Do We Need To Talk About “Social Infertility?”

There’s a phrase I’ve seen a few times recently that has gotten me thinking–it’s “social infertility.”   I think it is worth spending a little time understanding what the term adds.

I think there are at least two separate questions to address–but they are so intertwined I don’t know if I can really separate them.  And one of them–the first–seems to me to be sort of messy on its own.

The first question is what “social infertility” means.  This seems to require thinking about what “infertility” means when used without the modifier.   The second question is why a distinct term like “social infertility” might be useful.  All in all this seems like a surprisingly knotty problem.  

To begin with, I’m not entirely sure whether “social infertility” is proposed as an alternative to “infertility” (which would mean these stand as two distinct and non-overlapping categories) or whether “social infertility”  is a specific subcategory of unmodified “infertility.”

Just from the structure of the language, it seems like “social infertility” should be a subset of “infertility.”   This means that people who are “socially infertile” are “infertile” but there are other people who are also in the big category “infertile” but are not “socially infertile.”     Maybe they are “medically infertile?”  I’m not sure.     In any event, I do think you have to start with what it means to be infertile–no modifier.   And here is where I find myself becoming confused.

You could say that being infertile means being unable to produce a genetically related child.     But that definition seems like it is way too expansive.   No individual can conceive a child alone–we all know that (at least for now) it takes two gametes (egg and sperm) to conceive.  So if infertile meant simply unable to produce a genetic child than by definition all individuals are infertile.  As are all couples that are not male/female.   As are many male/female couples.   (In fact, given the limits on women’s reproductive capacity and the lengthening lifespans, I wonder if it isn’t true that most male/female couples are infertile, because in many of these couples women are beyond the child-bearing years.)

I just don’t think this is how we generally use “infertile.”    Healthy single people do not think of themselves as infertile nor are they generally thought of that way.

So now I think I need to go back and reconsider what “infertile” means.  I think that as we generally use it, it’s really reserved for people who are medically infertile.   (The thing is, I’m not sure I know what I mean by that–imagine me waving my hands a bit here.)

In fact, I think this takes us back to the relationship between “infertile” and “socially infertile.”  It seems that my initial supposition was wrong.   Perhaps. the whole point of the phrase “socially infertile” is to distinguish  people who do not have any traditional fertility issues but are infertile only because of their social position.   So a single person is socially infertile.   And a same-sex couple is socially infertile.   And this is meant to be contrasted with “infertile” (unmodified).   That term is actually reserved for those who are medically infertile.

Now is it useful to distinguish between those who are medically infertile (understanding that term is fuzzy to me) and those who are socially infertile?   I think there are times when it might be.   For instance, the fertility issue for a lesbian couple (they need sperm) is quite different from the problem faced by a medically infertile heterosexual couple. (Indeed, as I understand it, sometimes the causes of medical (as opposed to social) infertility) are never fully understood.   The lesbian couple’s problem is (relatively) easy to solve.

It’s tempting to say that the issues for those who are socially infertile aren’t medical issues and in some ways that is true.   But in fact, we (as a society?) have medicalized the problem.  Or maybe reproductive medicine has taken over the field.  In any event, the lesbian couple needing sperm goes to a doctor–in part because many sperm banks don’t just send sperm to individuals.   Even beyond that, the lesbian couple might wish to use some of the more advanced technologies to increase the likelihood of conception.

I have a suspicion (not investigated and hence nothing more than that) that the term “social infertility” is often used to diminish the significance of the problem faced by those in the category.   I’m thinking of reasoning that might go like this:   Those who are “truly’ (or what I have called “medically”) infertile have a real problem we should all acknowledge.  But those who are socially infertile don’t have any “real’ problems and are just complaining about the laws of nature and the relationship of those laws to the choices they make.

Yet this suspicion notwithstanding, I think the term is an interesting one.  As you can doubtless see, I’m just organizing my thoughts about this, but I think there must be more to say.




The thing is, I don’t think we really identify all those people as infertile.   So it must be that I have the definition wrong.   First, I wonder if “infertilite” is only applied to different sex couples who are otherwise potentially fertile.

