Women Often Influence Feelings
The research should help social service providers and health-care professionals who want to help young men become better informed and more responsible about sex, contraception and paternity issues, Marsiglio says. The results appear an issue of the Journal of Marriage and the Family.
Marsiglio, UF nursing professor Sally Hutchinson and UF sociology graduate student Mark Cohan interviewed 37 single men from northeast and central Florida between the ages of 16 and 30 at length about how they first became aware of their ability to father children and how that awareness changed over time, as well as their thoughts, feelings and behavior in different romantic relationships.
Some men reported having fantasies or daydreams about having children, and those fantasies and daydreams sometimes were tied to their relationships with their partners, Marsiglio says. A few couples fantasized together about what kind of offspring they might have, he says.
Women also influenced men when it came to pregnancy. One woman's anxieties about getting pregnant led her partner to develop his own fears on the subject, Marsiglio says. At the other extreme, two men began to question their ability to procreate after former wives failed to become pregnant. For some men, a pregnancy scare heightened their awareness; only when faced with the prospect of becoming a father did they develop a deeper sense of what it meant to be a procreative man, the study found.
When talking about their readiness to become fathers, most men focused primarily on their own well-being or personal development, often reporting fears about not being able to complete their education or career plans, Marsiglio said. A smaller number expressed concern about how an unplanned pregnancy would affect the child's well-being.
"The significance was first themselves, second the child and third the partners," he says. Some men said they were aware of their ability to procreate as early as age 10, but most reported developing the realization between 13 and 15, Marsiglio says.
"In a few cases, men found it a very important experience," he said. "Some of them talked about it being scary and frightening and alerting them to a whole new way of looking at themselves."
But most young men did not consider the knowledge a defining point in their lives because they recognized they were no different from their peers, Marsiglio says. One 23-year-old man who recalled his nonchalant reaction during a high school sex education class said, "I was thinking that every other guy in that class could do the same thing."
Despite realizing they were not alone, the knowledge meant different things to different men. "Some have a procreative consciousness that they are aware of every day," Marsiglio says. "Others don't really think about it unless a particular situation arises."
Unlike participants in survey research, men in the UF qualitative study shared personal stories about the meaning of procreation in great detail, Hutchinson said. The subjects didn't fit the male stereotype of being inexpressive and reticent about sensitive issues, she says.
"I've done research for 25 years and I wasn't sure what it would be like to interview a young teenage male, given my age and gender," she said. "I was amazed at how forthcoming they were."
In order to raise men's awareness about procreation and the responsibilities that go with it, sex education programs in schools and community programs should provide young men opportunities to talk about the meaning and consequences of becoming fathers, Marsiglio believes.