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Masculinity, infertility, stigma and media reports

  • Medicine


There is growing concern about the health of men in the developed West. Compared with women they have higher rates of morbidity and mortality and are less likely to seek out and employ medical services. Several authors have drawn on social constructionist models, such as the concept of hegemonic masculinity, to account for these gender differences in risk and behaviour. One might anticipate that certain conditions, such as male infertility, would be perceived as posing a particular threat to conventional views of masculinity. There is some support for this, although there is little research into the social construction of male infertility. In this study Discourse Analysis was employed to analyse newspaper accounts of a reported decline in sperm counts in order to study the way in which infertility and masculinity were represented and constructed in the media. The results indicate a construction of fertility as being in crisis and of male infertility as conflated with impotence. Men were positioned as vulnerable and threatened by forces outside their control. The accounts drew on a range of stereotypically masculine reference points, such as warfare and mechanical analogies. These results are consistent with concepts of hegemonic masculinity and suggest that men are offered a highly restricted set of options in terms of perceiving and representing their bodies and their health.

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