marriage bed symbol

marriage bed symbol

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Can Gaming Affect Your Sex Life? A Reader Question

Coach Sam,

I wondered if you might have some insight or possibly an older posting (or a plan of a future posting) of how gaming affects a couples’ relationship as well as their sex life? This seems to be an argument that I just can't seem to find a conclusion to in my own life.

Does my husband deserve "down time" - yes he does. But it seems that gaming creates a spirit of contention in our home. It doesn't improve him as a person, it doesn't help him to "cleave" to me or our family or inspire him to exercise his priesthood and be the patriarch of our home. In short I feel it has no place in a home that is striving to improve and live within the teachings of the Gospel. 

…The offending games have been removed from our home but I feel such pressure to let them back in. Like I am not a good wife for denying him something that he claims is a stress reliever for him.

Also, it seems unfair that He expected to disconnect from all of us so often. As the Mom I don't feel that I am allowed to do that or would I necessarily want to. Also I would never let a hobby keep me from my family or bring something into our home that caused so much contention and took me (mentally and emotionally) away from my responsibilities to my family or spouse.

All of this in turn affects our sex life but not in the way you'd think. It seems that the gaming fulfilled something in his brain so he had a diminished libido. So not only was he tuning out it seemed somehow these games were somehow flipping a switch in his brain where he didn't want/need sex.

I guess I am asking for scriptural or doctrinal guidance about how to proceed. Do I allow this back into my home or do I stand my ground? I want everybody to be happy but I know I won't be if he is gaming and he seems to feel downtrodden by these "unreasonable" demands I am making on him.

Any advice or help pointing me in the right direction would be much appreciated!

Game Widow

 Dear Game Widow,

Thank you for reading! I’m glad my blog has been helpful to you.

I empathize with your situation, as I know a lot of families are struggling with this very thing. I myself have a son whose video-game playing I monitor closely.

Your objections to gaming are certainly shared by many people, but I must say that I would not declare that all video-games have no redeeming qualities.

There are some activities that should be completely removed from LDS households, such as playing poker card games, and even some games that are "M"-rated. Earlier modern-day prophets have objected to playing poker cards because of their close proximity to gambling and its time-wasting nature:

“Card playing is an excessive pleasure; it is intoxicating and, therefore, in the nature of a vice. It is generally the companion of the cigarette and the wine glass, and the latter lead to the poolroom and gambling hall…

But cards do not stand alone in their enticement to evil. Any game that ultimately leads to questionable society, because it is the chief pleasure of such society, should be excluded from the home. There are innocent games enough to satisfy the required pleasures of the home without encouraging card playing…

Again, all amusements become pernicious when pursued excessively.”[i]

Unlike playing cards, video games can have some limited wholesome uses. They have been shown to develop hand/eye coordination, logic skills and have been effective in training for many careers. They are relaxing and provide diversion after a long day of working for those who enjoy them. It can be a way for a father or mother to spend some bonding time with children when they are uncomfortable with other activities.

Where a person has to take care with video-games is in its time-wasting and obsessive qualities, as well as those that are of an immoral nature and invite the wrong spirit into the home.   

The games of today are made in a very realistic fashion, and the primitive portion of the brain can have great difficulty in determining between this realistic fantasy and reality. The thinking/logical part of the brain will usually give in to the primitive brain’s way of thinking because (when stimulated) it releases chemicals into the body that make us feel good. The primitive brain controls our reward system.

 A person may find a clearer sense of success in destroying monsters and going from level to level than he or she is able to find in his actual life - where he may feel that most people are disappointed in what he’s able to do.

Video-games can trigger releases of dopamine and oxytocin in the brain, which can lead to pleasurable relaxing sensations and drive a person prone to addictions to an overuse of whatever is creating these sensations. Video-game addiction may not be an official diagnosis, but the pain from neglect that family and friends suffer is very real. As you’ve already seen, this sometimes has an effect on a couple’s sex life, since dopamine and oxytocin is also released during sex, and are responsible for the feeling we feel after orgasm.

You mention in your letter that the games are ‘bringing in a spirit of contention’, but I’m unclear on how this is taking place.
  • Is your husband getting angry when you or the children interrupt him? 
  • Are the both of you arguing about his video game use, or if you feel the content is inappropriate? 
  • Are you feeling angry about being neglected, or feeling a sense of jealousy that he is relaxing while you are still busy with home and children, with no time to rest yourself?
 Depending on your answer, I might suggest different courses of action.

