‘At the hospital I learnt the truth’: diagnosing male infertility in rural Malawi



This paper examines how men’s reproductive bodies are problematised in rural northern Malawi as access to biomedically defined diagnoses of the health of men’s sperm contribute to the visibility of male infertility. Ethnographic research with infertile and fertile men explored pathways into the sexual health and fertility services offered in district hospitals, men’s clinical engagements and masculine imaginaries. The research suggested that men’s willingness to be referred for semen analysis is an extension of intensive and persistent help-seeking for childlessness instigated by couples and encouraged by families. Within the laboratory, acceptable social arrangements for semen sample collection are negotiated between male clients and laboratory staff, which emphasise heterosexual and marital virility. Following diagnosis, counselling by clinical officers, without any significant therapeutic interventions, focuses on compassion in marriage. This paper considers: what is the role of semen analysis within public health facilities and why do men participate? How do men experience an infertility diagnosis and what do they and their partners do with this knowledge? In addition, how do these practices shape gendered relationships in families and communities? The analysis builds on Inhorn’s (2012) concept of ‘emergent masculinities’ to better understand the connections between male subjectivities, medical technologies and the globalisation of male reproductive health, as they relate to men’s lives in rural Malawi.

Fiona R. Parrott (2014) ‘At the hospital I learnt the truth’: diagnosing male infertility in rural Malawi, Anthropology & Medicine, 21:2, 174-188, DOI: 10.1080/13648470.2014.915618

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