Making public the private: new research shines light on men’s use of infertility forums
The research, led by Dr Esmée Hanna, Research Officer in the Centre for Health Promotion Research (pictured above), with Professor Brendan Gough, Director of Research in the School of Social Sciences, examined men’s online discussions of their lifestyle changes in response to infertility. Dr Hanna will present the study at the BSA conference on Tuesday 4 April at the University of Manchester.
Dr Hanna explained: “Reproduction can be seen to be a highly personal and private domain of family and intimate life; however, the advent of internet spaces for those who experience infertility or delayed conception has created opportunities for ‘communities of practice’ to emerge for those with similar in/fertility experiences.
“Our previous research has shown that forums are a good mechanism for men to gain support from other men and to discuss the emotions that fertility issues and treatment can engender and so, in this study, we examined a ‘men’s board’ of a broader fertility forum to find out how they used the forum to discuss their lifestyles and lifestyle modifications in relation to trying to conceive.”
The subject of lifestyle is becoming increasingly connected to reproduction, with public health agendas encouraging women to improve their health before attempting to conceive and the increasing focus on being a good parent during pre-conception and pregnancy. However, most of this has been focused on women, with men being positioned as secondary in reproduction.
The researchers found that men were using the forum for three key benefits: to find other men ‘like them’; to find ‘quick fixes’; and to demonstrate their commitment to the shared goal of achieving pregnancy and being ready to be a father.
Dr Hanna said: “We found that lifestyle advice for improving fertility was viewed as best coming from other ‘insiders’. Doing research was seen as important but ultimately the knowledge of other men was viewed as valuable.
“When looking for a ‘quick fix’ solution, the most frequent topic of questions and advice was around the use of vitamins and supplements. The sharing of ‘body projects’ was also a way that men demonstrated their commitment: such as giving up alcohol and smoking. Being a ‘good father’ was seen to be about engaging in healthier lifestyle practices.”
Women also used the board to ask questions that related to their husbands or to share their husbands’ experiences with other men.
Dr Hanna added: “Our study shows that forums can offer useful insights into men and lifestyle modifications. That people are using very public spaces to gain help, support and advice over lifestyle factors for what is seen as a highly personal, private and stigmatised issue (infertility) is itself very interesting. The internet then offers new means and possibilities for how information about reproduction and fertility health is approached and the value of making public the private.”