Because men’s brains are designed to compartmentalize more than women’s are, they will seek out activities that allow them to focus in a safe non-judgmental environment or allow them to not think of anything at all. This may be irritating to a woman because for most, they can’t imagine why anyone would want to think about “nothing.” But, for men, this is very restful.

 This is naturally because a woman’s brain is designed to be a constant flow of information – fluidly connected to all parts of the brain; flowing out into relationships with others. Men tend to contract inward and prefer to focus on one thing at a time. One kind of wiring isn’t better or worse than the other – just different, and meant to help them excel in their different God-given roles, with assistance from each other.[ii]

You can’t change him. Only he can do that. You’re not his mother, and your husband is a grown man capable of reason and judgment. Banning all video-games from the house will naturally make him feel resentful and view you as trying to control him. 

You mentioned that you were feeling this as well. Completely removing video games against his will upsets the balance of your relationship, and is unlikely to lead to the desired end you’re seeking. Give him the chance to use his agency to make the change.

Perhaps you could approach him in a different manner. If you’re comfortable approaching him, you might talk with him about this. Let him know that you don’t want to take away something he takes genuine pleasure in, but there are certain activities that you need from him to feel like he’s paying attention to you and the children as well.

List specifically what those activities are. 
  • Do you want him to take out the trash every Wednesday after work? 
  • Are the both of you dating once a week for at least four hours? 
  • Do you want him to spend one-on-one time with each child each week for a certain period of time? 
  • Do you want time to have a planning session with him? 
  • Family Home Evening for an hour, two hours, whatever, on Monday nights? 
  • When and how often do you want to engage in intercourse, or what you would consider sex (kissing, cuddling, pillow talk, being naked together, etc)? 
  • Is he doing his home teaching? 
  • Going to church? 
  • Fulfilling a calling? 
  • Can he watch the kids for you at the end of the day while you take a nap?
 In turn, what does he need from you? 
  • Some quiet time to unwind? 
  • Some encouraging words? 
  • Food? 
  • The gift of a quickie on a busy day?
Your husband can’t read your mind, and you may have to discuss these things several times before it clicks for him. Your specificity may help him to have a feeling of success by creating concrete, realistic expectations for your satisfaction that he can meet.

Perhaps, if you help him gain success in helping you and your family be happy, he will find more pleasure in spending more time with you, and maybe find reduced need for fulfillment in virtual experiences. However, he has to be told what you want and he has to be told more than once. This is the nature of us men. Waiting for him to guess or “just figure it out” on his own will only lead to frustration – for both of you.

Once those needs have been met, then carve out some time for him to play his games, but ask if you can set up time limits on the amount of time he plays, and ask if he will limit himself to games that don’t contain mature elements. 

If he’s unable to keep to those limits, see if he will agree to counseling for addiction, since it’s possible that addiction might be the case. The talk “Things As They Really Are” by Elder Bednar – speaks to the youth, but addresses some valid aspects of gaming addiction you can apply to your situation.

If it turns out that he is addicted, chances are the therapist will tell him to remove the games. This is a good time for you to let a third-party be the ‘parent’. Again, you are not his parent, and he is not yours. You are his equal partner.  

When the problem is clearly addiction that has been verified by an outside professional, you have nothing to feel guilty about when it comes to setting limits, but work with him. The challenge is his to overcome, but set your boundaries and don’t enable him.  Seek the Lord’s help in prayer as well and let the Spirit guide you as to what steps you need to take.

Addictions like these come as a result of over-exertion of the dopamine-releasing glands. Like with any drug, over time we become desensitized and a greater portion of drugs must be used to get the same high. Again, like with drugs, treatment includes complete abandonment of the drug (along with time) to allow the body and brain to return to normal levels of stimulation. Expect occasional relapse to be part of his recovery.[iii]

In addition, I am concerned at your mention that you don’t feel that you can take time for yourself. Do you feel that the gospel doesn’t allow you to take time for yourself, or that you’re being a bad mother or wife for doing so? This is not a true belief, and is not supported anywhere in the gospel. If you don’t know what you need to be happy, experiment with your likes and dislikes, and incorporate what you enjoy into your life.

A recent talk from Elder Uchtdorf, called “Forget Me Not”, is an excellent talk for the sisters in this regard, especially the parts about not judging yourself harshly and making appropriate choices for your time. If you haven’t already read it, I hope you will take the time to do so.

I wish you both the happy balance you are seeking in your relationship.

