Same-sex couples encounter more obstacles to fertility treatment than traditional couples, said Ann V. Bell, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Delaware, who noted that the U.S. medical system is standardized to work with heterosexual couples.
Bell made the conclusion based on interviews with 95 people -- 41 heterosexual women of low socioeconomic status, 30 heterosexual men, and 24 women in same-sex relationships. "These people are on the margins of our understandings of infertility, as it is generally viewed as a white, wealthy, heterosexual woman's issue," Bell said. She also wrote a 2014 book which focused on the 41 women of low socioeconomic status, as well as 17 women of high socioeconomic status, to explore social class and infertility. Through her interviews with the 41-women for the book, Bell found that their experiences related to infertility were shaped by inaccurate stereotypes and that doctors often assumed infertility was not a problem for them.
Bell has extended her earlier research beyond social class to include the effects of infertility on men and same-sex couples. The "medicalization" of infertility -- studying and treating it as a medical condition -- is a process that has increasingly led to disparities and inequalities, she said.
"For example, same-sex couples often must undergo psychological evaluations before being treated for infertility -- a process that is not normally required for opposite-sex couples," said Bell. "Most of the research out there is about women, even though just as many men are affected by infertility. It's still viewed as a woman's issue."
In addition, despite increasingly sophisticated medical treatments for infertility, such as in vitro fertilization, the high cost of many treatments and the "9-to-5 nature of medical practice" makes it hard for working-class people to afford the treatments or to access them while holding a job.
"Overall, researchers and the public focus a lot on the negative aspects of medicalization, but the medical advances that have been made are often very beneficial," Bell said. "The important thing is to recognize the kinds of inequalities that this medicalization is perpetuating and other new ones that it's creating."
Presented at the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.