“It Happened One Night”: The Sexual Context of Fertility Decision-Making

Julie Fennell, Brown University

While demography has sophisticated theories about macro-level fertility patterns, very few theories exist about the micro-level experience of fertility. This paper attempts to develop models of individual fertility decision-making from which further theories of micro-level fertility experience can be created. I argue that in addition to focusing our theorizing and research on rational “child-focused” perspectives of fertility decision-making, we also need to incorporate less rational “sex-focused” perspectives. The sex-focused frameworks I offer assume that peoples’ desire for sex typically precedes their desire for childbearing, and these frameworks are thus better equipped to account for the extent of unintended pregnancy than standard rational-choice models. I outline three frameworks, and compare their relative advantages and disadvantages, both conceptually and in view of the rich array of empirical evidence. Although I have designed these frameworks with specific reference to the United States, they may be applicable to other developed societies as well.

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Presented in Session 81: Desire, Intention and Behavior in Fertility and Reproductive Health