[i] Smith, Joseph F., Gospel Doctrine, pgs. 330, 332, italics added

[ii] These physiological and psychological gender differences are outlined in the book Men, Women and Relationships by John Gray, Ph.D., specifically in Chapters 3 and 4, as well as Mark Gungor’s DVD Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage and the findings of Drs. Reuben and Raquel Gur and Dr. Sebastian Kraemer, Ph.D. in the documentary, Science of the Sexes (Oxford Scientific Films). See also The Family: A Proclamation to the World ( for statements on gender differences (paragraph 2) and individual responsibilities of men and women (paragraph 7).

[iii] McGowan, Kathleen, The New Quitter, Psychology Today, Aug 2010, pg 78


LovelyLauren said...

I think your advice about gaming was spot-on. Like most pastimes, there is a line where it is no longer something that is relaxing and beneficial and becomes more obsessive.

However, I am really shocked that you would decry playing cards as close to gambling and something that should be removed from LDS households, for several reasons: 1) The quote you used is 40 years old and in my entire life, I have never, ever heard it quoted from the pulpit. In fact, I regularly played card games at Mutual activities...with several wards 2) Is playing UNO with your family really more damaging than spending time away from it to play video games? I think the concept of time-wasting is pretty subjective here. Since card-playing is done with other people, often in a spirit of fun, I find it far less time-wasting than playing a video game alone. 3) The connection to gambling is mostly lost since the majority of gambling now is done via slot machine, roulette, etc.

Sorry about the threadjack, I just found that point utterly irrelevant to the letter and dated to the point of ludicrousness.

CoachSam said...

Hi Lovely Lauren,
Thank you for reading and I appreciate your concern.
I doubt anyone would condemn you for playing UNO, or games like checkers or chess or monopoly. Very few people go to casinos and play UNO, if any.

The point I was making is (as with any gospel principle) to follow the spirit (not the rationalization) of the law. Any kind of game can be played to an obsessive excess that can cause us to waste the precious little time we have on this earth and gain nothing. That was the concern of the sister that wrote. Her spouse spent all his spare time on video games and allowed his relationship with his wife and children to deteriorate.

The quote I gave from President Joseph F. Smith was from 1939. It hasn’t been spoken of much currently, because members’ use of poker cards has not been a widespread problem in the Church. If it did become a problem again, this counsel might be mentioned again.

I see video-game addiction as something that has replaced poker card game addiction and there are several warnings from current leaders about that. (see LDS. ORG – video games) If you're looking for something more modern about playing cards (and when they say playing cards they are referring to what we would call today “poker cards”. UNO cards were not created until 1971), here is a quote from Dallin H. Oaks, recycling older counsel still relevant to today’s members in the Nov. 1972 Ensign. ...

”One type of gambling that has been vigorously criticized by our leaders is card playing. Cards may, of course, be played without playing for money, but the relationship between card playing and gambling is so close and the practice of card playing itself partakes of so many of the disadvantages of gambling that card playing has come under condemnation regardless of whether or not gambling is involved.

Elder Widtsoe criticized card playing on the grounds that it was habit forming and a waste of time. He declared:

“It has been observed through centuries of experience that the habit of card playing becomes fixed upon a person and increases until he feels that a day without a game of cards is incomplete.

“After an afternoon or evening at card-playing, nothing has been changed, no new knowledge, thoughts, or visions have come, no new hopes or aspirations have been generated, except for another opportunity to waste precious hours. It leads nowhere; it is a dead-end road. … Dull and deadly is a life which does not seek to immerse itself in the rapidly moving stream of new and increasing knowledge and power. Time is required to ‘keep up with the times.’ We dare not waste time on pastimes that starve the soul.””

What would Thomas Monson say to members today? I don’t know, but I imagine it might be similar counsel. My advice remains to follow the Spirit of the law.

LovelyLauren said...

I suppose that I'll just have to disagree Elder Oaks on this one. I see no problem with face cards any more than I see a problem with video games. Both can lead to time-wasting, addiction, and alienation. I love playing rounds of hearts with friends and don't see the fact that I'm playing with face cards as wrong at all.

However, in this day and age, I think video games present a far larger problem than face cards. I imagine that Thomas Monson doesn't say anything about it today because it's completely irrelevant. I just don't think you're comparison is working very well. I see that you're trying to draw an analogy, but honestly, anyone under the age of 30 is going to read this and think, "seriously?"

I see what you're getting at, but I don't think your condemnation of face cards is successful.

Anonymous said...

I think the reasoning on cards of the previous commenter is pretty thin, probably because she IS under 30 with no kids.

I was pretty shocked when I heard that counsel too, but it made sense when I had kids later on. What are you going to tell them? "Well, Mom plays cards, but you shouldn't?" Weak. My brothers made friends with some really questionable kids at school that eventually landed him in jail - and it all started with playing cards, and M-rated games.

