Conceiving Masculinity

Conceiving Masculinity: Male Infertility, Medicine, and Identity

Liberty Walther Barnes
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 226
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Conceiving Masculinity
    Book Description:

    InConceiving Masculinity, Liberty Walther Barnes puts the world of male infertility under the microscope to examine how culturally pervasive notions of gender shape our understanding of disease, and how disease impacts our personal ideas about gender.

    Taking readers inside male infertility clinics, and interviewing doctors and couples dealing with male infertility, Barnes provides a rich account of the social aspects of the confusing and frustrating diagnosis of infertility. She explains why men resist a stigmatizing label like "infertile," and how men with poor fertility redefine for themselves what it means to be manly and masculine in a society that prizes male virility.Conceiving Masculinityalso details how and why men embrace medical technologies and treatment for infertility.

    Broaching a socially taboo topic, Barnes emphasizes that infertility is not just a women's issue. She shows how gender and disease are socially constructed within social institutions and by individuals.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-1043-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    In 1997 I was living in Bulgaria—a young, single adult with no children. Whenever I showed off photographs of the white, middle-class American family in which I had grown up, my Bulgarian friends became astonished, confused, or giddy with excitement:Five children! Your mother has five children?A few middle-aged Bulgarian women asked me privately whether the rumors were true:Can women in America really have as many children as they want?They confided that they had always wanted lots of children, but as I eventually came to understand, they had raised their families during the Communist era, when...

  5. 1 Preconceived Notions
    (pp. 1-19)

    Surely I was lost. When I arrived at a multistory building with a large sign that read, “Women’s Health Center,” I was certain I had come to the wrong place. I double-checked the address in my notebook, scratched my head, and wandered inside. “I’m looking for Dr. Bradley, the male infertility specialist,” I repeated to several passersby. Someone suggested the third floor, where I came upon a receptionist who directed me to the seventh floor. I stepped off the elevator there and into a hallway lined with locked doors. I explained my plight to a man rushing by in a...

  6. 2 Seminal Work
    (pp. 20-50)

    The fact that heterosexual intercourse makes babies is not a discovery of the modern age. Stories of the shame of barrenness, the blessing of pregnancy, the miracle of birth, and the preciousness of man’s seed and posterity resound throughout the Bible. The ancient Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius recorded that men made sacrifices to the gods “in order that they, with copious seed, might render their wives pregnant.”¹ Ancient terra cotta, ceramic, and metal votive offerings depicting male genitals and female wombs have been discovered at various sites in Italy, including the oldest sanctuary of Hercules in Rome, where historians...

  7. 3 Doctors Doing Gender
    (pp. 51-81)

    Just prior to my first visit to a male infertility clinic, the doctor whom I would be shadowing warned me over the phone, “Men just don’t take care of themselves. They’re like wild animals.” As well-compensated and licensed institutional authorities on human biology, doctors are particularly powerful players in the social construction of gender. During my fieldwork, male infertility specialists explained to me that long-held cultural beliefs about women, men, and reproduction influence the way in which infertile couples are treated today. The widespread but inaccurate assumption that women are responsible for all aspects of reproduction was discussed as problematic...

  8. 4 Just a Medical Condition
    (pp. 82-120)

    “I literally dropped the phone and started crying,” recalls Brandon about hearing the results of his mapping procedure. Mapping is one of a few techniques used by male infertility specialists to find undeveloped sperm in a patient’s testicles when no sperm appears in his ejaculate. When two semen tests showed no sperm, the twenty-nine-year-old electrician decided to pursue the mapping procedure that his doctor touted as a less invasive alternative to other techniques. After administering some sedation and local anesthetic, doctors pulled the slack of Brandon’s scrotum tightly behind his testicles until the two white egg-shaped organs were visible through...

  9. 5 Taking Control
    (pp. 121-154)

    Twenty years ago, a doctor took one look at Jack’s semen analysis results—zero sperm– and told him that he would never have a biological child. Jack and his wife considered adoption, but their marriage fell apart before they ever pursued it. Fifteen years later, Jack found himself in a new relationship, contemplating marriage again and still longing for children. He and his fiancée, Sarah, were heartened to learn from Jack’s primary care physician that significant progress had been made in male reproductive medicine. They were referred to a local general urologist, who ran another sperm count—again zero—along...

  10. 6 The Politics of Reproduction
    (pp. 155-164)

    When social scientists talk about the politics of reproduction, we are talking about the set of themes, cultural ideas, and power relationships undergirding controversial reproductive issues such as contraception access or abortion rights. What does it mean when a group of white U.S. Congressmen sit down together to make decisions about women’s access to contraception and abortion? What does it mean when black women are more encouraged or less encouraged than white women to take advantage of abortion services? What does it mean when families choose to terminate a pregnancy on the basis of the gender of the fetus or...

  11. Appendix A: Research Participant List
    (pp. 165-166)
  12. Appendix B: Interview Guide
    (pp. 167-170)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 171-186)
  14. Glossary
    (pp. 187-188)
  15. References
    (pp. 189-200)
  16. Index
    (pp. 201-211)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 212-212)