A potential new source for sexual problems among middle-aged to older men may be wives or girlfriends who interfere with their male partner's "bromance" too soon or too closely, according to a study published in the current issue of the American Journal of Sociology.

Study authors Benjamin Cornwell and Edward Laumann described the situation as "partner betweenness."

"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," said study researcher Benjamin Cornwell, an assistant professor of sociology at Cornell University.

Cornwell and Laumann examined data from the 2005 University of Chicago National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, which included 3,005 people from ages 57 to 85, and found a connection between erectile dysfunction and the social networks shared by heterosexual men and their partners.

It's not a simply matter of jealousy. Men rely on their close male friendships to fuel their sense of autonomy, privacy and independence, which are in turn crucial contributors to their feelings of masculinity.

A woman trumping these sensitive grounds may threaten her partner's manhood and his sense of male identity, thereby increasing the likelihood of sexual dysfunction.

"This is when people are retiring, leaving the workforce, reorganizing their life," Laumann told the Chicago Sun-Times. "This is very threatening to a male's understanding of himself."

Time magazine reports about 25 percent of men in the study said they experienced "partner betweenness" in at least one of their close confidant relationships.

These men were 92 percent more likely than men who were closer to all their friends than their partners were to suffer from erectile dysfunction. Overt conflict in relationships or problems with partner satisfaction and attraction also were reported.