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!

Sincerely,
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 (www.lds.org) 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