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Sexual Dysfunction Found Beyond Physical Ailments

August 9, 2011

A new study suggests that sexual dysfunction in a relationship may have sources beyond the usual physical ailments.

Cornell University and University of Chicago researchers have found a connection between erectile dysfunction (ED) and the social networks shared by heterosexual men and their partners. The researchers describe the situation as “Partner Betweenness.” In such cases, a man’s female partner has stronger relationships with his confidants then the man does, can his romantic partner can come between the man and his friends.

“Men who experience partner betweenness in their joint relationships are more likely to have trouble getting or maintaining an erection and are also more likely to experience difficulty achieving orgasm during sex,” write sociologists Benjamin Cornwell at Cornell and Edward Laumann at UChicago.

The data comes from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), a 2005 survey by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. The study included 3,005 people aged 57 to 85. The results are currently published in an article online, “Network Position and Sexual Dysfunction: Implications of Partner Betweenness for Men” in the current issue of the American Journal of Sociology.

Cornwell states in a press release that, “Partner betweenness is a significant predictor of ED: A man whose female partner has greater contact with some of his confidants than he does is about 92 percent more likely to have trouble getting or maintaining an erection than a man who has greater access than his partner does to all of his confidants.”

The NSHAP study finds that ED is common among the men in the study age group, about one-third experience it, and the occurrence of ED increases as the men age. Health conditions such as diabetes, heart problems, obesity and psychological factors, contribute to the condition.

The researchers discovered while taking these sources of ED into account, they found that even among men who were healthy and capable of having satisfying sexual relationships, the “Partner Betweenness” increased the risk for sexual problems.

Laumann says, “In general, while the majority of men have more contact with all of their confidants than their partners do, about 25 percent of men experience partner betweenness in at least one of their confidant relationships.”

The study finds, though, that as men age, the complications of “Partner Betweenness” wane. The prevalence of ED more than doubles when the female partner is closer to a shared friend than the male partner  when men are in their late 50′s to early 60′s, while the relationship all but disappears among men in their 70′s and 80′s.

The researchers point out that having shared friends is beneficial for couples. This contributes to a sense of “couplehood” and provides a supporting foundation for the relationship.

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