Young Adulthood: The Impact of Infertility

Published 19 Oct 2017

In the research of human development, there may not be anyone who studied more closely or spoke more eloquently about the stages of psychosocial human development than Erik Erikson. He characterized young adulthood as the area or time of a person’s life from about age 18 to age 35, when one is most apt to be focused on the challenges of intimacy and solidarity versus isolation. The main drive to be successful during this time period is to find and express love, to become affiliated with both a romantic partner as well as friendships through mutually satisfying relationships. Erikson believed that if one is successful in negotiating or moving through this stage, then one can experience intimacy on a deep level.

However, if one is not successful, then one may become isolated, distant from others. Erikson suggested that if one isn’t able to create satisfying relationships with ease, then the world can seem to shrink as one defensively moves away from instead of toward others, perhaps in feeling falsely superior or inferior, lacking true self identity and self worth (Thies & Travers).

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However, if one moves into and through young adulthood successfully, having found a loving romantic partner, it’s very interesting to take the example of infertility into the realm. One has found the perfect partner, the perfect love, and the two people are getting along rather well, secure in their identities and in their mutual love and respect for themselves and one another. This stage is then thought of as having been navigated successfully, however, the element of fertility is also essential on a basic level to having successfully delivered the promised goods to one’s life mate. With the increase in infertility in the child bearing age population which includes young adulthood, it’s essential that one consider the ramifications of infertility on people moving through this stage of life. Does one successfully complete the stage if one has found the perfect mate yet is then severely troubled by the more biological stumbling block of the incapacity of being able to reproduce and bear children? It’s important to focus on all elements of moving though life successfully. In this case, a more biological disability restricts the individual, against his or her will, from being able to accomplish what can be a very important task of young adulthood, reproduction. The bio-psycho-social stage of young adulthood must be viewed from all angles, because biology, psychology, and sociology are helplessly intertwined and always mutually affecting one another. In the case of the young person who is unable to fertilize and conceive, the newfound love relationship may be forever tarnished or even subject to loss.

For the practitioner working with individuals who have moved into or through young adulthood successfully in regard to having found a mutually satisfying romantic relationship, it’s important to note the sensitive significance of the issue of infertility. A couple facing the fact that the love they share and give one another, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, yields no hope, no fruit in their quest for children, may very well dash their ability to really move through this stage successfully, sometimes dissolving a once happy relationship based solely on the desire for children. It’s important for practitioners to know that sometimes, even if the love is there between two people, the possibility remains strong for the relationship to fall apart, based on the eventual urge of one or both people to find success with a new person, a new mate, whose fertility is not compromised. This type of event can be heart wrenching and bittersweet for all parties involved, and, even if the couple does stay together, the question remains open for this stage and following stages… will it really be successful


  • Thies, K. & Travers, J. (2006). Handbook of Human Development for Health Care Professionals. Jones & Bartlett Publishers.
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