Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column Sept 6, 2011, “‘Sexlessness’ wrecks marriages, threatens nation’s future”


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Hi Blog.  Thanks to everyone for reading and making this article the #2-most read article on the Japan Times online for most of the day yesterday.  Here it is up for commentary.  Arudou Debito



The Japan Times Tuesday, Sep. 6, 2011

‘Sexlessness’ wrecks marriages, threatens nation’s future

Courtesy http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20110906ad.html

In its cover story last month, The Economist newsmagazine looked at the issue of “Asia’s lonely hearts: Why Asian women are rejecting marriage and what that means.” It offered many reasons — including economics, education level, changes in family structures and gender roles, divorce difficulties, and demographics — for why many Asian women (and of course, by extension, Asian men) are marrying later or not at all.

 I commend The Economist’s well-intentioned attempt at dealing with an important social issue. But its discussion left one major stone unturned: sex. 

At the risk of turning this month’s scribbling into a Hugh Hefner column, I think it incumbent upon those of us planning a life in Japan to consider a fundamentally unhealthy social phenomenon: how sexuality in Japan is downplayed, if not encouraged to be omitted completely, from many married lives.

First, an axiom: Healthy adults have sex throughout their lives, and this should not necessarily change just because people get married.

However, in Japan it often does.

A “sexless marriage,” according to the Japan Society of Sexual Sciences, is generally defined as one where couples have sex less than once a month.

Sumie Kawakami, in her book “Goodbye Madame Butterfly: Sex, Marriage, and the Modern Japanese Woman,” cites a 2006 joint survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare and the Japan Family Planning Association that found more than a third (34.6 percent) of all Japanese married couples could be classified as “sexless.”

This is a rise from earlier surveys and should be discussed in Japan as a social problem. After all, Japan has a falling population and a birthrate at the bottom of the world’s scales — demographic trends that garner more than their fair share of media attention.

But sexlessness is hardly seen as problematic in Japan. Quite the opposite. Hark back to the 1990s, when the sekkusuresu state was portrayed in the media positively, even as a natural outcome of marriage.

There is of course plenty of coupling and intimacy before matrimony (as I’m sure many of our readers can attest), but once kids are in the picture (people are even discouraged from having intercourse while pregnant), sex can decrease markedly or even become nonexistent for a habit-forming period of time.

Ask why and the reasons are usually forthcoming: One side is often “too tired,” “It’s a nuisance,” or the kids are sleeping in the same bed, etc. The more cynical cite the cruel aphorism, “You don’t need bait for a fish already caught”.

But there is a fundamental difference here from attitudes in other developed societies, where sex even into old age (“orgasms at sixty!” on supermarket shelves, and don’t forget Oprah, Dr. Phil, etc.) is seen regardless of family lifestyles as a healthy and essential part of a relationship.

Not in Japan, oddly in this “must try harder” society.

Then this discouraging set of expectations gets recycled back into our media and becomes self-perpetuating. Group-think gets people off the hook from trying to maintain intimacy, while people made to feel they “want sex too much” are sometimes told to take their loins elsewhere. No wonder sleeping around in Japan is a national pastime.

One might say this is just an outcome of modern life in a crowded society. But similar modern pressures and overcrowding exist in other countries.

Consider a more worldwide sampling of the issue.

In 2005, Durex, the world’s largest condom maker, conducted a Global Sex Survey (see www.durex.com/en-jp/sexualwellbeingsurvey/documents/gss2005result.pdf) involving 317,000 respondents in 41 countries. The survey found that Japanese had the least sex in the world, at 45 times a year — far less than second-from-bottom Singapore (73 times a year), and even farther from the world average (103 times a year, meaning twice a week).

Moreover, less than a quarter (24 percent) of Japanese surveyed said they were “happy” with their sex lives, significantly lower than the global average of 44 percent.

Durex’s more recent Sexual Wellbeing Survey, involving 26,000 interviews from 26 countries, found Japan at the bottom again with even lower results (15 percent satisfied).

One might counter that everyone exaggerates or is reticent about their sexuality, skewing the stats. But in international comparisons, Japanese are rarely shy about presenting an upbeat image of their society to the world. Such low figures for Japan say to me that people are being brutally honest about sex, or that a lack of sexuality is not perceived as something negative.

This matters. It is one more disincentive to marry in Japan. Indeed, why lock yourself into a marriage to someone who becomes a sibling instead of a spouse?

Sex life is not part of the dialog on the decline in Asian marriage. But in Japan’s case, it should be.

