Men, Masculinities, and Infertilities

Abingdon, Oxon
Publication year

There are two chapters particularly relevant to popular romance:

  • Chapter 2: "This Unspeakable Ideal:" Infertility in LaVyrle Spencer's Blockbuster Romance The Fulfillment
  • Chapter 4: "I have no good sperm": Infertility in The Trouble with Joe by Emilie Richards

Here's the abstract:

Drawing on diverse examples from literature, film, memoirs, and popular culture, Men, Masculinities, and Infertilities analyses cultural representations of male infertility. Going beyond the biomedical and sociological towards interdisciplinary cultural studies, this book studies depictions of men’s infertility. It includes fictional representations alongside memoirs, newspaper articles, ethnographies and autoethnographies, and scientific reporting. Works under discussion range from twentieth-century novel Lady Chatterley's Lover to romantic comedy film Not Suitable For Children, and science fiction classic Mr Adam, as well as encompassing genres including blockbuster romance and memoir. Men, Masculinities, and Infertilities draws upon both sociological and popular culture research to trace how the discourse of cultural anxiety unfolds across disciplines. This engaging work will be of key interest to scholars of popular culture studies, gender and women’s studies (including queer and sexuality studies), critical studies of men and masculinities, cultural studies, and literary studies.


LaVyrle Spencer’s The Fulfillment, [...] is a blockbuster romance novel that appeared in 1979. In this novel, we are introduced to two brothers, both of whom suffered with the mumps in their youth, and only one of whom is rendered infertile. The infertile brother wants a child and seeks a seemingly unorthodox way of having one by way of his brother. This novel is set in a time before the rise of medically assisted fertility treatments, and thus, it returns to a kind of “unspeakable idea,” that is, that the fertile brother will provide the infertile brother with a child. I use this chapter as a starting point to open the conversation about infertility and masculinity. (15)


a Harlequin romance called The Trouble with Joe [...] accounts for an infertile hero. In this chapter, I show the ways in which the romance novel industry may be able to challenge ideas of traditional, ideal, or hegemonic masculinity. While it is true that romance novels luxuriate in the “purity of his maleness” (Radway, p. 128; see, Allan 2020b) when imagining the hero, they are also attuned to potential challenges to masculinity, such as infertility. In this chapter, then, I show how the hero of this novel comes to understand his infertility, but also how this affects his ideas about fatherhood and masculinity. (15)


what has been missing from the critical study of heroic masculinities in the popular romance novel is the reproduction assumption, that is, the hero is assumed to be virile. He is assumed to be endowed with, as it were, “spectacular fecundity,” by which, I mean, the hero of romance is always already (and ready) fertile because it testifies to his masculinity. The hero may not even know how “spectacularly fecund” he is until after the fact when he finds out he has produced an heir. (66)


In this chapter, I am most especially interested in troubling the perception that romance novels are chiefly interested in the most hegemonic of masculinities. That is, I begin with the question: does the infertile hero exist in popular romance? The answer, of course, is that he does. In The Fulfillment, the narrative considered infertility, and while there may have been a kind of double-heroic structure, the infertile man is not the ultimate hero. The second question becomes: how is the infertile hero represented? This chapter thus sets out to study infertility in the popular romance by closely reading The Trouble with Joe by Emilie Richards. To these ends, I will begin by briefly considering the popular romance and reproduction, then move to a reading of The Trouble with Joe, focusing on two elements in particular: the representation of Joe’s infertility, and the novel’s consideration of reproductive futurism (Edelman 2004). These elements interweave one another. Our ideas about fertility are predicated on our expectations that are disrupted, troubled, and challenged. Ultimately, I argue that this novel tries to break the narrative concerning fertility and it does so in a space that is assumed to be hegemonic and normative. The narrative breaks the mould, as it were, and works to show the complexities not only of infertility, but also, and importantly, ideas of masculinity, paternity, and fatherhood and the ways all of these intersect with one another. (67)


Reproduction is deeply enmeshed in gender ideology, and when a romance novel, which is a genre that thrives on gender and positions it at its core (along with sexuality and love), tackles an issue like male infertility, it is absolutely commenting on that ideology. (67)


Works in this collection