Primary infertility may be overlooked as a major life event which can lead to major changes in social participation and self-identity. Although a readily expected conse-quence of infertility is childlessness, the social context proves to play a role in creating individually specific lived experiences. The aim of the study was to establish how the social context mediates the lived experiences of infertility in South African women with diverse social identities. This study offers an understanding of infertility as not only a medical problem but also one that is socially located with the capability of challenging women’s self-identity and of inducing psychological distress. The literature indicates social interpretations of infertility according to accepted ideologies and practices, but there is minimal indication of the role that this plays in women with actual infertility as well as the implications that this holds against their command of personhood and iden-tity. This qualitative inquiry deployed a phenomenological research method, with her-meneutic phenomenology particularly chosen for its formulation. A purposive sampling technique was used to recruit participants and a total of seven participants were inter-viewed. The data was collected using semi-structured interviews and analysed using Giorgi’s phenomenological method of analysis. The findings confirmed that the social context in general mediates the lived experiences of infertility. Cultural and religious orientations were related to the negative experiences of primary infertility. The cultural aspects appeared to challenge identity more than religion, which primarily facilitated fatalism and seemingly paralysed agency. The thematic representations of the inter-action between the self and the social context confirmed the likelihood that infertility specific distress occurs secondary to social interaction. There is also minimal evidence for the desired self-interpretation, which is seemingly difficult to achieve within the so-cial context and is seen as only possible in an ideal world. It is recommended that further studies be conducted to address limitations and that psychotherapeutic inter-ventions shift from symptom focused to context sensitivity as well as delivering holistic management of infertility.
Key words: infertility, social context, phenomenology, self-interpretation.