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Posted on December 8, 2016 at 8:44 AM


One of the first questions a newly married straight couple
often gets from well-meaning friends and family is “when are you going to start
trying?” For those of you who are wondering what this question is getting at,
it is asking them if they are going to start to try to get pregnant. It is
interesting to analyze the language used here. People typically talk about
“trying” without ever specifying what they are in fact trying to do. Part of
the reason for this may be because people assume the meaning is obvious from
the context, such as “they’ve been trying for six months but haven’t gotten
pregnant yet.” Another reason probably has to do with our societal discomfort
talking about sex.

We use general and vague terms to
imply that we are talking about sex, but often don’t feel comfortable out right
discussing it. For example, the birth control pill is generally just referred
to as “the pill.” There is still shame and stigma surrounding sex, particularly
for women and sexual minorities, so it may be easier and safer for a woman to
talk about being on “the pill,” even though everyone knows what she is
referring to, than to overtly announce that she is using contraception.

Even though we as a society may not
feel comfortable explicitly discussing sex, we still feel that it is our
business. From a legal perspective, look at how carefully reproductive medicine
is regulated. For instance, certain reproductive procedures (e.g. abortion and
sterilization) can require waiting mandatory periods – something that is not
common in other areas of nonelective medicine. In the social realm, family,
friends, and even strangers feel they have the right to comment on a pregnant
woman’s behavior, such as by telling her what she should and should not eat or drink.

Returning to the topic of “trying,”
family, friends, and again even strangers often have no qualms about asking
women about whether they are trying to conceive. This is especially the case
for straight women who are recently married and women who are perceived as
being near or at the end of their “biological clock.”

Asking women whether they are
“trying” is problematic on many levels. First, it assumes that all women want
to become pregnant with genetically related children. While this may be true
for many women, it is not true for all women. There is already enough social
pressure on women in our pronatalist society to have biological children so
people should avoid adding to this pressure. Second, asking people if they are
“trying” is just a euphemism for asking them if they are having regularly
scheduled unprotected vaginal penile penetrative intercourse, which is usually
not considered an appropriate topic, especially among strangers. It is
typically seen as impolite to discuss sex under certain circumstances or with
certain people and discussing reproductive sex (that is, sex for which one of
the purposes is reproduction) should not be treated differently.

To summarize, if you don’t feel
comfortable asking others if they are having regularly scheduled unprotected
vaginal penile penetrative intercourse, then don’t ask them if they are
“trying” to conceive.



 The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI’s online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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