Of course, defined this way many instances of infertility are not medical issues at all.   And I think that is what “social infertility” is meant to capture.  So maybe we can say that single people are socially infertile.   Perhaps this suggests that they can address their infertility by altering their social arrangements–if a man and a woman–each infertile as an individual–team up, then maybe they are fertile.

For purposes of medical treatment one probably does need to distinguish between “social infertility” and “infertility” a


57 responses to “Do We Need To Talk About “Social Infertility?”

  1. The initial medical definition of infertility is usually conferred on couple in a rather vague way. It’s defined as a heterosexual couple “trying” for a year without any evidence of conception.

    Infertility is a odd definition, because it is a label about two people, not one. And many medical cases are unexplained. In the majority of cases both individuals are sub-fertile. It’s not that pregnancy is impossible, just unlikely, with these couples.

    There is a difference in medical approach, I suppose. In social infertility is that the couple does not need to embark on a medical exploration of causes, but can more directly move towards the defined solution. In contrast, sub-fertile heterosexual couples may be pushed by the medical community and social pressure to try repeatedly for a genetic child far past reasonable statistical chances of success.

    In both medical and social infertility there are large obstacles — the need to finance the infertility, the stress of undergoing medical treatment, navigating the medical system, and navigating the legalities of the situation. Gay men run into obvious social and financial challenges in their need to navigate surrogacy and egg donation.

    • This is part of what started me thinking about this topic. As you say, it’s a diagnosis for a couple. It’s also purely based on a symptom (no conception).

      I want to think more (and I hope that tomorrow I will write more) about the difference in approach. In general both social infertility and this more conventional form of infertility end up with medical treatment. And the treatments may be identical (IUI with sperm from a third-party, say.) But there is still something different.

  2. The more I think about it, the term socially infertile is inappropriate except as a metaphor. I certainly never applied the term to myself as a single.
    infertilility is a medical condition- albeit with imprecise definition- which means the inability to conceive. If you can conceive by someone else other than the person you are with, than you are not infertile- your partner is. Indeed once there is a specific diagnosis as to the cause of the infertility, if the diagnosis applies to only one member of a couple, the other is no longer considered infertile by medical standards. the fact that colloquially we might refer to them both as infertile, is because usually they don’t go around broadcasting the exact details of the diagnosis.
    the fact that the causes are not always known does not make it any less a medical condition. the causes of chronic fatigue syndrome aren’t either known- so what?
    I think before participating in this blog, as a single, I would have found it even a bit offensive to be termed infertile. but nothing beyond that.
    Since participating in this blog and becoming aware of the insidious implications of the language surrounding fertility treatments, I object more strongly to its use. Its implications are `1. that people who have no medical fertility issues are equally entitled (ethically speaking) to access reproductive services and 2. to fog over the fact that those folks aren’t curing anything, they are merely reproducing with someone else
    3. to present their childlessness as something immutable and unchangeable, unamenable to personal choice, thereby making them more likely to seek out reproductive services, ,increasing the customer base….

    • An analogy: In theJewish world there is a term used by some in the field as
      “halachic infertility”. halacha means Jewish law. Orthodox Jewish requirements of periodic abstinence after menses may conflict with some women’s fertile window of her cycle. someone came up with the bright idea to call this ‘halachic infertiilityi”.
      of course casting it as such, once again, casts such people as potential customers for reproductive services, and also casts their problem as an immutable condition, not as a result of a personal choice to follow disruptive regulations. thereby encouraging them to see themselves as having a medical problem, instead of viewing the regulations as the problem and discarding them.

      • How interesting. I did not know.

        So if a woman is halachically (sp?) infertile, is the response ART? I would have thought that the law requiring abstinence might have given way in those circumstances. Probably depends on the rabbi?

    • First paragraph of my post was referring to heterosexual couples.

    • It sounds to me (and I really do not mean to mischaracterize, so please correct me if I am wrong) that you think that people are using the term “socially infertile” to their advantage? I think I can see your point. What it allows them is to claim infertility and all that goes with it? (Entitlement to treatment, etc.) As I say–stop me here if I am wrong.

