Young People In Japan Are Giving Up On Sex
October 25, 2013

Young People In Japan Are Giving Up On Sex

So many of Japan’s young people have stopped having sex that the predicament has been given a very serious sounding title by Japan’s media: Celibacy Syndrome. It is causing panic in the Japanese government in the midst of what is already a declining population trend.

Apparently, 45 percent of women aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact,” according to the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA). Perhaps more surprisingly, the same attitude could be found in a quarter of men. This could go some way to explaining why in 2012 the birth rate in Japan was the lowest on record.

Oh, before we go any further, an important aside. The Guardian article that ran this story focuses on a sex and relationship counsellor called Ai, which in Japanese means love – an adopted name that goes back to the days when she was called ‘Queen Ai’ and was a professional dominatrix. Ai says in her pamphlet that she “once visited North Korea in the 1990s and squeezed the testicles of a top army general.” The Guardian points out “It doesn’t say whether she was invited there specifically for that purpose…” More importantly, I feel, it doesn’t say whether she was asked to do it at all, or just took it upon herself spontaneously. Even if she was asked to do it, it gives an interesting and rare insight into the upper echelons of the North Korean military. If she wasn’t asked to do it, she is without doubt the bravest women who ever lived. But anyway, back to young Japanese celibates.

There are all sorts of reasons given as to why so many young Japanese people, especially in the big cities, are turning away from sex. One is that they are not in touch or comfortable with their physical needs, a problem which Ai hopes to address. But how did that situation arise in the first place?

The lack of sex comes largely from a lack of relationships. Some people go out and have one night stands, but many just don’t bother with sex at all. The lack of relationships is blamed on concerns about where they might lead. Relationships are still seen as a precursor to marriage, children and all of the obligations that come with those things. Given the expense of raising a family in Japan, as well as other issues such as the problem that 70 percent of Japanese women have to give up their careers (mostly due to highly questionable policies from employers as well as social expectations) once they have a family, it isn’t surprising that some are thinking twice. At the same time, though, men and women seem to have outdated expectations of each other, yet don’t want to stick to those ideals themselves. Namely being a highflying salaryman for men and a wifey-wife for women.

If you don’t want frivolous one night stands (what Ai calls “pot-noodle love”) and you don’t want marriage, there isn’t much in-between. Social attitudes as well as government policy are still geared very much towards marriage rather than civil partnerships.

Naturally, commentators on this subject (including me, it seems) also resort to the “Japan’s all weird and futuristic” explanation. When you hear about Ai’s patient who is “in his early 30s, a virgin, who can’t get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers”, you start to feel that there may be a basis of truth in the theory. I have heard that an awful lot of adults commit worryingly strongly to certain anime characters too, to the point that they replace real romantic relationships.

But if technology and modern life are to blame, then mostly it is to an extent that could (and does) apply to people from any developed country: we can have very fulfilling social lives without very often having to meet anyone directly, or indeed touch anyone. There are more things to distract us from love and sex, and therefore more reasons to question whether we need those things, especially if they lead to complicated long-term situations such as kids and marriage in a tough climate. It may just be that Japan is a touch ahead of us, in terms of both the distractions, and the toughness of the climate.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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John is a freelance writer from the UK, currently living in Japan and thoroughly enjoying their food and whiskey. His first novel, Three Little Boys, and his travel book, Following Football, are currently available on

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