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Many young people think they can't get pregnant: study

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Women in their 30s can't escape dire warnings about having kids "before it's too late." For young women, though, the message about infertility may be too loud and not altogether clear.

As many as 19 per cent of women aged 18 to 29 believe they're infertile, according to a study published in the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based non-profit organization devoted to reproductive health. But in reality, only 6 per cent of women in this age group are likely to have trouble conceiving within a year of trying (the medical definition of infertility).

That means 13 per cent of young women may be sexually active without using birth control, under the false assumption that they can't get pregnant.

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The study was based on a telephone survey of 1,800 unmarried American men and women.

Men in the cohort also overestimated their risk of infertility but to a lesser degree, according to the results. More troubling is that the men who assumed they were shooting blanks said they were likely have sex without using contraception in the next three months.

So much for the disease-prevention benefits of condoms.

While young adults wrongly doubt their procreation abilities, evidence suggests that women in their late 20s and 30s continue to overestimate theirs.

A recent poll of 1,000 women aged 25 to 35 found that many think a 30-year-old has a 70-per cent chance of conceiving per month and that a 40-year-old's is close to 60 per cent, NBC reported. In fact, a healthy 30-year-old woman has about a 20-per cent chance of conceiving each month – and by age 40, the number drops to 5 per cent.

There are no recent surveys looking at Canadians' misconceptions about infertility, which affects about one in six Canadian couples. But let's hope we're ahead of Americans when it comes to fertility math.

Do know any young adults who say they're infertile without knowing for sure?

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Editor's Note: The study was published in the Guttmacher Institute's peer-reviewed journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. The authors Chelsea Polis and Laurie Zabin are researchers with Johns Hopkins University

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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