Why Are the Japanese No Longer Interested in Sex?

(Photo: Joshua Rappeneker)

(Photo: Joshua Rappeneker)

From the Guardian:

Japan’s under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren’t even dating, and increasing numbers can’t be bothered with sex. For their government, “celibacy syndrome” is part of a looming national catastrophe. Japan already has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million, which has been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to plunge a further one-third by 2060.

And:

The number of single people has reached a record high. A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all. (There are no figures for same-sex relationships.) Although there has long been a pragmatic separation of love and sex in Japan – a country mostly free of religious morals – sex fares no better. A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact.” More than a quarter of men felt the same way.

 The article contains a number of speculations as to cause, well worth reading. At least the Malthusians will be happy.

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COMMENTS: 29


  1. J296 says:

    Is it that they are no longer interested in sex or no longer interested in marriage and children?

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    • nrojb says:

      “45% of women aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact.” More than a quarter of men felt the same way.”

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2
      • J296 says:

        I read that part but feel that admitting something like this isn’t part of their culture. Most Japanese ( as far as I know) live at home until marriage. It isn’t like you can bring a partner home under those conditions. Going to a hotel might be too shameful or too much effort. They probably just don’t want to be married or have children. They might be interested in sex without marriage but are too ashamed to admit it.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 4
      • Joe J says:

        to J296:
        “Most Japanese ( as far as I know) live at home until marriage.”
        Most women live at home, less true for men.

        ” Going to a hotel might be too shameful or too much effort. ”
        No, Japan has made that easy. Sex hotels, exist rentable by hour or night. Shame about sex in Japan is weird, in some ways they have none in others they have a lot, but the distinction makes little sense outside of Japan.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1
    • bob says:

      The numbers clearly show they are no longer interested in either. They seem to be more interested in inventing robots capable of relationships.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2
      • Mike B says:

        have predicted that one major driver of sentient AI will be the desire for working women in places like Japan to have children without getting hit with a lifetime career penalty flag. AI children would be far easier to raise them meat children and would be able to contribute to the nation’s wealth once mature without nasty issues like healthcare costs. It’s pure win and when faced with massive depopulation countries like Japan and Russia will be happy to ignore any ethical or religious taboos.

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    • Joe J says:

      Both

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  2. Steve S. says:

    Couldn’t this survey be a bit skewed due to the strong cultural mores of Japan. There is a probably a strong tendency to self censor in a way that is deemed “appropriate” according to the norms over there. I realize the survey shows change too – perhaps the culture has become more prudish?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2
  3. George says:

    A “long-time” reader of this blog after I read the Freakonomics book and ran across the blog last year.

    I live in Japan, and there are a lot of reasons why Japanese people, in general, have less intimacy and fewer children than Americans. Yes, there are some culture things, self-censorship, and so on.

    One of the biggest reasons, though, is similar to what is happening to China and other places where traditionally repressed women are starting to have careers and opportunities. There’s simply no desire to settle down and have kids when there’s so much to do. Add in all the overtime Japanese do, the stresses of a high-context/low-individuality culture, and it’s easy for Japanese men and women to not want relationships.

    The cost of having children, too, may be relatively higher than that in western cultures. The government pays for childbirth, gives a subsidy for children, pays for children’s health care, and has networks of daycares and preschools, but children are a huge financial burden–one of mine is on its way, and thinking about all the supplementary lessons, daycare activities, and so on is a big headache. Most women quit work to take care of children, which is often necessary, and a lot of women don’t want to sacrifice their careers for that nowadays.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 44 Thumb down 0
    • Q says:

      The cultural pressures on women that you describe sound similar to reasons I’ve heard cited for the low birthrate in Italy and some other European countries. If women want careers and are still expected to take care of their husbands, why get married?

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1
    • James says:

      I might point out though, that having sex is not the same as having children, or marriage. It’s also quite possible to be interested in sex, yet be unable to find acceptable, willing partners. Particularly in a shame-based culture, it might be less embarassing to falsely claim a disinterest in sex, rather than admit to an inability to find a partner.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2
  4. Pierre says:

    So… the article title is: Why Are the Japanese No Longer Interested in Sex? The article doesn’t try to even answer this or am I missing something? It just gives stats as to the fact they don’t like it but no answers as to why.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1
    • bob says:

      I think that kind of was the point of the article. Give you the stats and leave you with the question.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1
  5. Jason says:

    Soy? I’ve read they give it to prisoners after finding that it kept them calmer, theory was that it reduced testosterone levels.

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  6. bob says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Disliked! Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 9
  7. Steve Cebalt says:

    The headline is biased and loaded: “Why Are the Japanese No Longer Interested in Sex?”

    Why should they be interested in sex? Who says? Why do we think that way? Is it somehow aberrant not to be interested in sex?

    I do understand that the article is about a downward trend, so I get it. But maybe many Japanese people are realizing that finding and maintaining a relationship that includes sex is simply a helluva lot of work and a near total loss of autonomy for a reward that is very fleeting. You have to give yourself permission to think about that, because it is heretical in Western culture — at the moment.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 10
    • Anonymouso says:

      Considering that procreation is tantamount to the survival of a species, yes, yes it is aberrant.

      Pretty much by definition to.

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      • Steve Cebalt says:

        Hi Anonymous0: The article is about sex, relationships, romance: not the very occasional coitus required to procreate. Aberration? 60% of young Japanese men (a very significant MAJORITY) and 49 % of women are in no relationship at all — and a third have NEVER dated — and the ratio of sexless young people is GROWING. Therefore, not aberrant, “by definition” to use your unsupported phrase.

