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Sex Health. 2012 Sep;9(4):377-83. doi: 10.1071/SH11090.

University students' perceptions of environmental risks to infertility.

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Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.



Canadian young adults may be at risk of future infertility due to the high incidence of sexually transmissible infections (STIs) in this population. Young adults' perceptions of environmental risks, including contaminants, STIs and lifestyle habits on infertility, have not been examined. We have therefore designed a qualitative study to explore risk perceptions, awareness and knowledge of common environmental risk factors for infertility in a multiethnic sample of young adults.


Semistructured interviews were carried out with 40 university undergraduate students (16 men and 24 women) in Ottawa, Canada, followed by qualitative analysis of interview transcripts to identify major themes.


The following broad themes described participants' risk perceptions about infertility and (1) environmental contaminants: knowledge gaps, media reports and negative perception of chemicals; (2) STIs: superficial understanding of their role in infertility, general awareness, associations with sexual behaviours and knowledge gaps; and (3) lifestyle: protective benefits of healthy lifestyle, dose or exposure effects for smoking and alcohol, and knowledge gaps. Students demonstrated a superficial understanding of environmental risks, at times relying on media reports and anecdotal information to support their beliefs.


This next generation of potential infertility patients exhibits a general understanding of environmental risks to infertility; however, young adults are overly optimistic that healthy lifestyle behaviours will safeguard future fertility. STIs represent the most significant modifiable risk factors for this age group; a message that can be supported by sexual and reproductive health education and promotion with greater emphasis on the long-term outcomes of STIs, including infertility.

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