Love & Sex

Your Paycheck May Be Destroying Your Sex Life

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Does this mean if you're a woman with a high-paying job that you're automatically a boner killer?

Here's some less-than-arousing news: The size of your paycheck may be affecting the size of your man's er…manhood. A recent study conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that men married to women who out-earn them are more likely to use erectile dysfunction medication.

The researchers studied around 200,000 married couples between the ages of 25 and 49 over a period of nine years in Denmark (because their universal health care system makes medical access a non-issue) and found that in heterosexual, two-partner couples, anxiety and depression (which can result in decreased sex drive) increased in men as their partner's paychecks increased.

I spoke to one of the researchers involved with the study, Lamar Pierce, who said, "We have detailed income and medication data, that shows even small differences in income, which cannot be explained by other factors, impact sexual and psychological health."

Does this mean if you're a woman with a high-paying job that you're automatically a boner killer? No. But it does suggest that social and cultural ideas about men, women and their bank accounts are more gingham-apron old-fashioned than we'd like them to be. Though erectile dysfunction is obviously not a conscious vote for traditional gender roles, is it an unconscious argument for them? What does this say about the values of men who cannot remain mentally and physically able because they're on the low end of the income scale? Because women have traditionally (and for the most part, still do) earned less than men, and male sexual desire is, to some extent, tied to patriarchy, perhaps an upset in that patriarchy can manifest itself in physical ways. Obviously this is not a causal relationship; the researchers say the study is not evidence of a direct correlation between female income and male sexual health, because the results could be further explained by things like career choices, marital satisfaction, and other problems affecting sexual health.

Pierce did admit there are some potential flaws in the study: "The biggest weakness with the paper is our inability to observe the micro-mechanisms of what's happening in these marriages."

Because here's the thing: lots of things affect sex drive. Heck, sometimes I don't want to have sex just because it's Monday and my goldfish is acting weird. And I'm willing to bet the feeling of relying on someone else financially would be troublesome for either sex. I can't get an erection in the first place, but being unemployed or frustrated with my work situation would definitely affect my sex drive.

Interestingly, this phenomenon is absent in "unmarried cohabitants," perhaps another indication that the less conventional the relationship, the less traditional gender roles matter. It also exists only when the man out-earned the woman prior to marriage. In instances when the man knowingly married a woman who earned more than he did, there were no psychological or physical effects.  Marriage, at least as it is constructed generally (in heteronormative terms) is at least partially to blame for psychological damage from something that really can't be controlled. On this topic, Pierce said, "Our theory is that the norm of marriage makes the comparison with the female partner more salient, and once married, this norm is activated more strongly."

If there is an essential environment of competition in relationships that's only exacerbated by marriage, how do we reconcile that competition with male dominance? Can the norm be subverted if it's so ingrained in our culture that the consequences of it are showing up in unconscious physical functions?

But all is not lost:  the study found that sexual dysfunction as a result of income disparity decreases with age.  So maybe we'll just need to wait until all men get really old before wage equality happens, for the sake of penises everywhere.

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