Men experiencing sexual dysfunction are no more likely to be gun owners than men who are not experiencing such problems, according to new research published in the American Journal of Men’s Health. The study casts doubt on claims derived from psychoanalytic theory that guns are phallic symbols that serve as unconscious representations of male virility.
“Our gun research has focused on testing the taken-for-granted claims of gun culture,” said lead researcher Terrence D. Hill, an associate sociology professor at The University of Texas at San Antonio. “Are gun owners especially fearful? Do guns help people to sleep better at night? Do guns make people happier? Do guns enhance satisfaction in life? Do guns compensate for sexual dysfunction in men? In each case, the answer has been no. Our general aim is to contribute to more evidence-based discussions of the role of guns in society.”
For their new study, the researchers analyzed data from 780 men who participated in the 2021 Crime, Health, and Politics Survey. In addition to measures of sociodemographic characteristics and other factors, the national survey included multiple items regarding gun ownership and sexual dysfunction. The median age of the sample was 46 years.
About 37% of the men in the sample reported personally owning a gun, 8% reported purchasing a gun during the pandemic, and 27% reported that they kept a gun in their bedroom. When it came to sexual dysfunction, most men said they “rarely” felt anxious about their ability to perform sexually and 19% reported having been prescribed medication for erectile dysfunction at some point.
But the researchers failed to find any relationship between sexual dysfunction and gun ownership.
“Although there has been no direct empirical evidence linking sexual dysfunction with gun ownership, speculation has been widespread and persistent for decades. Our key finding is that men experiencing sexual dysfunction are no more likely to own guns than men without sexual dysfunction,” Hill told PsyPost.
“Our findings are important because they contribute to our understanding of factors associated with gun ownership by challenging the belief that phallic symbolism and masculinity somehow drive men with sexual dysfunction to purchase guns. Our results also remind us of the perils of gun culture rhetoric, which, in this case, function to discredit gun owners and to further stigmatize men with erectile dysfunction.”
But the study — like all research — includes some limitations.
“Because our analyses are based on a cross-sectional design, no causal or temporal inferences can be made. Although we suggest that sexual dysfunction might predict gun ownership, this model will require longitudinal data to assess changes in sexual dysfunction and changes in gun ownership,” Hill explained.
“One reason for this is that handling guns has been reported to increase testosterone levels in experimental settings. Given that androgen deficiency contributes to erectile dysfunction, gun ownership may be a cause and a consequence of erectile dysfunction. These simultaneous processes could conceivably explain our null findings. While erectile dysfunction could lead to gun ownership, having a gun could in turn protect against erectile dysfunction by increasing testosterone.”
“Because our measures of sexual dysfunction and gun ownership are limited to only a few items, the veracity of our analyses is contingent upon replication with more detailed assessments (e.g., the Sexual Health Inventory for Men, SHIM),” Hill told PsyPost. “Finally, there is also the possibility of social desirability bias in self-reports of sexual behavior. To minimize the potential for bias in reporting (e.g., the experience of shame from reporting erectile dysfunction to another person), we employed self-administered surveys.”
“We encourage scientists to test the taken-for-granted assumptions of gun culture. We encourage the general public to also question these assumptions because they are usually politically motivated,” Hill added.
The study, “Sexual Dysfunction and Gun Ownership in America: When Hard Data Meet a Limp Theory“, was Terrence D. Hill, Benjamin Dowd-Arrow, Christopher G. Ellison, Ginny Garcia-Alexander, John P. Bartkowski, and Amy M. Burdette.