Mapping men's anticipations and experiences in the reproductive realm: (In)fertility journeys
This paper examines men's experiences of fertility/infertility against a backdrop of changing understandings of men's role in society and medical possibilities. It presents findings from two qualitative research projects on men's experiences of engagement with reproductive health services as they sought to become fathers and anticipate impending fatherhood. The findings from both projects provide insights into men's experiences of (in)fertility and their engagement with services set against cultural ideals of masculinity. Discussions of reproduction have historically focused most centrally upon women's bodies and maternal processes, leaving little space for consideration of men's experiences and perspectives. While women's experiences of infertility/fertility have been characterized in relation to productive or faulty biological processes, male infertility has been largely invisible and male fertility typically assumed. This context provides a difficult terrain for men in which to contemplate the potential of not being able to father a child. The findings discussed in this paper illuminate the ways in which men talk about and make sense of their reproductive journeys. In doing so, it challenges current understandings of masculinity and reproductive bodies and highlights the need to rethink how men are treated in reproductive spheres and how services to men are delivered. This paper examines the results of two interview studies that explored men's experiences of fertility and infertility against a backdrop of changing understandings of men's role in society and rapidly changing medical possibilities. It draws together two separate qualitative research projects that explored men's experiences of seeking to become fathers. One followed men as they became fathers for the first time, the other was a study of men's experiences of infertility. The findings from both projects are analysed to provide insights into men's experiences of fertility and infertility and their engagement with health services, set against current social and cultural ideas of masculinity. Before the advent of fertility treatment, discussions of reproduction focused almost exclusively on the woman's body. Pregnancy and childbirth was women's business. There was little consideration of men's experiences and perspectives. Although male factor infertility is now a leading cause of couples seeking treatment, the focus remains the woman. As assisted reproduction treatment has developed over the last half-century, most social and psychological research has explored the woman's perspective. The findings discussed in this paper illuminate the ways in which men try and make sense of their own successful or unsuccessful reproductive journeys. In doing so it challenges current understandings of masculinity and reproductive bodies. It also highlights how we need to perhaps rethink how men are treated in reproductive spheres and how services to men are delivered. © 2013, Reproductive Healthcare Ltd.