For men in heterosexual relationships, time out with the guys can be important. Now, research suggests that it may be better for the guys' sex lives if their female partners don't tag along. A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago and Cornell University shows that when a woman forms relationships with her partner's male friends that are as strong or stronger than his own, the man is significantly more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction.

The research, which was conducted by sociologists Benjamin Cornwell and Edward Laumann, is published in the August 8th issue of The Journal of American Sociology, and offers insight on a condition typically analyzed from the perspective of medical concern (i.e. erectile dysfunction) from a rarely considered sociological angle. The results of the study, the authors say, point to the ways our social networks affect every aspect of our lives - even the way our bodies behave in private.


The study suggests that a man's access to his male social network is often closely linked to his sense of societal belonging and self esteem. For many men, having their female partner enter this network to a degree equal or greater than his own — a situation the researchers refer to as "partner betweenness" — can interfere with social connections that provide some men with "socioemotional support, social capital," and even "informal social control."

All of these, argue the sociologists, are important for getting it up.

The researchers examined the sex lives of over 3,000 American men ages 57-85. The researchers focused on older men not just because they would be more likely to experience ED, but because they were more likely to experience partner betweenness, under the assumption that older couples' social circles have had more time to overlap.

About a quarter of the men experienced partner betweenness. Incredibly, these men were 92% more likely to report erectile dysfunction than men not in a betweenness situation — a frequency that rivals that of prostate trouble in similarly aged men. These findings are consistent with the notion that for many men, ED could be a result of spending time in social networks that limit their opportunities for experiencing autonomy, control, and privacy.

This article, published over at MSNBC, seems to imply that for a man to perform at his best, it is important for women to keep "female interference" in male relationships to a minimum. It's important to note, however, that the study points more to the easily-bruised egos of men than the "interference" of their female partners.


The researchers don't believe the men were in fear of being supplanted by a friend in their romantic relationships. ED did not appear to be arising out of fear of infidelity, but rather a dependence on social networks for a sense of identity. One piece of seemingly counterintuitive evidence that points to this conclusion is the fact that partner betweenness was shown to have less effect on the study's oldest participants. The authors write:

Partner betweenness has little association with sexual problems among the oldest men. This finding might reveal something about the changing implications of network position for gender identity through the life course. It could reflect shifting relational priorities among older men...or it could be that the independence and control that men can gain through weak ties become less important to them as they experience later-life changes...Either way, older men's focus on close, kin-oriented relationships increases their likelihood of adopting new definitions of masculinity.


So perhaps the problem is that men are seeking confidence from other men in ways that actually undermine their relationships with women?

The authors' research paper, "Network Position and Sexual Dysfunction: Implications of Partner Betweenness for Men," is published in the current issue of the American Journal of Sociology, and will soon be available online from the journal's website. The direct link to the journal article will be posted when the paper goes live.


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