The Hard Facts: When Friendship Ruins Your Sex Life

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“New research shows that a woman’s friendship with her partner’s friends ruins their sex life. … ‘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.” (“Another Reason to Avoid His Friends”; New York Times 9/18/2011)

Just another reason why couples should make maintain independent friendships. Apparently, if your partner is only friends with your friends, or if, for some reason, you’re in better contact with his friends than he is, you’ll sense it in the bedroom.

My first question, when I read this study: In what world would a wife be better friends with her husband’s friends than the husband himself? But I guess it’s simply a matter of being in more contact–which can happen if you’re the kind of “domineering” woman who makes all the plans, I guess, or if the men only see each other during couples outings.

Some facts to note before I deliver the big news: This study, which is published in the American Journal of Sociology, looked at  sexual dysfunction in men 57-85 and the relationships between these men and partners. The authors say they chose this age group because that is when “social lives contract, male identity is challenged and erectile dysfunction often sets in.” The contention, however, seems to be that the effect translates to all ages.

So when they say this ‘partner betweeness’ ruins your sex life, what kind of ruin are we talking about, exactly? “A man whose wife or girlfriend has greater contact with some of his good friends than he does is about 92 percent more likely to have erectile dysfunction than a man who is closer to all his friends than his partner is. The younger men (57 to 64) were two and a half times more likely to have erectile dysfunction. The good news? As men enter their 70s, the negative impact wanes and disappears.”

I mean, I guess that last part is good news. Though I have a hunch the post-70 impact wanes because the sex wanes, not the sexual dysfunction. But what do I know? It’s entirely likely that the post-70 retirement crowd is one horny bunch. Like I said the other day: Assisted living! Sign me up!

So why the problems in bed? Researchers say it’s not jealousy, but issues of autonomy and privacy. Basically, he wants his friends all to himself and it turns him off when his woman is all up in his social life and emasculating him. Without even knowing it–I thought guys wanted us to be friends with their friends!–you could be challenging his male identity.

As men get older, they’re less likely to hang with their male friends one on one, according to research. We’ve talked about this. So take those fading relationships, couple them with a woman’s over-involvement with her husband’s friends, and you’ll feel it in the sack next time. Or, I guess, you won’t feel it.

The lesson here: It’s important to know and like your husband’s friends, but remember they are his friends. Both of you should keep independent relationships. Your sex life will appreciate it.

Has anyone out there noticed this effect? Does it seem logical to you? I think it makes sense–men need to feel like their life isn’t totally controlled by their wives. They need something for themselves. I know this is a tidbit I’ll be keeping in mind for the long haul.  It’s sort of fascinating, no?


Filed under The Search

6 responses to “The Hard Facts: When Friendship Ruins Your Sex Life


    This sounds like total bull science to me personally. Erectile dysfunction isn’t always just about mental problems, so the suggestion that a woman ’emasculating’ (and to be honest the fact that they even used that word tips me off to possible gender biases in this study) her guy mentally is the definitive reason for loss of sexual function sound pretty biased to me.

    It’s lovely that you’ve drawn positive conclusions from this study (be seperate people with seperate friendship circles as well as involvement in each others lives = great idea) but I’d look for some critical analysis of this study if it exists. Both the methodology and the slant of the conclusions sound pretty anti-female slanted to me.


    Opps sorry I see they didn’t use that word, it’s yours. I withdraw that part of my comment, but stand by everything else.

  3. I’m closer with a couple of my boyfriend’s friends, but they’re girls and we have a LOT in common, and they weren’t his BFFs anyway. So it could happen. And I’m only a little domineering 😉

  4. Ana

    Not even sure what to say about this. Seriously? This was published? I’d like to see more on their methods and how they reached these conclusions; maybe guys that are having relationship issues in general, self-esteem issues, health problems, or depression (all of which can contribute to ED) perceive that their wives are closer to their friends. And to say that these findings are generalizable across ages is very presumptuous—in fact, good researchers always qualify their results by noting how their population was unique and the results may well not be generalizable. If I get a chance I’ll try to hunt down the actual paper.

    Like Jodie, I like the positive conclusions you drew from it…but I’m still trying to figure out the connection between a women’s involvement with her husband’s friends and his ability to physically perform.

  5. Marie

    Reading this post made be realize an interesting trend in my life. My husband has stole some of my guy friends. Guy friends that I talk to on a regular basis, email, text, and even go out on couple dates with. Then after several couple dates if the guy and my husband hit it off, I suddenly get dropped so the guys are the friends and I’m just the wife.

  6. Layla

    My relationship is backwards and my boyfriend is the one who is better at planning social things than I am. And I see how this could be a problem, from the less-socially-adept side of things.

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