        BTW, what definition?

        I stand by what I wrote: A sexual relationship comes at a very high opportunity cost and I can see how some would choose other paths, including the growing majority of Japanese under 34.

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  8. Joe J says:

    Why, a weird mix of old and new cultural norms/responsibilities/and expectations which don’t work together.

    The old way was children were coddled at home and pressured in school. You were a child until married. Men worked like crazy (responsible to provide $ for family) out of the home, women worked like crazy in the home(responsible to take care of family, both children and elderly). Children were pressured to get married. (to the level of arranged marriages) Enter feminism, women’s responsibilities change a lot, Men’s mostly still don’t.

    So you have single young women, parents will not hint at her leaving home until she is married. Until then she lives rent free, has Mom as a live in maid, and any $ she earns she spends on herself. She sees how hard her mother works, (for her) and doesn’t want it. If she likes to work, she can; if she doesn’t she only needs to a little for extra spending money.
    Single men, are coddled at home till they hit adult age, then (married or not) pressure and drive to work and to succeed. He gets hints to move out. Access to porn other sexual things and pretty much no social or religious stigma against it, makes it a fine substitute for women/dating/relationships. Either living at home or on his own, little pressure to get married, and little reason to, since the mans side is a raw deal
    10-20 more years when the parents generation reaches the age where they need the kids to take care of them, will be interesting.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0
  9. Otaku says:

    Google “hentai”.

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    • So do you says:

      Considering the Japanese obsession with rape and I understand why 45% of women aren’t interested in sex. Porn featuring rape is everywhere. They have cartoons where beasts and demons rape school girls…and where school girls get raped on subway trains. They’re also really into seeing women cry during sex. Granted, Japan is a pretty weird place in general, but the domination of women as a fantasy is everywhere. No wonder the women aren’t really into dating.

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  10. May Hem says:

    In a country that size with 126 million people isn’t it a good thing to help depopulate? India, Pakistan and Africa where there is so much misery and poverty, not to mention wars and undereducated masses could do with less people and concentrate on the quality of life and not the quantity. As it is we are destroying the planet and the only place we have to live in within our lifetimes. This article lacks valid information, and any depth of thought.

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    • Voice of Reason says:

      Ironically, a declining population is actually a problem for Japan. They have the technology and medical care to keep people alive into their 80′s and 90′s, but now, no generation to fund them.

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  11. momosgarage says:

    I thought this was figured out already. Japan has a lost generation of people whom have no career path or financial earning growth potential. These people are highly undesirable as partners, both sexual or marital, male and female. So if you have a large population of undesirable men, who have learned to not want or pursue the opposite sex, due to perceived career failure, then you will certainly have a large population of women in the same age range who also cannot find a partner, both sexual or marital.

    Also as others have said, just because they answered in the survey that that were not interested in sex doesn’t EXACTLY mean they are not interested in the act or pleasure of sex. It could mean that they are not interested in the “courting process” of “getting sex” or the “relationship compromises” needed to “get sex”. We also don’t know what the survey EXACTLY said and anyone who know linguistics will confirm that some Japanese phrases can have multiple meanings and many times don’t translate well or clearly to Latin based languages.

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  12. Voice of Reason says:

    I think that no matter how much accepting, progressive, and cool a young male’s parents are, bringing a women home to a house owned by your parents is always a buzzkill. There are too many single, independent guys out there to compete with. Sorry this is a little OT, I just wanted to bring it up.

    But, I think that the main reason that Japan is sexless is the same reason that so many Asian women are opting to date men outside their race. Their norms and system benefit the man, but there are other races who will treat them better. It seems like a no brainer.

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  13. Eleanore says:

    This sentence was revealing:

    “Although there has long been a pragmatic separation of love and sex in Japan – a country mostly free of religious morals – sex fares no better.”

    I think that “separation of love and sex” is the issue. If sex has nothing to do with love, lifelong commitment, or procreation, then it is just another pleasurable human activity. Except it’s one that often comes with complicated emotional entanglements. Since there are many other pastimes available that provide the pleasure WITHOUT the entanglements, sex can seem like a bad investment of time and energy. Such would not be the case if sex were viewed as the ultimate expression of love within the lifetime commitment of marriage – because an emotional bond is expected and welcomed.

    In the end, separating love and sex is not “pragmatic” at all – human beings aren’t wired that way. The two must go together for us to truly flourish.

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  14. OPUS says:

    I think the Japanese young people are over tuning the “Old Normal” with this “New Normal”. Sex is not looked down upon in Japan and maybe the newer Generation 16 to 24 year olds want to make sex special and only for marriage. Also, with the internet age and this age group growing up in the most over sexual culture on the planet have said enough is enough. Come on they have sexualized little school girls. I just think the new age group is fed up and they are making a statement!

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  15. Vallin SFAS says:

    And I am a hardcore Scrooge/Ayn Rand-ite Malthusian! “Better to decrease the surplus population!” By 2060 we’ll have colonies on a superplanet, and everyone who elects to stay on Earth will have a 400-acre estate. Everyone will be having masturbatory cyber-sex on legal MDMA-Ecstasy (re: Italy adding prostitution and drugs to the GDP. I bet that was Ilona Staller’s idea! Now, SHE’S a SU*PAH*PHREEAK!)

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