Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Sociology of Health & Illness 40:3 (2018), pp 445–462.

doi 10.1111/1467-9566.12657

PMID: 29280501


Copyright © 2017 Foundation for the Sociology of Health & Illness. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Used by permission


Only some individuals who have the medically defined condition ‘infertility’ adopt a self-definition as having a fertility problem, which has implications for social and behavioral responses, yet there is no clear consensus on why some people and not others adopt a medical label. We use interview data from 28 women and men who sought medical infertility treatment to understand variations in self-identification. Results highlight the importance of identity disruption for understanding the dialectical relationship between medical contact and self-identification, as well as how diagnosis acts both as a category and a process. Simultaneously integrating new medical knowledge from testing and treatment with previous fertility self-perceptions created difficulty for settling on an infertility self-perception. Four response categories emerged for adopting a self-perception of having a fertility problem: (i) the non-adopters – never adopting the self-perception pre- or post-medical contact; (ii) uncertain – not being fully committed to the self-perception pre- or post-medical contact; (iii) assuming the label – not having prior fertility concerns but adopting the self-perception post-medical contact; and (iv) solidifying a tentative identity – not being fully committed to a self-perception pre-medical contact, but fully committed post-medical contact.