Why Isn’t Japan Having Sex?

According to a recent study commissioned by the Japanese government, the country’s desire for sex is dropping quickly.

The biennial survey, originally designed to gauge the success of the country’s birth-control education, revealed that 36.1 percent of Japanese males between 16 and 19 had no interest in or even loathed sex. In 2008, that number was 17.5 percent.

Of girls in that 16–19 age group, 59 percent had no interest in sex, up 12 points from 2008.

Forty percent of married people admitted to not having sex within the last month.

Overall, the fertility rate in Japan has dropped to 1.37 births per woman. It’s 2.06 in the U.S. Such a low rate, if it continues, could have major consequences for the Japanese economy.

All age categories, other than men 30 to 34, reported a general indifference toward sex, compared to the responses from two years ago.

Why such a drop in sexual desire?

The plight of the young Japanese man with no sexual desire has been covered before. They’re known as “grass-eating boys” or “herbivores.” They’re young men with no real interest in sex, a relationship, a career, or most material things. A convergence of two of the country’s biggest problems: the fledgling birth rate and the drop in consumption.

Alexandra Harney wrote about “The Herbivore’s Dilemma” for Slate in June of 2009:

Grass-eating boys’ commitment phobia is not the only thing that’s worrying Japanese women. Unlike earlier generations of Japanese men, they prefer not to make the first move, they like to split the bill, and they’re not particularly motivated by sex. “I spent the night at one guy’s house, and nothing happened—we just went to sleep!” moaned one incredulous woman on a TV program devoted to herbivores. “It’s like something’s missing with them,” said Yoko Yatsu, a 34-year-old housewife, in an interview. “If they were more normal, they’d be more interested in women. They’d at least want to talk to women.”

The herbivores have rejected just about every traditional definition of masculinity. The growing role of women in professional Japan, along with fewer guaranteed-salary positions—formerly a staple of Japanese culture—led to the rise of the herbivore, according to Harney.

At the same time, the increased role of women in Japanese society might be hurting the sex drive of those same women. It’s still a widely held belief in Japan that women should quit their jobs once they give birth. So, they’re rejecting sex and marriage in the interest of a prolonged, more successful career.

As I mentioned, once Japanese men and women get married, their sexual desire doesn’t seem to increase either. For the couples that weren’t having frequent sex, reasons cited were a “vague reluctance after childbirth, that they could not be bothered, or that they were too tired after work.”

If no one’s having sex, Japan’s birthrate can’t increase. And it needs to: the country’s population dropped by a record number in 2010.

What do you think of Japan’s countrywide lack of a sex drive? What about the herbivores? How can Japan right the ship? Let us know.

—Photo mecredis/Flickr

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About Ryan O'Hanlon

Ryan O'Hanlon is the managing editor of the Good Men Project. He used to play soccer and go to college. He's still trying to get over it. You can follow him on Twitter @rwohan.

Comments

  1. There is no feminism in Japan so it can’t win.

    The reason for no sex among married couples is due to overwork. The same is probably true of many youngsters. However there is also a strange asexuality that you find in many Japanese people. For girls its almost like they are too pure for sex. For guys its that they are too disinterested/cool for sex. Nevertheless I think a lot of sex happens. After all they have many love hotels.

    Plus many Japanese go to sex workers of various sorts. There are prostitutes, hostesses, and girls who are paid to talk to you.

  2. (r)Evoluzione says:

    Also of note, Japan has:

    High levels of industrial pollution, lots of plastic products with endocrine disruptors like BPA & pthalates, pesticides, lots and lots of stress, and now radioactive waste spewing out of Fukushima for the last year-ish.

    All of these factors contribute to declines in testosterone in men.

    Plus a lot of the most aggressive, high-T Japanese were killed off in WWII before they could reproduce, thus producing artificial selection of less aggressive men in subsequent generations.

  3. PursuitAce says:

    That’s exactly what I was thinking DB. If everyone is happy what’s the problem.? And shouldn’t the headline be “Feminism Wins in Japan”? I see something similar starting here. The Slate article is a little more positive on the turn of events.
    That 17 to 36 percent increase in 2 years is absolutely stunning though.