      This is interesting to me because my initial thought was that “socially infertile” was a somewhat derogatory term, imposed on people by others. I suppose that is because I heard (in my head) the emphasis on “social.” But I surely see your point and it’s something to think about.

      I suppose what makes infertility (as conventionally used and as you explain it) a medical condition is that it is the dysfunction of a bodily system? The thing that makes it somewhat confusing is that sometimes the treatment of the condition is to fix the system, but sometimes it is to buy substitute parts (say eggs or sperm) from another source. The latter isn’t really treatment–it’s a work around.

    • Yes yes well thought out. So true

  3. Uh infertile is a medical term for women. Sterile is a medical term for men. Socially infertile sounds like a weird way to say old maid or batchelor or dateless.

    • I never actually thought about this before, I’ve certainly both read about and heard discussions of male infertility. I wonder if “sterile” is an older term for the same thing? Or are you saying that talking about “male infertility” is a misuse of language?

      • I believe it is not correct description medically of a male say with low sperm count etc. I believe the law would refer to a male who is sterile as being impotent and incapable of getting a woman pregnant?? Im potent as in not potent semen. The woman is the one who is either capable of conceiving or not right? He fertilizes her egg…hmm is it the ground that is fertile or the cow manure? I think its the ground which would be the body of the woman the egg came from and I think I just called men bull chips. I’m working it out in my head as I go

        • Doctors use the word infertile for human men. The percentage of men who generate zero sperm is quite low, so the number of sterile men is small. There is a much larger number of infertile men.

          Men need to generate a lot of sperm to fertilize in a timely manner. A count of, say, 10 million is low. Yet you wouldn’t call that man sterile, because there is a chance he could eventually fertilize.

          There’s also a problem in that all men generate morphologically incorrect sperm. Some men produce a higher number of incorrectly shaped sperm due to heat or micro-tissue or nutrition problems. Sitting in hot tubs or riding bicycles generates an increased number of incorrect sperm, to the point that some men are infertile. But these men are not sterile because they do generate healthy sperm.

  4. Tess no its not about two people, just one. Doctors can only treat one body at a time. Couple’s are not infertile, women are. Couples are not sterile, men are.

    • No, I mean the medical definition of infertility literally is attached to two people “trying” for a certain number of months. That is literally how doctor’s define infertility.

      • I agree–it’s certainly what I have heard. I suppose what this means is that generally the medical investigation of infertility doesn’t begin until two people have tried for a year. But indeed, in the end, the problem may well be one or the other of them individually–though it could be both.

    • Actually IVF would be treating both sometimes since there can be an issue with both the eggs and sperm. If the woman has blocked tubes and the man has low sperm count IVF is helping both.

  5. A couple is not a person and has no fertility problems. The couple is not a distinct individual with its own life force – the closet we get to that is their offspring

    • When a husband is sterile, his wife is infertile, and when a wife is infertile, her husband is sterile. It doesn’t matter which is the case. Back before no fault divorce, infertility was not grounds for divorce, it was part of the “sickness and health” that they both go through as one person. There are still some ways that they are legally one person: in their 5th amendment right against self-incrimination, in their property rights, and in their right to conceive offspring. It is the marriage that has a right to reproduce, the individuals lose their individual right to reproduce with other people, in spite of your hatred of that bedrock of civilization and legal fact.

      • So are you suggesting that the terms “sterile” and “infertile” are defined only by the result? A man perfectly capable of producing sperm is considered to be sterile if his wife has no uterus, say? That doesn’t seem to match the way I hear people use the language–which doesn’t prove it’s wrong, but does suggest there will be confusion.

        • It is wrong and impolite to ask whether it’s the husband or the wife who’s infertile, or if they are avoiding pregnancy. That’s the privacy that the supreme court affirmed in Griswold, they affirmed obvious facts based on reality: no one can know and no one has a right to know, and it doesn’t matter.

          A man perfectly capable of producing sperm, producing sperm two or three times a day, every day, is bulging with fertility but he has no right to be fertile with anyone but his lawfully wedded wife. Same with an infertile man, who has the exact same rights.

