Difference between Sterility and Infertility

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Monika Dubey
Written by Charu Shrivastava, last updated on 1 November 2022
Difference between Sterility and Infertility
In the field of biology, even the most basic genetic concepts can be overwhelming, and terms are unfamiliar or unheard of. Two such terms, “sterility” and “infertility”, often used synonymously, are actually quite different. Most people who consider themselves sterile are, in reality, only infertile. Moreover, the confusion between these two terms has led to several misconceptions. Continue reading the blog below to understand the differences between sterility and infertility. 

What is Sterility?

Sterility refers to the inability to get pregnant and have children even with medical intervention. It can result from a congenital anomaly (for example, being born without ovaries) or surgical intervention (such as tubal ligation and hysterectomy for women and vasectomy for men). Male sterility includes the absence of sperm in the semen or the presence of other reproductive defects. Similarly, female sterility is the absence of ovulation. 
There are two different types of sterility:
  1. Primary sterility - when a couple has never been able to get pregnant 
  2. Secondary sterility - when a couple has had a successful pregnancy but cannot conceive another child due to surgical intervention 
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What is Infertility?

Infertility is a common problem that refers to the inability to conceive after twelve months of having unprotected intercourse. If the woman is 35 years or more, this period is shortened to six months. Infertility can result from an issue with either the male, female, or both. Unlike sterility, infertility in males and females is not necessarily due to a procedure or medical condition. Infertility can also be caused due to reasons such as lack of ovulation and low sperm count and motility. 
There are two different types of infertility:
  1. Primary infertility - when a couple has never achieved a full-term pregnancy after at least one year of unprotected sex 
  2. Secondary infertility - when a couple has had one successful pregnancy but is unable to conceive again 

Symptoms of infertility in males and females

Males Females
  1. Changes in sexual desire
  2. Pain, lump, or swelling in the testicles
  3. Problems with ejaculations
  4. Difficulty maintaining erections
  5. Small, firm testicles
  6. Changes in hair growth
  1. Irregular Periods
  2. No Periods
  3. Painful or heavy periods
  4. Signs of hormone fluctuations (facial hair growth, weight gain, reduced sex drive, thinning hair, and skin issues)
  5. Pain during sex

How is Sterility Different from Infertility?

While both sterility and infertility are problems related to conceiving, they are not the same. Both differ in terms of conceiving a baby and treatments. While infertility can be treated, one cannot treat sterility. This is why infertility has a higher chance of creating a family than sterility. 
Sterility and infertility often co-exist. For instance, a man who had a vasectomy is considered sterile and, as a result, infertile. However, if a man with no infertility problems has a sterile female partner, the couple would suffer from infertility. There are several reasons for sterility and infertility in men and women. The following is a table that compares the causes of both. 
  1. Hormonal alterations affecting sperm production
  2. Testicle problems caused by trauma, orchitis (inflammation of testicles), hydrocele (swelling in the scrotum), varicocele (enlarged veins inside the scrotum), etc
  3. Problems with sperm delivery (retrograde ejaculation, sexual impotence, blockage in the sperm ducts, etc.)
  1. Hormonal disorders that affect the menstrual cycle and ovulation
  2. Damage or blockage in the fallopian tube 
  3. Abnormalities in the cervix caused by surgical intervention
  4. Polyps, endometriosis, malformations, myomas, etc., in the uterus prevents the sperm from reaching the egg.
  1. Hormonal disorders
  2. Azoospermia (no sperm count)
  3. Oligospermia (low sperm count)
  4. Malformed sperm that are unable to live long enough to fertilise the egg
  5. Problems with sperm delivery due to sexual problems like premature ejaculation
  6. Genetic diseases such as myotonic dystrophy and Klinefelter’s syndrome
  7. Medical conditions such as diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and infections
  8. Overexposure to harmful environmental factors such as pesticides and radiation
  9. Unhealthy habits such as substance abuse 
  10. Varicoceles or trauma to testes
  11. Certain cancers and their treatments
  1. Ovulation disorders such as PCOS affect the release of eggs from the ovaries (due to hormonal imbalances, thyroid conditions, substance abuse, eating disorders, tumours, too much exercise, etc.)
  2. Polyps, adhesions, septum, or fibroids inside the uterus
  3. Damage or blockage in the fallopian tube caused by pelvic inflammatory disease
  4. Early menopause
  5. Problems with eggs having the wrong number of chromosomes
  6. Pelvic adhesions (band of scar tissue that binds adjacent organs together)
  7. Certain cancers and their treatments

The causes of sterility can also be reasons for infertility in males and females. Why? Because sometimes, despite these disorders, fertilisation occurs, but full-term pregnancy is not achieved.

Can Sterility and Infertility Be Diagnosed and Treated?

