Understanding the Differences Between Subfertility, Infertility, and Sterility

Group of three overweight people walking
Men and women who are overweight may be subfertile -- it may take them longer to be able to get pregnant. Losing weight can improve their fertility. Rolf Bruderer / Getty Images


Subfertility means decreased fertility or a decreased chance of getting pregnant, but not a complete inability to get pregnant.

Someone who is described as being subfertile still has a good chance of getting pregnant on their own, but it may take longer than others.

This is compared to someone who is infertile, who needs medical assistance to get pregnant and is unlikely to get pregnant without help.

Another difference between the terms is that infertility means you have been trying to get pregnant for at least one year without success.

Subfertility, on the other hand, can just mean it's taking you longer than average to get pregnant... but that time period may be less than a year.

Making things even more confusing, the term subfertility is sometimes used interchangeably with the term infertility, making it difficult to define when read out of context.

Neither the term subfertile nor infertile should be confused with sterile. Someone who is sterile is completely unable to get pregnant. With infertility, there is some chance you might be pregnant without treatment, even if those odds may be very low.

With sterility, the odds for natural conception are zero.

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