How a New Narrative Can Help Create Reproductive Well-Being for All


How a New Narrative Can Help Create Reproductive Well-Being for All

by Alexandra Nicholson, Jennifer Messenger-Heilbronner, and Mackenzie Piper
October 22, 2019
A woman smiles with her eyes closed against a blank background.

Sex, love, and relationships. Have you ever thought about how the world around us views those concepts? And in turn, how that influences our understanding of them? Our collective views on these topics are called narratives, which are a way of seeing the world and are accepted as true by a group of people. Narratives guide what we think, believe, and do, and can be powerful vehicles for social change.

There are countless narratives about reproductive health and sexuality, some of which are disempowering, shaming, or loaded with judgement about what is ‘right.’ These harmful narratives influence the confidence and support we feel, the care we receive, the information and services we access, and the autonomy we have over our bodies and futures.

What’s currently needed is a paradigm shift in our country’s culture. And other movements – from marriage equity to #metoo — have shown that cultural shifts of great magnitude are possible. We must build a new expectation and demand for a system of support that makes it possible for every person to achieve reproductive well-being. Addressing how we talk about reproductive well-being by creating a shared narrative is a crucial first step.

To create a new narrative that embodies reproductive well-being, we talked to over 300 people from across sectors, geographies, and backgrounds, to hear more about how they wanted to experience reproductive well-being. These are the core pillars they identified, centered on autonomy, agency, and empowerment:

  • Seen and understood: people want to be trusted by their providers and met where they are. They want their experiences, cultures, and desires to be respected. They want to receive information without judgment from providers who recognize that there is no ‘right’ answer to complex decisions.
  • Autonomous: people want the freedom and safety to experience sexuality on their own terms, as long as it is consensual and does not harm others. They want the power to make their own decisions about if, when, and under what circumstances to get pregnant and have a child.
  • In control: people want to receive access to all information and options available so they can make informed decisions. With this information they can create a healthy future for themselves and a healthy start for the next generation, if they choose to have or raise children.
  • Surrounded by communities and systems of support: people want reproductive well-being to be an essential component of overall health and well-being, not only in health care, but in society in general. People want it to be understood, discussed openly, and pursued by all.

So, what would a world look like that adopted this new narrative? Reproductive well-being would mean that all people have the information, services, and support they need to have control over their bodies and to make their own decisions related to sexuality and reproduction throughout their lives.

What we could expect from our providers would look different too. When we enter spaces of care, we could expect that:

  • All our questions would be answered without judgment.
  • All our concerns would be listened to and acknowledged without doubt.
  • We would share decision-making with our providers, and we would be given all the information to make independent, informed choices.
  • We would be asked about all parts of us and our overall well-being.
  • We would be listened to and given adequate time with our providers during our appointments.
  • In addition to advocating for ourselves, the systems around us would be built for us and with our best interest and holistic health in mind.

Join us and more than 40 other organizations across the spectrum of sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice in growing the Reproductive Well-Being Movement. All of us has a role in envisioning and practicing reproductive well-being in our personal and professional lives. Stay tuned as more information and resources will soon be published about how you can support this movement!

Jennifer Messenger (Executive Vice President) and Alexandra Nicholson (Director) are with Metropolitan Group, a national social impact communication firm with expertise in public health and social justice. Metropolitan Group has worked with Power to Decide on numerous initiatives, including research with hundreds of people across the country to create a new, shared narrative for reproductive well-being.