While, unfortunately, sterility is an incurable problem, infertility can be treated. Infertility treatment depends on multiple factors, such as:
  1. The cause of infertility (some causes cannot be corrected)
  2. The duration of infertility
  3. Your and your partner’s age
  4. Personal preferences
The following table shows the diagnosis and treatment for infertility in men and women. 
  Males Females
Diagnosis Male fertility tests include:
  1. Semen analysis (obtained by ejaculating the semen in a clear container)
  2. Hormone testing (blood test to determine testosterone levels)
  3. Genetic testing (determine a genetic defect causing infertility)
  4. Testicular biopsy (check abnormalities causing infertility)
  5. Imaging (brain MRI, transrectal or scrotal ultrasound)
Female fertility tests include:
  1. Ovulation testing (a blood test that measures hormone levels)
  2. Hysterosalpingography (evaluates the condition of the uterus and fallopian tubes) 
  3. Ovarian reserve testing (determine the number of available eggs)
  4. Imaging tests (pelvic ultrasound or saline infusion sonogram)
  5. Other hormone testing (check levels of ovulatory and pituitary hormones)
  1. Medications: Certain medications like clomiphene citrate (Clomid) and anastrozole can help improve sperm production and quality, increasing the chances of a successful pregnancy. 
  2. Surgery: It is used to remove sperm blockage and restore fertility. In some other cases, surgery can also repair a varicocele to improve your overall chances of pregnancy. 
  3. Lifestyle changes: Certain lifestyle and behaviour changes can improve the chances of pregnancy.
    These changes include:
    1. Stop smoking and drinking
    2. Exercise regularly
    3. Stop taking certain medications
    4. Increase the frequency and timing of sexual intercourse
  1. Fertility drugs: It is a commonly used treatment for infertile women with ovulation disorders. These drugs, such as clomiphene citrate (Clomid) and letrozole (Femara), are prescribed to induce ovulation or restore the balance of sex hormones. 
  2. Surgery: Polyps, septum, and scar tissue in the uterus can be treated with hysteroscopic surgery. Other problems, such as pelvic adhesions and endometriosis, may require laparoscopic surgery. 
  3. Intrauterine insemination (IUI): A procedure in which washed sperm is injected directly into the uterus after ovulation.
If these treatments fail to achieve a pregnancy, you can try to get pregnant through Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). The most common type of ART technique is In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). It is a multi-step procedure that involves stimulating ovaries, retrieving mature eggs, fertilising them with sperm in a laboratory, and implanting the fertilised embryo in the uterus. 


There is a significant difference between sterility and infertility, but it is often overlooked. While sterility means you cannot conceive a baby, infertility can achieve pregnancy with medical or surgical intervention. However, sterility does not mean that you and your partner cannot become parents. It just implies that your journey to parenthood will be quite different. Choosing a gestational carrier or adoption can help you fulfil your dream of parenthood.

Seek Medical Guidance

Are you concerned about being infertile? You can contact our fertility experts at HexaHealth to understand more about the causes, symptoms, and treatments of infertility. Our experienced medical professionals will guide you through the entire process of evaluating your sterility or infertility. Moreover, we will suggest a tailored treatment option to best suit your requirements. Visit our website at https://www.hexahealth.com/ for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does sterility mean infertility?

No, sterility and infertility are not the same. While sterility refers to the inability to produce a child, infertility is the failure to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse. Infertility can be a type of sterility. However, every person diagnosed as infertile is not sterile.

What is the difference between sterility and impotence?

While both sterility and impotence can affect a man’s ability to have children, they are quite different. Sterility refers to the inability to conceive due to problems with the production or release of sperm. On the other hand, impotence, also called Erectile Dysfunction (ED), refers to the trouble of getting or maintaining an erection during sexual activity. 

What can cause sterility?

Sterility can be caused by either a congenital anomaly (such as being born without ovaries) or as a result of surgical intervention (such as hysterectomy for women or vasectomy for men). 

What causes sterility in females?

The causes of female sterility include:-
  1. Hormonal imbalance
  2. Cervical abnormalities caused by surgical intervention
  3. Damaged or blocked fallopian tube
  4. Malformations, polyps, or endometriosis in the uterus

Does sterile mean no sperm?

While the absence of sperm production can cause sterility, there are other causes as well. Male sterility can also occur due to testicles or sperm production problems. Therefore, being sterile does not necessarily mean no sperm. 

Can a sterile woman get pregnant?

No, sterile women cannot get pregnant. However, if a woman is sterile due to tubal ligation or female sterilisation, she may get pregnant after a tubal ligation reversal surgery. The surgery reconnects the blocked segments of the fallopian tube, allowing the woman to become pregnant.

Can a fertile man become infertile?

Yes, a fertile man can become infertile. A man can become infertile even after successfully conceiving a baby. This is called secondary infertility. Some causes for secondary infertility include increased age, impaired sperm production, sexually transmitted diseases, enlarged prostate, excessive weight gain, alcohol abuse, and smoking.

Is Sterility treatable?

In most cases, sterility cannot be treated. However, sterility caused by surgical intervention can usually be reversed. Women who previously had tubal ligation can get tubal ligation reversal surgery to be able to conceive a child. Similarly, men with vasectomy can increase their chances of having a child with vasectomy reversal. However, these procedures do not guarantee success in conceiving a baby.

Updated on : 1 November 2022


Dr. Monika Dubey

Dr. Monika Dubey

MBBS, MS Obstetrics & Gynaecology

21 Years Experience

A specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology with a rich experience of over 21 years is currently working in HealthFort Clinic. She has expertise in Hymenoplasty, Vaginoplasty, Vaginal Tightening, Labiaplasty, MTP (Medical Termination...View More


Charu Shrivastava

Charu Shrivastava

BSc. Biotechnology I MDU and MSc in Medical Biochemistry (HIMSR, Jamia Hamdard)

2 Years Experience

Skilled in SEO and passionate about creating informative and engaging medical content. Her proofreading and content writing for medical websites is impressive. She creates informative and engaging content that educ...View More

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