October 28th, 2005
New research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine suggests women’s self reported sexual functioning relates to their partner’s treatment for erectile functioning.
In this study 229 men with erectile dysfunction (ED) and their female partners were studied over a 6-month period. During that time women completed a number of questionnaires that assessed their sexual functioning and quality of their sex lives.
Couples were divided into two groups. In one group the men received a prescription drug for ED, the other received a placebo. Neither the researchers working on the study nor the men in the research knew if they were being given a placebo or prescription drug. They compared the feedback from the female partner and stated the women whose partners were on the prescription drug reported a better sex life during the study period.
The research recommended that ED be approached from a couples perspective, rather than just treating the male partner.
In theory this is an interesting study. By using a double blind approach and assessing sex live prospectively (as it happened) the researchers can argue clearly that the prescription medication made a difference.
What we need to be cautious about, is how some researchers and some parts of the media have interpreted these findings.
Firstly the conclusion jumped to has been that all that’s required for sex (and female arousal) is an erect penis.
Other evidence suggests that women whose partners have erectile problems may enjoy a better sex life since their partner has to use other pleasuring techniques such as finger/clitoral or oral sex techniques – or that the women pleasure themselves during sex. The only barrier to this is sometimes when men can’t get an erection their shame, fear, anger or embarrassment leads them to avoid sex completely. This evidence was not included in the current study.
Press coverage of this story have argued that women whose partners are treated for ED will get an ‘enhanced’ sex life. This implies if your partner gets treated you’ll be in for a fantastic time in the sack.
However the research actually found that women whose husbands were treated reported a different sexual response to women whose husbands were not treated. That’s not the same as saying that your partner being treated for ED makes you good in bed.
A look at the mechanics behind this research could give us a hint that this is the message the funders of this research want us to hear. A pharmaceutical company funded it and the measures of sexual functioning used to assess women’s responses to sex were also created by said company (a bit like setting up the problem AND the way you measure it). It isn’t clear if all measures used in the study have been truly validated for research even if the research does claim validated measures were used.
Think about it. Research suggests women whose partners are medically treated report a better sex life to a group of women whose husbands get a placebo drug. The media now reinterprets this (thanks to a press release) as getting your husband treated means you’ll have a fab sex life. Wouldn’t be outside the realms of possibility that women will start pressurising husbands who have real or perceived erectile problems to go and get their doc to prescribe them something.
Although this research is well designed, there’s a question around transparency and conflict of interest here. I’ve not mentioned the name of the drug used in the trial, but the research paper and subsequent media coverage has done. So women and their partners will have been given the message that if men are treated their partners will benefit – and they also know what drug to ask for to gain the miraculous benefits outlined in the press.
What might have been more appropriate and ethical journalism would be for newspapers to report this research but with a bit of critical reflection. That way we wouldn’t have been misled with claims that your husbands ED treatment makes women good in bed, nor had stories that increase pressure on men to ‘perform’ for their partners, or reinforce the myth that all women need for sex is an erection and nothing else.Tweet