Men’s egos so fragile, the wrong friendships will lead to erectile dysfunction

I know I have done something right in my life because I get to write headlines like the one above. I know there is something wrong with the world, because that headline is based on an actual study that suggests that when women are too buddy buddy with their beau’s bros, he can’t get it up. Her platonic transgressions ruin their sex life!

The NYTimes writes,

The subjects were men from 57 to 85, ages when men’s social lives contract, male identity is challenged and erectile dysfunction often sets in. When a partner was closer to a man’s friends than he was, his sex life suffered, say the authors and sociologists, Benjamin Cornwell of Cornell and Edward Laumann of the University of Chicago.

And women thought men liked them being pals with their pals! “Partner betweenness,” the name the authors gave the phenomenon, means that when a man’s wife or girlfriend has stronger relationships with his friends than he does, she comes between the man and his friends. This may occur if the wife is a “domineering” personality who acts as the gatekeeper for the household or with couples where the man socializes primarily with her friends.

Whatever the particulars, the man is more likely to have trouble maintaining an erection or achieving orgasm during sex with his partner. About one-fourth of the men said they experienced partner betweenness in at least one of their close friendships.

It is important to note that while the study was of 57-85 year olds, the corresponding image with the article was of people that look like they are in their late 20’s.

Also, there are so many variables in this study that if were to take it as evidence I could also use it to prove that when women wear the wrong color men go soft or when women talk about furniture too much, he can’t get it up. How did they measure closeness with friends exactly? How do you measure something responsibly that is so chock full of variables, i.e., is the friendship really flirtatious or do they exchange brownie recipes?

Also, there are so many reasons for erectile dysfunction. What if the closeness between the woman and the male friends was more an indicator of the men in the relationships having an inability to effectively connect emotionally with people in general and thereby causing sexual dysfunction? And are the male friends also having erectile problems?

So what’s causing this dysfunction in men according to our “scientists?”

The source of the performance dip isn’t jealousy. The sexual problems, the authors say, are rooted in issues of privacy and autonomy, which are central to male gender identity. But Geoffrey L. Greif, a professor of social work and an author of a forthcoming book, “Two Plus Two: Couples and Their Couple Friendships,” noted that as men age, they are generally less likely to socialize one on one with male friends anyway. “Cross-sex friendships are much more common with younger men,” he said.

Translation: If women weren’t so overbearing with the whole ‘leaving the house’ and getting in a man’s business, a man could feel like a man!

Sarcasm aside, if it is true that younger men aren’t reporting these same feelings as older men–then that’s a good thing because they have gotten used to a world where women exist in public space and are integral parts of their lives. What is frustrating about studies like this is that the conclusions always comes first. In this case: men need independence, when women ruin it and as a result men can’t be Men.

Maybe it’s not women that have to change or socialize less with the men in their lives, maybe it is a society that needs to rely less on antiquated ideas of friendship and romance and fast forward to the way we actually live. (Not sure if you heard but I kinda wrote a book about this!)

Join the Conversation

  • albonie

    1. Relating to or denoting igneous rock formed by solidification at considerable depth beneath the earth’s surface.
    2. Relating to the underworld or the god Pluto.

    I can see how that could make somebody’s boner shrivel up!

  • Ariadne

    uh huh. I think one of the big assumptions here is that “his friends” are not actually “her friends” and that the male friends of a couple are by default “his” and not “hers” first.

    The other thing that concerns me here is if they only have friends that they’re both “buddy buddy” with that means they’re a little co-dependent. One or the other very well may be emotionally abusive.

    Maybe they should try this study again but this time use actual secure people.

  • Athena

    Seriously? Now we’re blaming ED on women? I haven’t looked at the particulars of the study, but I would really like to know how they questioned them about their friends. It may just be that men at this age only know people who are mutual friends with their wives (not in a domineering way, just in a normal mutual friendship way… who the hell jumped to the domineering conclusion, anyway?? Do we know who was friends with who first?) are not as mentally healthy since they aren’t secure/happy/engaged enough to strike out on their own and make connections. But, we won’t really know unless we look at if they measured any personality or emotional characteristics.

  • AMM

    My first thought was: how much of the idiotic “analysis” that the OP quotes is from the study’s authors and how much was the NY Times’ writers spinning the story to make it (if you’ll excuse the expression) “sexier”? My second thought was: why bother to find out? The probability that it isn’t complete BS is too small.

    There are simply too many confounding variables. Erectile dysfunction is going to be a problem in that population simply due to age and declining health. It’s also a time when careers are ending, a big hit to most men’s self-image. This spouse-friends-with-pals effect would have to be huge to rise above the noise.

    Finally, who’s to say what’s cause and what’s effect? Maybe erectile dysfunction — or one of its causes — is impairing these men’s relationships with their friends. Or whatever.

  • Sam Lindsay-Levine

    As always we should read the actual scientific paper instead of usually crappy pop-science articles about the paper.

    The paper explicitly disclaims any establishment of causality (p. 19). In addition, it’s fairly clear in the paper that the author’s thesis is that the causality would come from men’s experienced dissonance between their life and a socially created and externally imposed masculine gender role.

    I think the authors’ thesis is a bit dubious and unconvincing – I don’t see anywhere in the paper them ruling out that the effect they attribute to “partner betweenness” couldn’t simply be attributable to these men having a thinner social network in absolute terms.

    However, it’s important that we judge this sociology research for what it is, rather than only by second-hand reporting, which almost universally is awful. I don’t think it’s anything like what you’re representing it as here – I think from context the authors would be horrified at being summarized as “women have to change or socialize less with the men in their lives” – and if you were curious about questions like “How did they measure closeness with friends exactly?” you could find those answers in the primary source.

    If that wasn’t what you were trying to talk about, and you’re just trying to make a point about how science reporting even in the NY Times is often sloppy and overlays any kind of research with a big thick layer of irrelevant or even contradictory pre-existing social assumptions about gender, then I’m with you 100%.

  • Rachel

    I know its not a solution for everyone, but dildos don’t have erectile disfunction. I’m just saying, my GF can always get it up.

  • Cate

    For the record, I think that “privacy and autonomy” are a pretty central part of women’s identity, too. I think people in general like to have some privacy, and some autonomy.

  • Matt

    Here’s a link to the journal article mentioned in the blogpost and the NYtimes article: (pdf warning)

    Just by looking at the introduction alone, the scientists do a much better job talking about the basis for their research than the NYtimes article did. The goal is to see whether or not those societal aspects at odds with “traditional” views of one’s own masculinity can affect erectile dysfunction. The scientists then model the relationship between a man, his partner, and his friends as a triangle with dotted lines as infrequent contact and strong lines as frequent contact…

    All of this is interesting, but the message to take away from this paper, I would argue, is that there might be some correlation. Showing causation is still a little sticky. From what I can tell, the paper is a meta-analysis, which generates no new datasets nor performs a controlled experiment. Without an experiment, or at least focused naturalistic observations, I am hesitant to say there is a causal force.

    • Matt

      Completely ninja’d by Sam Lindsay-Levine, with a link, better description of what I had to say, and everything!

      Good job! Happy to see someone else’s first reaction was to grab the article proper.