Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Young Men's Procreative Identity: Becoming Aware, Being Aware, and Being Responsible

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Young Men's Procreative Identity: Becoming Aware, Being Aware, and Being Responsible

Article excerpt

Using a purposive sample of 37 single men aged 16 to 30, in-depth face-to-face interviews, and a grounded theory approach, we explore males' subjective experiences as procreative beings. Our study is informed by symbolic interactionism and 2 sensitizing concepts: procreative consciousness and procreative responsibility. We focus on how males become aware of their perceived fecundity, experience themselves as procreative beings once they become aware, and view responsibility while orienting themselves toward their sexual and potential paternal roles. Our analyses deepen, expand, integrate, and ground in empirical data notions about procreative consciousness and men's experiences. We find that males use varied interpretive foci to assign meaning to discovering their procreative potential. Furthermore, we show how romantic partners help males co-construct their procreative consciousness, in part by helping men actively attend to issues of procreative responsibility. Consistent with our grounded theory approach, we discuss 5 new dimensions to procreative consciousness suggested by our data:

fecundity perception, emotional response, knowledge, temporality, and child visions.

Key Words: fatherhood, grounded theory, identity, male sexuality, paternity, social psychology.

In recent years, males increasingly have been the focus of research (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 1998; Grady, Klepinger, Billy, & Tanfer, 1996; Marsiglio, 1998; Marsiglio, Hutchinson, and Cohan, 2000) and programmatic initiatives (Moore, Driscoll, & Ooms, 1997; Sonenstein, Stewart, Lindberg,pernas, & Williams, 1997) related to sexuality, contraception, pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. Scholars, policymakers, and social service providers have also begun to define responsible fatherhood more broadly to include males' conscientious involvement in sexual and contraceptive decision making to prevent unplanned pregnancies (Levine & Pitt, 1995; Marsiglio, 1993). These and other developments have situated males more squarely in the mix of important policy debates about sex, pregnancy, paternity, and social fatherhood.

Although recent research has advanced our understanding of young men's involvement in the sexual, procreative, and fatherhood arenas, we still know little about the social psychology of young men's self-perceptions and behaviors as evolving procreative beings. In particular, little is known about the processes by which males become aware of their potential to procreate and then either weave that knowledge into their ongoing construction and presentation of self, particularly in relation to their romantic partners, or minimize the impact of that knowledge on their sense of self. In addition, little research focuses on the potentially complex ways in which men's seemingly separate experiences in the procreative realm affect one another over the course of men's sexual and procreative careers.

Much can be gained theoretically by expanding our understanding of the social psychology of how young single men become aware of their fecundity and then negotiate the terrain of sex, contraception, pregnancy, abortion, and fatherhood. This type of theoretical grounding of males' experiences is critical to the study of both unintended pregnancy and childbearing among young persons who may be ill-prepared to face the demands of full-time parenting. We organize our exploratory analysis of young men's lives as procreative beings around the sensitizing concept of procreative consciousness and, to a lesser extent, around the related concept of procreative responsibility. On a substantive level, we explore men's consciousness of their procreative ability by addressing three broad questions: How do young men: (a) become aware of themselves as persons capable of impregnating a sex partner; (b) experience themselves as procreative beings; and (c) view responsibility issues and orient themselves toward their sexual and potential paternal roles? …

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