It is Japan’s worst-kept secret.

Arudou Debito’s novel “In Appropriate” is now on sale (www.debito.org/inappropriate.html) Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Twitter arudoudebito. Send comments to community@japantimes.co.jp. Responses to last month’s column, “The loneliness of the long-distance foreigner,” will be published and posted online next Tuesday.

18 comments on “Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column Sept 6, 2011, “‘Sexlessness’ wrecks marriages, threatens nation’s future”

  • Midfield Marauder says:

    Most people will probably assume some kind of autobiographical tone to this Debito, but that aside, in my own relationship, things have definitely slowed down now that kids are in the picture.

    3 times a week has become 3 times a month. Took a while to get used to but have accepted it now and the relationship is still working fine.

  • Perhaps a straw poll of married couples on Debito.org might yield interesting results from your readership. It would be revealing if similar results of low activity held true even for international marriages (assuming most of your readers are not Japanese-Japanese couples).

    — That’s a very good idea, thanks. I’ve just created a poll to that effect.

  • Stress, lack of communication….in a country where people are still under pressure to marry without really knowing their partners, this is not a surprise.

    Wonder how it is in the gay community.

  • This is Japan, there is no gay community (of course I’m being facetious)

    I had been here a while before I took an active interest I’m dating Japanese ladies (hadn’t really planned to stay long), but by the time I did I’d heard all the horror stories from foreign male friends about their sexless marriages. I’d also met a few who actually had functional sexual and emotional relationships years after nuptials and kids got on the scene for them.

    My conclusion was that those who actually communicated with their wives, took a serious interest in doing so and made the effort to make their ladies feel special and sexy got along quite well, despite the issues of making time around the kids needs, work, housework, etc.

    Further, those who rushed into, or allowed themselves to be rushed into relationships with women they didn’t know so well, for reasons of language barriers, or other communication issues, such as not having discussed their true feelings about the future and their goals, wishes about where to live and career and such, how they wanted kids educated, what language they would speak, money issues, etc, all found themselves in deep trouble, many sooner rather than later, but at a time when kids were already in the picture.

    Of course this is somewhat a generalisation of the experiences of western men I have met here, and no offence is intended to anyone.

    But these stories have saved me many times, when I’ve had girlfriends who aren’t up to scratch in emotional and psychological terms, and would have led to disastrous marriage, but I got out in time thanks to the words and experiences of older wiser men.

    Recently, I’ve met a lady who isn’t so set in her ways that she can cope with living outside the Japanese collective square. She’s very much her own person, and much more like myself in mind and sense of adventure, and willingness to live wherever, and it looks rather promising.

    The moral to this rant? If something is wrong with the relationship, unless you’re blinded by lust, you’ll see it very early, and know the end is coming, whether the issues that will lead to that be yours, hers, or both.

  • The real issue that the article makes regards sexlessness itself, not its effect
    on marriage.

    If Japanese are the least sexual group amongst 41 different countries, that is
    a real threat to Japan’s public health.

    Loss of sexuality is often accompanied by depression, and a general decline in

    That deterioration of the overall public health is serious.

    Just as Canadians and Americans are too often obese, and must take steps
    nationally to reduce the incidence of obesity, Japanese are too sexless, it
    appears, and should take steps to increase the incidence of healthy sexuality.

    The media could certainly portray the benefits and pleasures of healthy
    sexuality as could public health NGOs.

    If Japanese mental health groups spoke of the benefits of healthy sex lives,
    that would seem to benefit all of society.

    And the media could show that sexually active and healthy individuals of all
    ages are happier overall than less sexually active individuals.

    The reason why I say that the article is not about the effect of sexlessness on marriage is that there are no data presented on sexlessness amongst couples married when compared to sexlessness amongst non-married couples.

    Were it to be the case that marriage causes sexlessness amongst couples, but non-marriage has no such effect, then the solution would be that of the Netherlands, where many simply never marry.

    But, I infer that the article is really not addressing marriage, but merely sexlessness amongst all couples.

    — Nice point. However, I bet that there are more married couples in Japan than non-married “couples” (however defined) due to age bands, but that would be a very hard stat to compile. So never mind, your point is well taken.

  • I married someone 11 years younger. No problems in this category. I have kids too.

    The sexless issue with others could be related to just not being interested. I mean working long hours, the wife calling all the shots like a second boss, money issues etc. would turn most off.

  • Not that pertinent.

