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Not getting it: video games, sex and bad research

Last month I came across a post on the GameByte website by Lara Jackson entitled Video Games Are Why Young Men Aren’t Having Sex Any More, Says Professor. It explained how he gave several reasons for a decline in sexual activity over the past few years, with one being targeted at our hobby.

It reminded me of a paper called Leisure Luxuries and the Labor Supply of Young Men by Professor Erik Hurst issued in June 2017, in which he and his colleagues believed that video games were responsible for reducing the amount of work completed by males aged 21 to 30 by 15 to 30 hours each year since 2004. This was something I disputed in a post the following month because citing gaming as the root of wider economic problems felt biased and reductive.

Each time a study into issues affecting younger generations is completed, it frequently seems as though video games are given as at least part of the cause. Additionally, the reporting of these findings is often distorted in the media with articles written using language that twists the conclusions made so they seem more directed at our pastime. I’m sure there’s a possibility that gaming could be preventing certain young men from having sex – as could any other form of entertainment – but what’s really going on here?

After completing some research, I found that all sources led back to a single article on The Washington Post website called The share of Americans not having sex has reached a record high from March 2019. According to the latest General Social Survey, a sociological survey regularly completed by the University of Chicago since 1972, 23% of adults spent 2018 in a celibate state and a much larger portion of these than expected were men in their twenties.

The portion of Americans aged 18 to 29 reporting no sex in the past year had more than doubled to 23% too, with men in this age group nearly tripling to 28% – even more surprising when compared to the much smaller 8% increase in their female peers. The professor mentioned in the first paragraph above was Jean Twenge of San Diego State University, and in an interview she said that there could be several potential explanations for this interesting trend.

You’re probably thinking to yourself that this is where the video-games-are-why-part comes into play but let me stop you there for a moment. The first reason discussed in The Washington Post article was the fact that labour force participation among young men had fallen; however, rather than attribute this to gaming like Hurst above, Twenge noted that researchers also see a ‘connection between labour force participation and stable relationships’.

The General Social Survey showed that 54% of unemployed Americans didn’t have a steady romantic partner compared to 32% of those employed. This leads nicely to the second possible reason given by the professor: “There are more people in their twenties who don’t have a live-in partner. So under those circumstances I think less sex is going to happen.” In addition, young men are more likely to be living with their parents than women: “When you’re living at home it’s probably harder to bring sexual partners into your bedroom.”

And finally, Twenge did pick up on our hobby. When discussing whether technology could be a factor she said: “There are a lot more things to do at 10 o’clock at night now than there were 20 years ago. Streaming, social media, console games, everything else.” So out of 500-or-so words written by Christopher Ingram for The Washington Post, it was this last sentence that was picked up on by a number of online news outlets and made into a story.

Let’s take a look at a quote from that GameByte post: “A professor of psychology has blamed video games for one of the reasons why there’s been a decline in young men having sex.” I’m not sure this was the case; gaming was part of a possible explanation given among several. And here’s another line: “In a recent survey, The Washington Post found…” Not entirely correct again. This statement implies that it was the newspaper itself conducted a survey specifically into the correlation between video games and a reduction in sex.

The complete transcript of Twenge’s interview isn’t provided in full and it’s possible that Jackson may have had access to this when writing her article. But it seems as though the information she used isn’t even taken directly from The Washington Post – it came from the Daily Star. As if it wasn’t bad enough that a journalist seems to have not bothered to trace back to the original source in this instance, I’m a little shocked they’d rely a source with such a poor reputation.

Yes, there are studies and papers such as those produced by Hurst which unfairly discriminate against video games and those who play them; and yes, it’s right that we highlight them and discuss their subjects openly. But poorly-researched and badly-worded content created by someone from our own community isn’t justifiable. It does nothing except perpetuate tired stereotypes and continue to hold us back, and as my other-half said when I chatted to him about the GameByte post: ‘It’s all a load of b****cks.’

