Researching sexual and reproductive behaviour: a peer ethnographic approach

Soc Sci Med. 2002 Oct;55(8):1325-36. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(01)00277-5.


In recent years, ethnographic research has challenged the notion within demography that fertility-related behaviour is the outcome of individualistic calculations of the costs and benefits of having children. Anthropology has further criticised the abstraction in demographic analysis of sexual behaviour and fertility decision-making from the socio-cultural and political context in which the individual or couple is located. Within demography itself, institutional and political-economic analyses have argued strongly that sexual and reproductive behaviour must be understood within locally specific social, cultural, economic and political contexts. Positivist and empiricist research methods, such as the sample survey and focus groups, which continue to dominate demographic inquiry and applied research into sexual and reproductive behaviour, have been shown to be limited in their ability to inform about the process of behaviour change and contexts within which different behaviours occur. The article introduces a new methodology for researching sexual and reproductive behaviour, called the peer ethnographic approach, which the authors have developed in an attempt to address some of the limitations of the methods which currently dominate research into sexual and reproductive behaviour. The peer ethnographic methodology is discussed in detail and the results of recent field-testing are reported, which show that, although the approach has limitations, it also has the potential to make a significant contribution to our understanding of sexual and reproductive behaviour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anthropology, Cultural / methods*
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology
  • Behavioral Research*
  • Family Planning Services*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Peer Group*
  • Psychology, Social
  • Qualitative Research*
  • Sexual Behavior / ethnology*
  • Social Control, Informal
  • Social Support
  • Zambia