          • I agree that if a married couple does not have children it’s nobody’s business to inquire as to which one of them has the bunk set of pipes
            However if they are having a conversation about infertility and have been tested and know that one of them is healthy and the other one is not – well it is dishonest or factually incorrect for him to say that he is infertile or sterile if he is not but I suppose it is his prerogative to lie so long as the lie impacts no other person’s right to information about themselves, say for instance he has offspring and is not disclosing that fact or something.

          • I agree about politeness, but I wondered about how you were using the terms “sterile” and “infertile.” Would you describe the man in your second paragraph as “sterile” because his wife is infertile? this seemed to me to be the import of your earlier comment. I just wanted to understand what you meant.

        • It’s batsh*t crazy. His definition implies that every unmarried person is sterile or infertile and looking at the unmarried birth rate I’d have to say that’s just not true.

      • in many societies infertility is grounds for divorce

        • In backwards horrible terrible sucky societies.

        • what is this grounds for a divorce crap? It’s a contract and all contracts have exit clauses with penalties. You don’t have to ask mother may I to get out of a contract you willingly got into.

          • Before there was no fault divorce, someone needed to be at fault, by committing abuse or adultery, in order for the other person to get out of their marriage. Infertility was not grounds for divorce, because it is not anyone’s fault. They put their lot in together – that was essential and key to marriage for eons, the “sickness or health” commitment to each other. Now people don’t need to find fault, they can just say they want a divorce even if the other spouse never did anything wrong, or is infertile and they want to marry someone who’s fertile. That didn’t used to be allowed, they had to both be infertile together and accept childlessness together.

          • The idea of grounds for divorce is hardly “crap.” I think all states do now have some form of no-fault divorce, but legal grounds for divorce–the entitlement to end a marriage–may still exist and may be important when it comes to things like spousal support.

      • No. But they are still actually two people John. Everything else is just pretend. Smoke and mirrors. Projection. Charade. Not 1 person but two. And you have never demonstrated that people don’t have the right to whatever bodily function happens to happen to them. Wait. Don’t just don’t this is a circular conversation without proof it goes all bible here with you. Terribly fond of you and don’t like when you go off the rails on the bible trip cause its not logical. When Ki does her bible stuff there is something kind of academic about it less brim stoney. Law lets talk about law that applies to everyone.

        • I’m fond of you too, Marilynn, because you usually make such good points about the real problems faced by people conceived using purchased gametes, and usually make the same arguments to Julie that I would make. Ki sarita too. But then you insist that single people have a right to purchase gametes and that married couples have a right to purchase whatever gametes they need if they can’t conceive together, instead of saying we should stop the practice and shut down the industry, you say we should just pursue an unworkable not-gonna-happen halfway measure that the sperm or egg provider is the legal parent and must provide for all of his offspring and leave his estate and survivor benefits to all his offspring. Even if it were to become law (federal law?) it wouldn’t stop the practice entirely, it would sharply reduce the number of men and women who donate and limit the selection to broke dudes and maniacs, and perhaps reduce some of the demand, but there would still be some guys who say sure, I’d be happy to be the legal parent since I don’t have any money anyhow (that’s why they sell their sperm). And it probably won’t become a law because it’s a halfway measure, with enemies on both sides and no supporters. (And would this law also be the one that mandates DNA tests of every newborn and parents to positively identify the progenitors? Or would that be a separate law?)

          I think there is a much better chance to prohibit gamete sales entirely, to go back to the way things were before the industry started, when IVF would only be done using a husband’s and wife’s sperm and egg, and people didn’t feel they had a right to reproduce with someone other than their spouse. We need to keep full pressure on the industry.

          And though Adultery is in the Ten Commandments, it isn’t a Biblical law, it was a law before Moses, in virtually every early civilization around the globe. It is a legal term, just like marriage is. It is good government, and religions merely incorporate aspects of civil government into their teaching and explain it in a religious context.

  6. “For instance, the fertility issue for a lesbian couple (they need sperm) is quite different from the problem faced by a medically infertile heterosexual couple.”
    Gosh where does sperm come from? They don’t need sperm, THEY don’t need anything. One of them WANTS to get pregnant by a man and raise their kid without him around with her partner instead of him. I wish we’d stop refering to human beings by their gene matter.

