Research on reproductive health within medical anthropology encompasses people's emic perspectives on all matters related to sexuality and reproductive processes and functions. Some of the earliest works to describe ethnophysiological understandings include Ashley Montagu's (1949) work on understandings of conception, fetal development, and embryology among Australian indigenous peoples. Likewise, Malinowski's (1932) work in the Solomon Islands and Margaret Mead's (1928) work in Samoa may be seen as antecedents to modern work on the subject of sexuality. Early work on reproductive customs include Ford's (1964) comparative work listing beliefs and practices in 64 societies.
In the last 30 years studies focusing upon reproductive health have grown exponentially. Concern over the issue of world population growth in the late 1960s and 1970s spurred increased interest among anthropologists toward involvement into population issues. Anthropologists Steven Polgar and Moni Nag led a movement encouraging anthropologists into "population anthropology" researching fertility in Third World settings and promoting the need for anthropological research within high fertility societies (Nag, 1972; Polgar, 1972). The spread of international public health programs concentrating upon family planning, maternal and child health also promoted anthropologists' involvement in applied research on reproductive health issues. This coincided with the growth of feminist scholarship documenting the experiences of women and the nature of sex and gender, and the development of sexual research and gay studies. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has also demanded better understandings of sexual behaviors and the management of sexual health.
Anthropological work on reproductive health draws upon disciplines of public health, demography, biosocial approaches, post-structuralism, feminist theories, political economy, and historical approaches. The proliferation of studies on gender and sexuality across various disciplines has produced a rich literature that has greatly influenced anthropological approaches to sex and reproduction. Methodologically work on reproductive health has also highlighted the difficulty of gathering data on tacit knowledge and sensitive issues such as sexuality, forcing the development of innovative techniques. Two observations may be made about this body of work in general. First, the majority of work concerned with issues of reproductive health is by women anthropologists, and correspondingly, there remains a paucity of studies devoted to understandings of male reproductive health.
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