 days cycle). Sometimes on time & sometimes delay but never missed at all. I will spot the 1st day, heavy 2nd day & will be very little on 3rd and 4th day. Now i am trying to conceive last 1 year with no success. I do ovulate last month as i gave up & checked using OPK. Is it possible for me to have child? What can do next? Thank You.

  25. Hi…so here it is…I’m 20 and just married. My husband and I tried to conceive for 5 months. He drinks a lot and so do I and I also do smoke since 13. So, is being into alcoholic beverages a reason that we can’t conceive? if yes, do we still have hope? What should we about it?

  26. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hi Wendy,

    Yes, seeing a doctor is a good idea — but bear in mind that many doctors don’t consider not getting pregnant a “problem” until it’s been a year of trying. You may not be dealing with a possible cause of infertility — it takes most couples an average of a year to get pregnant.

    A trip to the doc can’t hurt. But, I also encourage you to time intercourse for the most fertile days of the month. Ovulation predictor kits are fantastic.

    How Ovulation Predictor Kits Work

    I hope this helps, and would love to hear the good news of your pregnancy soon!


  27. hi I’m 28 and really worried something might be wrong with me.
    i have a regular period and no history of problems in the family, we have been trying for a few months, should i see a doc?

  28. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks — this are great tips, Alison!

    I think alot of women know this in their head, but have a hard time convincing their heart.

  29. All you can really do is live a healthy life (diet, exercise), get tested for STDs, see a gynecologist and relax. Try not too focus too much on getting pregnant. There are many ways how life can be fulfilling to people. Having a child is one of them, but not the only option. Live your life, focus on the good things and who knows what the future might bring.

  30. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Dear Ally,

    Congratulations on your engagement and upcoming marriage! That’s very exciting 🙂

    I don’t think a burst appendix can affect fertility or getting pregnant. Same with your stomach scar — that shouldn’t be a cause of infertility.

    But, if you’re seriously concerned about it and want peace of mind, I encourage you to get checked out by your doctor. Getting pregnant can be complicated, and involves many personal health factors that can only be confirmed by a doctor who examines you in person!

    I wish you all the best in your marriage and future family.


  31. I had appendix burst when I was 9 years old. Now I’m 22, and I am getting married in October. Can that cause a problem of conceiving? And where should I go to do my check-up? I also have a big scar on my stomach – is that a problem?

  32. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hi Rita,

    I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t get pregnant, and I know how disappointing it is. I’ve been trying to conceive for about 4 years now…and I don’t think we’ll get pregnant.

    I don’t have you the answer to your question — I don’t know why you didn’t conceive. Even fertility doctors don’t know the answer to that most of the time. There are so many factors that affect getting pregnant, and many of those factors are unknown to us. Medicine may be a science, but it’s still full of mystery.

    Don’t lose hope, my friend. Stay positive and hopeful that you will get pregnant….and keep talking to your fertility doctor and trying different ways to get pregnant. Sometimes it just takes a long time….but those women who took forever to conceive say it was worth the wait!

    I wish you all the best.


  33. My last period was on 15 of March. on 31 injection was given to me for egg rupture(size of the folicle was 20.3mm). From that day i used to check my basal body temparature it was to be 98.1 F to 98.6. My period i get on 28th or 29th day. This time i got it on 17th April Afternoon almost on 35th day. why i didn’t conceive

  34. i am trying to conceive from past 4 years. But nothing has happend till today. I usually get my periods on 29th day. earlier my follicles used to be small now it is 20mm or 18. This month till 34th day i didn’t get my period. I thought i am pregnant i used to get symptoms like tender breast, gum bleeding, eevning sickness, head ache and tirdness. My husband semen test is positive. why i am not conceiving?

  35. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hi Olivia,

    I’m sorry to hear that it’s taking so long for you to get pregnant — but three months really isn’t that long!

    Keep trying, and time your ovulation and temperatures to find the best times to get pregnant, for nine more months. If you still aren’t pregnant in nine months, then talk to your doctor about the various types of infertility tests.

    Let me know how it goes…I’d love to hear that you’re pregnant!


  36. Thanks for your comment, Alice. What’s the cure for infertility? I don’t allow url’s in the comments section (too spammy), but if you describe it a little, I’m sure people would love to know!

  37. It took 5 years before my husband and I were able to successfully conceive. It could really be a rough ride with so many ups and downs. But I am grateful that before we even tried IVF, I was able to find the cure for infertility.