Age-related infertility: a tale of two technologies


Address for correspondence: Elizabeth Szewczuk, Department of Sociology, University of Essex, Wivenhoe, Colchester C04 3SQ


The reproductive body has become the site of intensive medical intervention, yet, paradoxically, women have never been more at risk of suffering the distress of infertility. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 22 infertile women, this article explores their reproductive experience from fertility postponement to assisted conception. All had used both modern contraception and in vitro fertilisation, yet none achieved the fertility they desired, when they desired it. All had structured their use of these technologies around the social practice of postponement. Modern contraception, however, while removing the sexual costs of postponement, did not resolve its reproductive dilemmas. Rather it appeared to collapse the experience of this traditionally difficult process, sustaining an illusion of reproductive control in which fertility decisions were ‘put on the back burner’, undiscussed and sometimes unimagined. For these women this delay then revealed the hidden cost of postponement – infertility – which, in turn, led to their pursuit of assisted conception after the age of 35, at precisely the point when its already limited efficacy begins to fail sharply. In these accounts age-related infertility emerged as a tale of two technologies: two technologies linked to each woman, and each other, through the social practice of postponement.