    Try it for a month, a week, a few days. Try to remember that a real person had to agree to do something there and then went through with it.

    • Hey, I didn’t invent this. This is the medical profession defines infertility.

      From the Mayo clinic:
      “Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant despite having frequent, unprotected sex for at least a year for most people and six months in certain circumstances.”

      • interesting, but does it have to be with t he same partner? presumably if a woman or man has been having unprotected intercourse with different partners every month, wouldn’t they be diagnosed as infertile?

        • Most of the time the problem is sub-fertility, so switching out one couple can make a people who are previously infertile, fertile. It’s rare for one person to be completely infertile– a man needs to make 0 sperm. Or a woman would need to have had a hysterectomy or both her tubes need to be ruptured or blocked. But let’s say one tube has ruptured due to a previous tubal pregnancy — that means the woman is not infertile, just possibly sub-fertile.

          It’s also true that when you match one sub-fertile person with someone who is very fertile, that gives pregnancy a much better chance. So if you match a older woman with a younger man, or a younger women with an older man — pregnancy is much more likely then between two older, but still nominally fertile, people.

        • The medical definition is coitus with the same partner over time, without evidence of conception. The reason the diagnosis cannot be conducted within 1 month is that even ideally fertile people only have about a 1 in 3 chance of conceiving per cycle. For a diagnosis to be correct, the couple has to try over time. If someone is sleeping with a different partner every month, the individual is changing too many variables for the diagnosis.

          This is how the original medical diagnosis is conducted. Doctors do not need to diagnosis if the cause is already obvious. For example, if both tubes in a woman have ruptured, or if a man has lost both testicles to cancer, doctors do not need to diagnosis.

          A previous doctor has already declared the obvious to the patient, “You’ve lost both testicles to cancer. This means you can’t generate any sperm.”

          That said – if woman was sleeping with healthy fertile men every month for two weeks surrounding her fertile period, and if she wasn’t missing her fertile days, she should begin to suspect a problem if she could not get pregnant within 6 months to 1 year. But unmarried people who are unattached generally have less ability to precisely time their coitus around narrow fertile windows.

      • Thanks for posting that. I knew it was out there somewhere.

      • Uh huh I am an idividual and I could go to my doctor and say “I’m banging every guy in town without a rubber doc. I just can’t seem to get knocked up and I mean I cross my legs and lay there for hours not moving long after they’ve gone home. Do it every day different guy so maybe its not them….maybe it’s me?” Doc says “Yes you crazy b*%$( the tests are back and you are infertile you also have the clap”.

        Not two people. One. Or like both if it just randomly happens to be both but they could leave the relationship and their condition would go with them. I suppose yes as a pair they are not going to reproduce but only one of them would be diagnosed as having a problem called sterility or infertility, the other is just hanging out in that situation with them of their own free will. Unless they both really are. But I said that already

        • From a scientific point of view, the doctor would tell the women that she has presented too many variables to the situation to make an accurate diagnosis.

    • In this case though, Julie is technically right, they need sperm. For now they will take it from a man, but what they really want is one of them to provide the sperm as if she was a man. And that’s what scientists are working on and is actually what is demanded by same-sex marriage advocates. They want to use stem cells which have been grown in a lab to become a male-imprinted sperm, carrying her DNA, with which she would impregnate her partner (a woman could impregnate herself too, in theory). I don’t think making opposite sex gametes has been achieved yet, even in animals, but they have made the same kind of gametes from mouse stem cells and used them to make mice.

      Stem cell derived artificial sperm would be even more unethical and expensive and bad for society than 3PR or one night stands, though. So in spite of the fact that it would be done in a lab by doctors and scientists, it is NOT a holy grail, it is not a “medical solution” to homosexual infertility, as medicine always attempts to restore health, and there is nothing unhealthy about homosexual infertility. And there is no right to reproduce with someone of the same sex, or as the other sex, so it can be prohibited without violating anyone’s rights.

