“Trying” Times:

Medicalization, Intent, and Ambiguity in the Definition of Infertility



Researchers studying infertility from the perspective of anthropology and other the social sciences seldom examine the assumptions embedded in the biomedical definition of infertility. Implicit in the biomedical definition is the assumption that people can be divided straightforwardly into those who are trying to conceive and those who are not trying to conceive. If being infertile implies “intent to conceive,” we must recognize that there are various degrees of intent and that the line between the fertile and the infertile is not as sharp as is usually imagined. Drawing on structured interview data collected from a random sample of Midwestern U.S. women and from qualitative interviews, we demonstrate that that there is a wide range of intent among those classified as infertile according to the biomedical definition. We explore the implications of this for research.