Slut Machines: How Big Is The Link Between Sex And Gambling?

As anyone who has seen Dan Bilzerian’s Instagram will attest; sex and gambling often go hand in hand, but does this happy partnership have any scientific basis?
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As anyone who has seen Dan Bilzerian’s Instagram will attest; sex and gambling often go hand in hand, but does this happy partnership have any scientific basis?

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Research from a number of credible sources, both old and new; suggest that there may be a deeper, even innate connection between sexuality and the desire to gamble. But tear yourself away from Bilzerian’s latest sexcapade for a moment and let’s look at the evidence

Idle Hands…

The intimate relationship between gambling and grinding has been long-acknowledged in clinical psychology. As early as 1928, Sigmund Fred described gambling as a substitute for masturbation, stressing the importance of play in both activities.

Taking the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevky (who was a compulsive gambler) as a case study, Freud argues that the ‘vice’ of gambling expressed Dostoyevky’s unresolved oedipal complex (a neurotic desire to sleep with his mother and kill his father…oh Freud.)

Faced with of the social taboo against masturbation, Freud concludes that Dostoyevky turned to gambling as a form of self-punishment, writing “The ‘vice’ of masturbation is replaced by the addiction to gambling; and the emphasis laid upon the passionate activity of the hands betrays this derivation. Indeed, the passion for play is an equivalent of the old compulsion to masturbate; ‘playing’ is the actual word used in the nursery to describe the activity of the hands upon the genitals.”

Bear in mind, the majority of modern psychologists regard Freud as a bit of a crackpot. On top of that, he never even met Dostoyevky, basing his ideas on a half-baked reading of his subject’s semi-autobiographical novel, The Gambler.
However, on one point I think Freud might have something. In regards to Dostoyevky, he argues that compulsive gambling represents: “the irresistible nature of the temptation,” and a highly taboo outlet for repressed desire.

New Research

Picking up from Freud’s work, but adopting a more modern perspective, is Dr Mark Griffiths: a psychologist and gambling specialist from Nottingham Trent University. Despite dismissing his predecessor’s theories as “little more than an amusing historical footnote,” Dr Griffiths argues that some aspects of Freud’s research deserve further consideration.

For instance, Freud firmly believed that human motivations and desires are based in the unconscious, the amorphous blend of instincts, half-memories and fears lying beneath the surface of our rational brain. The desire to gamble, for Freud, stemmed from the unconscious, resulting in a primal, uncontrollable urge with the same origin as lust, fear and rage.

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Dr Griffiths reflects that, “having spent many years asking gamblers why they do the things that they do,” the majority of punters can’t articulate why they love gambling so much. He argues that this implies “inexplicable unconscious motivations” for gambling.

Similarly to our desire for sex, a human’s desire to gamble seems to lie beyond the conscious sphere of thought. While this alone does not imply a direct relationship between sex and gambling, Dr Griffiths also states that there are “many anecdotal observations on the relationship between gambling and sex.”

Aside from hearsay about gamblers blowing their beans after scoring big jackpots (which Dr Griffiths admits is “probably a myth”) there is the highly sexualised language of gambling. Consider the numbers ‘10’ and ‘4’ (“Big Dick” and “Little Dick”) in craps, the powerful desire to dominate ‘Lady Luck,’ hell…even the word ‘poker’ is potentially risqué.

Then you have the imagery of gambling culture. As anyone who has spent any time playing online will know, advertising material for gambling brands is often highly sexual, with plenty of female skin on show (usually in the form of croupiers and cocktail waitresses.) Again: very macho, very heteronormative and dripping with barely-contained libido. Freud would have a field day.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

Aside from these cultural observations, several anthropological studies have also noted a relationship between gambling and sex addiction.

In 1991, a study by Henry Lesieur and Richard Rosenthal reported that, in two small samples of adult gambling addicts, 12% and 14% were potentially sexually addicted. In a larger, 2005 investigation by Jon Grant and Marvin Steinberg, 19.6% of the 225 pathological gamblers involved also met the criteria for sexual addiction.

More recently, a 2014 study from Columbia University provided evidence that underage gamblers are more prone to problematic sexual behaviour. Of the 427 respondents, half had gambled before age 18 and more of the gamblers had initiated sex in that time. Around a third had engaged in intercourse by the age of 13 and almost 90 percent had by age 18.

And if that wasn’t sufficient evidence, get a load of this. In 2012, a married father of two was awarded £160,000 by a UK court for being turned into a gambling and gay sex addict by a drug that was supposed to treat his Parkinson’s disease. They don’t put that side-effect on the bottle.

Lesson Over: Time for Extra Credit!

So there you have it; there does seem to be a psychological (if not biological) basis for a connection between gambling and sex.

Feel free to conduct some further research, but as in gambling as in love, play safe, know your limits and don’t get disheartened during the dry spells: there’s sure to be a streak lying just around the corner.