I also agree with the videogame thing Coach Sam talked about - we play a lot of videogames in our house, but you can't let these things take over your life. Life is just more important.

Alyssa said...

I've definitely heard more than one person worry about gaming and seen it affect their marriage life. Gaming (like many other activities) has the potential to become an addiction and once it's reached that point, it is very difficult for a spouse to get the gamer out of it. It requires more than just walking in front of him in something sexy (a tip I've often heard people give to gaming widows).
Thanks for this post.

Brian Phelps said...

"Card playing" as a sin? Seriously? Let's qualify that a bit. Certainly gambling with cards would fall within that arena. That may have been the predominant use of playing cards in Joseph Smith's time. My wife's family, Pioneer Mormon stock, have a long tradition of playing cards during family reunions--social, fun games. While some of this large family's members have fallen away over the years, I don't think we can attribute this to playing cards. You've condemned all card playing with too broad a stroke.

Anonymous said...

It's not the card playing that's the problem, according to the GAs - it's the cards themselves.

Here's another perspective on card-playing from John A. Widtsoe:

“It must be added that relaxation from the regular duties of the day is desirable and necessary for human well-being. Wholesome games of recreation are advocated by all right-minded people. Moreover, the … objections [to card playing] are not directed against the many and various card games on the market not employing the usual ‘playing cards.’ Most of these furnish innocent and wholesome recreation, and many are really instructive. It is true that they may be played to excess, but in fact it seldom happens. This is true even when such cards are used in games imitating those with ‘playing cards.’ It is true that such cards may be used for gambling purposes, but in fact it is almost never done. The pall of evil seems to rest upon the ‘playing cards’ handed down to us from antiquity” (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, Murray & Gee, 1943, pp. 218–19).

How's that for weird? I found this in the November 1984 New Era Q&A - not official Church doctrine or anything, but it sounded interesting to me. At least it was more recent than Joseph F. Smith :-)

Anonymous said...

I know this is an older post, but perhaps the comment would be worth something...

I liked your comment about video gaming issues. I think this is a serious issue. I was just released as an Elder's Quorum president and I was shocked at the amount of time that people spend playing video games. (A large reason for keeping a young man from serving a mission as well).

I wanted to re-iterate the importance of a few points you made in the context of a marriage. First, you're not his mother. I think, especially when YOU are right, it's easy to treat him like a child. I really enjoy "For all Eternity" by Dr. John L. Lund. It's an excellent help to marriage and that is one key point that he makes. Although something does need to be done, your points were spot on in not being a mother.

Second, NO HINT DROPPING! Whether it's video games or not, that advice was so true, and another key point that Dr. Lund brings up. Don't make them guess. In this case, you've obviously been straightforward about what you DON'T want in the house. But it's so crucial to be straightforward about what you DO want. You DO want him to step up to his priesthood and patriarchal responsibilities. How do you want to see him do that? Ask him if he would be willing to do that. (e.g., taking head of FHE, family prayer, family scripture study, etc.). As he engages in these righteous, spirit inviting activities, with your help, he will naturally be pulled more away from spiritually destructive activities. Not all video games are spiritually destructive, but I think most often they become that case whether it be content or time consumption.

CoachSam said...

Thank you for reading and your comments Anon July 12

Daniel di Falco said...

I was once an avid gamer and would spend hours upon hours wasting my days away playing video games. It put my marriage on the rocks. My wife was frustrated and didn't quite know how to help me understand how she felt about it. I of course didn't think there was a problem. It went on for about two years. During that time I neglected many of my priesthood duties. I didn't see it then but my poor example to my wife and our children hurt the spirituality of our home immensely. It wasn't until I was in the military that things began to change. During my basic training, we had no contact with our families aside from letters. I began to look at my life and how much time and opportunity I had missed. I thought that video games were a harmless indulgence, but that was time I spent with a machine rather than my daughter or wife. I saw the terrible situation I had placed my marriage in. It took a change from within me to fix the problem and no one else could have forced the change. From my experience video games can be as dangerous as gambling or pornography. They offer instant gratification a sense of power and control. They create a fantasy that seems to satisfy but is never enough with some new game or feature always there to further increase the enjoyment. Just like any other addiction a detox is necessary. If possible my recommendation would be to see if they would agree to giving up those video games for 6months. They will struggle I struggled but when that passes your mind becomes clearer and the spirit can began to speak and be heard. The healing process can begin and video games can be recognized for what it is in that persons life.