    You are not comparing apples with apples. The “data” does not compare before and after frequency, so there is no analytic indication that the relative drop off is different or the same in Japan versus other nationalities.

    If one looks at the anecdotal data of marriages becoming “sexless” after the production of a child then, while not categorically proven, the reduced testosterone theory does appear to be pertinent.

    Of course, it does not explain, in that case, why some (typically men) bemoan the absence of post-children sex: If there were only one dimension to the cause-effect relationship, then those men would have reduced testosterone and therefore not necessarily miss the bedroom activity.

    The research makes another suggestion — that those men more actively engaged in the upbringing of the child have a lower sex-drive than those who are not. So, does that suggest the men complaining about sex drying up after the issue of a child are not pulling their weight with the child-care?

    I think you need to be open to the idea that there can be multiple factors involved, both societal and physiological.

  • “You are not comparing apples with apples.”


    The Durex data, which is described in the article and precipitated the article, is apples with apples.

    Japanese have a higher incidence of sexlessness than all others.

    If testosterone drops off with childrearing, and if such reduced testosterone results in sexlessness, then that should be as true among Norwegians as Japanese (unless one posits that Japanese are biologically different than other humans).

    Yet, the Durex study shows that Japanese are more sexless than other groups.

    If the theory is that Japanese men are more likely to be child-rearers than all other nationalities, then I believe that the facts do not support that.

    Japanese men are less involved in child-rearing than many others, I find.

    Of course, I do not think that data are there to show that the reduction of testosterone that may occur due to childcare tasks actually does result in reduced sexual function or libido.

    So, again, I would say that the reduction in testosterone is not pertinent to the Durex study that shows that Japanese are the most sexless.

    I think that the causes are likely multi-factoral, but probably not due to reduced testosterone.

    I am unaware of any data that show that teststerone levels or functionality is different amongst Japanese than amongst any other nationality.

  • Read again. You’re talking about the Durex data. I’m talking about the concept that coitus drops off after marriage, specifically after having kids. You’re arguing a point I didn’t make.

    Here’s the specific quote in the article to which it is potentially pertinent:

    “There is of course plenty of coupling and intimacy before matrimony (as I’m sure many of our readers can attest), but once kids are in the picture (people are even discouraged from having intercourse while pregnant), sex can decrease markedly or even become nonexistent for a habit-forming period of time.”

  • Regarding the quote you provide:

    “There is of course plenty of coupling and intimacy before matrimony (as I’m sure many of our readers can attest), but once kids are in the picture (people are even discouraged from having intercourse while pregnant), sex can decrease markedly or even become nonexistent for a habit-forming period of time.”

    I would ask why are Japanese more sexless?

    Is your implication that Japanese are the most sexless because they have the most kids in the picture?

    I think that the data contradict that.

    Yes, for all humans sex can decrease after children, but why are Japanese the most sexless?

    The fact that Japanese have children does not seem to be an answer.

    Japanese have fewer children than some of the countries listed.

    — Reread my column for my theory why.

  • “Disincentive to marry Japanese” ?? Was talking to my foreign buddies here in Japan. A considerable number have frequent sex and mutually good sex. We always wonder what these guys are doing in their daily lives or in bed. Oh, to be a fly on the wall just once.

    Can’t make Japanese friends…sexless marriages…hmm…what’s wrong with this picture? There must be some common denominator.

  • Trust me, its not just Japan:

    “Fanny is not alone in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, where life pace is so hectic that many people do not have the opportunity to take part in one of the most important aspects of modern life: sex.

    According to a survey by condom maker Durex on sexual habits of people around the globe, Hong Kong locals are, for the fourth year in a row, having much less sex than the global average.

    Hong Kong people engage in sex 78 times a year, well behind those on the mainland and miles away from the lusty Greeks who are amorous on 138 occasions. The global average is 103, the survey said.”

    Full article at http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2006-04/15/content_568472.htm

    A lot of Christians with Victorian values, something which doesnt feature in Japan`s problems.

  • All this talk of sexlessness makes me a bit irritated. My wife and I have sex maybe once a month, sometimes more often, sometimes less. We love each other deeply but I guess neither of us really have that strong of a sex drive. Why are couples like us so often demonized?

    — I’m not sure that’s what’s happening here. I’m pleased that you are both on the same wavelength on this. But for those who are not, being in a sexless marriage can be hurtful to the relationship on many levels, as has been discussed here. The lack of a constructive avenue of resolution in Japanese society, for those in that situation who see it as a problem, is the issue.


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