Black woman with natural hair staring at the ocean blocking the sun with hands

Changing the Narrative

How a new narrative can help create reproductive well-being for all.

by Robin Watkins, CNM, WHNP-BC

published 12/14/22

EDITORS NOTE: This article about reproductive well-being first appeared on Power to Decide’s blog in October 2019.

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 judgment 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.

Reproductive well-being means 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’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.

Tenets of Reproductive Well-being

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.

The New Narrative

So, what would a world look like that adopted this new narrative? Reproductive well-being means 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 have 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!

Robin Watkins is the Director of Clinical Affairs and Medical Education at the Society of Family Planning. Robin is a midwife and women’s health nurse practitioner focused on expanding provider capacity to offer just, equitable, resonant, and high-quality sexual and reproductive health care. Robin provides clinical care in the Washington, DC area. When she is not talking sex or placing IUDs, you can find her riding her bike on the streets of DC or eating ice cream for dinner.
read more about:Reproductive Well-Being
read our commenting policy »