      • There may be some who advocate for access to marriage for same-sex couples who would also like to see this expansion of biotech work, but could we at least agree that not all “same-sex marriage advocates” (as you call them) demand this? (I know that is true because I am such and advocate and I would make no such demand.)

        Ultimately I think the desire for this kind of technology is fueled (at least in large part) by an attachment to having a genetically related child. I suspect that this desire is mostly socially constructed. The insistence on the primacy of genetic connection–which is sometimes deployed to de-legitimate same-sex couples raising kids–thus serves to bolster the market for new technologies. There’s something ironic in that.

        • Well there is also a desire for a child that did not have to loose half their family to join yours. Its cleaner and less complicated to navigate. If you can have your own you are not taking someone elses. All social parenthood arises as a response to the tragedy of family separation. I’d think most people would like their child raising experience to not be spawned by a child having been abandoned by one or both bio parents – if the child does not have to be abandoned by one or both bio parents in order to be raised by you and your partner because you are their bio parents, its kind of the obvious choice.

      • Yeah that is freaking terrifying we are going to end up with monsters on our hands – wait forget what we might end up with, it’s human experimentation on a person that cannot consent – the person who is at risk of deformation or whatever crazy crap might happen from tampering with the building blocks of their body can’t say no. It’s an experiment, on a person without their consent. Its not tried and true on person without consent its crazy off the rails frankenstein crap on a person that won’t be able to consent to medical research for another 18 years and 9 months.

    • I’ll agree that one of the women wants to get pregnant. She wants to do that so that she and her partner/wife can raise a child together. In order to do this they need to get sperm from somewhere. I don’t actually see why you won’t let me use “they.” It’s a project they’re embarked on together, even though only one of them will get pregnant.

      The formulation “pregnant by a man” is an interesting one. I know this will lead us back to our fundamental disagreement, but I don’t think I’d use it where a man provides sperm to a sperm bank, say, and then a woman uses it and becomes pregnant. I suppose you would still say that the man impregnated here? It’s not what I would say–if anyone impregnated her (in my view) it’s whoever does the insemination.

      I guess what this comes down to/back to is that I don’t think the sperm is the man. But I take it this is why you say I’m referring to human beings by their gene matter?

      • Oh Julie tricky wordsmithing trying to turn influence into creation. One thing is always going to be true – a man with offspring had to have gotten a woman pregnant in order to wind up with offspring. He, the man, the male with offspring, fathered a child. Procreated. Sexually reproduced with a member of the opposite sex who became pregnant resulting from his sperm fertilizing her egg and then their baby, their offspring, their child entered the world and they became parents in the medical, biological, genetic, hereditary, genealogical, organic, flow-chart, ven diagram kind of way that people do. Not only did he get her pregnant, but he meant to do it. He knew he wanted to get her pregnant before she ever even thought of choosing him to father her child. His profile was already there and waiting at the doctors office when she arrived. He’d already told the doctor – “hey this is my plan, I really want to have lots of offspring and I know that freezing my sperm will allow me to get the most women pregnant possible so that I have many many children from many many women. But I cannot pay for this extraction and freezing service the storage service and the administrative costs to market myself to women looking to make babies with strangers.” Doc says ” If you are willing not to raise your kids when they are born we’ll cover the cost of all that for you and might even give you a little something for your time.”

        Of course a man with offspring got a woman pregnant it goes without saying Julie, don’t be illogical in your quest to stick to your agenda; it undermines your credibility. He got her pregnant we just don’t know how he did it and really that is the private business of him and his kid’s mother isn’t it? They reached whatever agreement they reached, neither was forced it was all consenting grown ups. So someone held a syringe for them to help him get her pregnant. You can’t say the doctor got her pregnant that paints the wrong picture in the mind. Although with many donor offspring whose father’s are their mother’s gynecologists, maybe not so wrong at all.

        • But there are precise definitions to these words.

          The definition of impregnate is insemination. The act of insemination is not the act of freezing sperm. Literally, someone else performed the act of insemination.

          You could say the man was a genetic progenitor of the embryo/child. But those genetic progenitor has a different meaning then inseminate/ impregnate.

