Where are all the Infertile Men? A Sociological Look at Male Infertility and Masculinity

28 May 2013, 17:00 - 18:30

CRASSH, Seminar room SG2, Ground floor

Evening session

Liberty Barnes  (Research Associate from the Faculty of Sociology, Cambridge)


Infertile men are conspicuously absent from IVF clinics, social science research and public discourse on infertility in the United States. In order to track down infertile men and investigate the relationship between men’s fertility status and masculinity, sociologist Liberty Walther Barnes shadowed male infertility medical doctors in the U.S. and interviewed their patients. While all twenty-four of the patients interviewed fit the clinical definition of infertility, fully two-thirds of them did not self identify as infertile. In this presentation, Dr. Barnes argues that infertile men are powerful players in the social constructions of disease and gender and that their resistance to the “infertile” label explains, in part, the invisibility of male infertility. Men employ a variety of strategies to reconceptualize their inability to conceive in terms that feel less threatening to their personal sense of masculinity. These include: focusing on the etiology of their infertility, referring to their inability to conceive as “just a medical condition,” over-emphasizing any positive aspects of their fertility status, characterizing infertility as a minor symptom of a more complex health issue, or outright denying the diagnosis and its association with masculinity. Dr. Barnes concludes that the social processes of constructing disease and gender are inextricably intertwined in the case of male infertility.


Open to all.  No registration required

Part of the Cambridge Interdisciplinary Reproduction Forum.

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