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Wife closer to your friends than you? It could affect your sex life

University Chicago Sociology Professor Edward Laumann

University of Chicago Sociology Professor Edward Laumann

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Updated: September 10, 2011 12:38AM

Are you an older man unable to have sex with your wife?

You may be impacted by her relationship with your close friend, a study coauthored by a University of Chicago sex researcher suggests.

For men between 57 and 64 years old, the rate of erectile dysfunction when their wives were closer to a friend than the men were was comparable to those with prostate issues, according to the study published Monday in the American Journal of Sociology.

“It isn’t just taking a pill that may have an adverse effect on your erectile function,” said Edward Laumann, a U of C sociologist and renown sex researcher. “There are social situations that may be undercutting your confidence in your self.”

Laumann and co-author Benjamin Cornwell of Cornell University used data from a 2005 study of more than 3,000 Americans aged 57 to 85 who live independently. In that survey, they asked men and women about their sex lives, their social circles and general health issues.

About one-quarter of men experience “partner betweenness,” the sense that their wife was closer to a confidant than they were. In that group, 92 percent were more likely to report erectile dysfunction, the study says.

Laumann said the research took into account health conditions or medication that might otherwise impede sexual function in older men and still found the relationship between wife and friend can cause sexual issues.

The problem was most significant in men between 57 and 64, a time when they are undergoing a big transition, Laumann said.

“This is when people are retiring, leaving the work force, reorganizing their life” he said. “This is very threatening to a male’s understanding of himself.”

In the early days of the last phase of life, men are more likely to feel threatened by their wives’ relationships with his friends, though he likely won’t recognize this as the cause for the performance issues in bed.

“During this particular period where the wife has more contact with a male confidant, that, we argue, is more challenging to this person’s sense of identity and undercuts his ability to perform sexually,” Laumann said.

As men age, though, they largely outgrow this particular sexual issue as their sense of masculinity transfers from being the in-charge breadwinner to the kindly, wise grandfather figure, Laumann said.

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