It’s natural for us as writers to want to put our opinions into a post when we feel strongly about something, and it’s important we action our research properly, clearly state our sources and be aware of the effect our words could have. And once we’ve completed those responsibilities, we can get back to having fun – whether that’s playing video games or having sex.

Kim View All

Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.

22 thoughts on “Not getting it: video games, sex and bad research Leave a comment

  1. The press? Talking rubbish? That almost never happens! Well, okay, it does sometimes. Well, all right, a fair bit of the time. Most of the time. Pretty much all of the time.

    Whatever gets them rageclicks, I guess. Unfortunately, “hatebait” — stuff specifically designed to rile up a particular community, often somewhat (or extremely) dishonestly — has proven to be an effective tactic for ad-supported websites, particularly when combined with the viral spread social media allows for.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure what’s worse: the fact that news outlets use these tactics to generate an income, that readers still believe everything they read, or that this type of headline spreads like wildfire on social media channels. It’s a sorry state of affairs. 😦

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Whenever there’s some change in society, economics or outbursts of some form of behaviour, Video Games will always be hinted at by experts, mostly, I think, because those experts are unfamiliar with the experience of playing a video game. They know for certain what TV and cinema can do, but have only youtube clips of people losing their temper playing games as an example, which we all know correspond to a minority of players, but tend to be the kind of video that goes viral.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I remember being a kid growing up through the 80s and seeing a number of news reports on televisions about the ‘dangers of video games’. 40 years on and we’re still having the same conversations and reading reports by experts who claim that they’re going to be the downfall of society as we know it. You’d think they’d have given up and actually played a game themselves by now. 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You could probably find enough research to conclude that legalization of marijuana has led to an increase. Heck even vaping. Any data can be skewed if presented in the right manner.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I saw a talk by a psychology professor recently, and he gave an interesting example of skewing statistics when it comes to reporting on the effect of video games. Apparently some studies say that as little as 2% of the population is addicted to our hobby – while others claim it to be as high as 46%!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Uh oh… This post triggered me for several reasons… I’ll probably do a response post soonish so I don’t wall-of text your comments section 😁 Great article!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m not sure which is worse: the news outlets thinking it’s acceptable to publish something without fact checking or the the number of readers who accept the articles as truth. There’s plenty of readers whose suspicion of video games being evil will use these articles to confirm that suspicion leaving us nowhere closer to the medium becoming more acceptable socially.

    With the video gaming industry becoming bigger than film and music combined, there’s no ignoring it at least.

    Sex & video games & rock ‘n’ roll!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. A good example. Locally we had a news story. Test dummies fly out of roller coaster and damage roof of nearby building. First thought? Omg, someone could get killed, I better read this. Long story short, the dummies are water filled and both had leaks, so they fell out because they shrunk and the lap bar couldn’t hold in an empty canvas bag.

    But it got me to click the link to read the story.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. These are some pretty cringe-worthy examples of not so great research and irresponsible reporting! Yikes! We’ve been examining irresponsible reporting offtrack reporting like this in our science communication course a lot.

    I like the person who said “There are a lot more things to do at 10 o’clock at night now than there were 20 years ago” like people only have sex late at night…


    • The articles I found, including that from GameByte, do a great job at representing Twenge as someone who villainises video games. But if you read her comments on the original source she actually talks a lot of sense – just like that ‘more things to do’ quote!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. More and more I realize the general press understands nothing about video games, nor do they seem to understand that correlation doesn’t equal causation. It’s frustrating because it doesn’t matter what they know/don’t know and/or how wrong their methods are. There are people who will believe them and that belief could eventually turn into dangerous and unnecessary policies.


    • I had the chance to watch a talk by a psychology professor last month and he made some really interesting points, particularly around the effect of the press. It’s a different subject but take mass violence as an example: the more that news outlets report gaming as being the cause and whip up hysteria around them, the more difficult it makes it to actually find those who *are* affected by on-screen violence, what games they’re playing and why violence is the consequence.

      Liked by 1 person

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