        • It isn’t tricky wordsmithing. It is the core of what we disagree about. I think a man can have offspring without having impregnated a woman. If his sperm was used for IUI or IVF or something like that, then the children will be genetically related to him–which I will take to mean he has offspring. But he didn’t impregnate anyone. Some lab tech or doctor did that, using the man’s sperm.

          You think I’m splitting hairs here–that when the man’s sperm is used, he is necessarily an actor. I think that is because we have different understandings of the relationship between a man and his sperm. That’s why I think this isn’t just about words, it’s about the core things we disagree about.

  7. I think the term “social infertility” is only used in context of insurance coverage, am I right? It’s also called “dysfertility” according to this huffpo piece:

    Comments were closed after 12 comments! I guess they knew I would find it and point out that the guys are asking for same-sex reproduction being not only allowed but paid for by everyone. They want both pass on their genes, they don’t want to pass on one of their genes along with some woman egg donor. We need to tell them that they can never even try to do that because it is inherently unethical and not a right.

  8. I like the term ‘social infertility’ because it describes the large number of people who are unable to conceive because they are single, despite desperately wanting a relationship and a child. It isn’t just about the physical impairments that require specialist medical intervention.

    When you think about the huge number of news articles saying that ‘women’ are ‘choosing’ to delay pregnancy, for me it’s a way of reclaiming that situation and pointing out that actually, neither men nor women can do it without an opposite-sex partner, or some other kind of help, no matter how much they may want it.

    • singleness is not a barrier to cpnception unless the person chooses so
      infertilitymeans not capable of conceiving. big difference. unless you think the person is so unattractive that it would be impossible to find a partner? i doubt such a person exists. and what about people who don’t have kids for other reasons like they can’t afford to? i ve never heard them referred to as the financially infertile. i gues because the fertility indusyry has nothing to sell them.

      • I can tell you, the inability to find a partner who wants children certainly feels as if it means you are unattractive. It isn’t that simple though, that you can attract a partner who wants the same things out of life that you do simply by being physically attractive enough; that’s one of the big reasons we have a ‘single mothers by choice’ movement, because women aren’t prepared to wait till their fertility is compromised till their man might finally be ready or till they find someone they can have a long term relationship with.

        Singleness is a barrier to conception if you want to have a child with someone who is a) involved with the child’s life as a parent and b) in a loving relationship with you. You want to give your child a good life, and for most people in that situation, everything else is a compromise which you either go for, and live with, or you decide you don’t want to or can’t compromise.

        Most people aren’t totally infertile, there are medical barriers. Even people in financial difficulty have some options (eg Krowdkidz).

        • As someone w/ severe infertility, I am opposed to using “social infertility” for those who want children but are simply single. Last year, Melanie Notkin wrote an article for HuffPo on being socially infertile that got spurred a lively debate within the IF community. She has no idea whether she is medically infertile and refuses to try treatments without a spouse despite wanting a child. I think co- opting infertility for situations like Notkin’s sets a dangerous precedent and harms the progress those w/ medically-defined IF have made in terms of awareness and acceptance. Does any woman or man of childbearing age who is not actively trying to conceive qualify as socially infertile?

  9. I stumbled upon the term “social infertility” in my research about childlessness and grief. As a freshly-turned-40 woman trying to come to terms with the fact she won’t have children, I find this label very appealing. I’m single, not for lack of wanting a partner or trying. I have not been in a relationship which could have led to conceiving a child. Years have gone by, and with them my hope that I would “meet the right guy” in time to have children.

    Describing myself as socially infertile recognises the pain that goes with my situation, and also that it is through no active decision on my part. It sets me aside from childfree women who are happy in their childfreeness, and links me to women who also suffer pain of childlessness through “medical” infertility. It points to the fact that being childless is not something that is in my control, but that was imposed on me by the way my social life played out. (Yes, one can argue that one is fully responsible of where one is, etc. etc. — I think that it’s a bit harsh.)

    So, I like the term. So far it’s the best descriptor I’ve found for myself. It fits. It communicates well. It helps me take my pain seriously.

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