  4. DavidByron says:

    “Of the 1,000 single men in their 20s and 30s polled by Lifenet, a Japanese life-insurance company, 75 percent described themselves as grass-eating men.”

    75% is a lot. It seems that they are choosing a simpler way of life because they have no money due to twenty year long economic downturn. Women are expensive; playing computer games is cheap.

  5. DavidByron says:
  6. DavidByron says:

    Are they happy?

    That seems like vital information missing from the story although it hints at a “no”, it might just be the angle the story was pitched at. At any rate a reduced population is probably a good thing, but if it is not they can always increase immigration.

  7. Living in Tokyo since over 30 years, I think, some reduction of the population is not bad at all – it is crowded with 126 million people on these few islands and with over 36 million people during rush-hour in Metropolitan Tokyo area.

    There is a lot of activity going on here day and night, and sex for sure is not everything.

    Sex? There is plenty of sex available, your choice what you need and nightlife is fairly open and friendly and legal.
    Here you can find everything what you need as a man, any form of sex you can imagine, from sex-comic to 30 minutes hotelroom-quickservice, from a girlfriend up to a long lasting marriage over decades.

    About marriage, is there any advantage for a man to marry?
    If not why should a Japanese man marry? Any reason to do so?

  8. I really don’t know and whatever explanation I could give would seem very superficial since I don’t know that much about the country.

    But one I can say is young men with no interest in sex is a GOOD thing not a bad thing. A lot of the negative behaviors men do is caused by having a overheated sex drive. So less young men obsessed with sex means less sexual harassment, aggressive behavior and deception in dating.

    Herbivores cause less trouble than predators.

    • I get what your trying to say but….Darwin did not get everything right but you do realize that without sexual selection you might not exist. There are a lot of negatives in dating but there are positives as well. Even if you could enact less deception in dating you do realize logically that would negate the existence of even what some would call the best of the human race (bird mating behavior is a good starting point). Herbivores do not cause less trouble, that’s relative. I could introduce a foreign herbivore to a new environment and cause competition between two species of herbivore and achieve the same “trouble.”

  9. Wirblewind says:

    Yay ! Males no longer want to opress women by having sex ! Feminist victory, heh.
    More seriously: men there don’t want to have sex because they are dead tired from work, it is stressful and working too hard is a way to show your dedication to the company (having a family member that died from overworking is for quite a few a badge of honor). Younger guys simply don’t want to share their fathers’ fate so they backpedal furiously whenever a female tries to get laid with them. Of course, it is an atrocious simplification, but you get the picture.

  10. Howitshouldbe says:

    I really thing the rest of the world should follow suit.

  11. What I think says:

    I think another reason for this is the lifestyle in Japan. It’s very expensive and the thought of having a child or being in a relationship is not money wise. Career and stress level is another reason why some people do not have the drive to do it. A relative of mine hates it here in Japan because of all the high taxes and hopes to migrate to other country. and lastly I think the other group of people in Japan that is not career oriented are very satisfied with their hands. some studies show that men who masturbates a lot makes them incompetent and lose their self-confidence in interacting with opposite sex. 😉

  12. “If no one’s having sex, Japan’s birthrate can’t increase. And it needs to: the country’s population dropped by a record number in 2010.”

    It’s birthrate doesn’t need to increase. It just needs to open up on its immigration policy if it’s so consumed by economics, like the rest of us are.

  13. “they prefer not to make the first move, they like to split the bill, and they’re not particularly motivated by sex.”

    Male feminists.

  14. wellokaythen says:

    Could be the economic context. One factor is that Japan has a much more workaholic culture than just about anywhere in the world. I don’t know if that’s gotten worse in recent years, but being overworked is very common in Japan. Maybe working long hours just doesn’t feel as fulfilling as it used to be, and with the recession, anxiety about your job translates into lack of interest in other things.

  15. This is actually pretty funny, in a I-have-no-direct-relation-with-this-social-issue-therefore-I-am-not-bothered-by-it kind of way; men are always treated like sexual dogs, yet here they are being treated like “herbivores.” However, I don’t think this has much to do with women getting jobs. Many women over here in the U.S. have careers, and yet men are still categorized as “selfish, sex hounds;” also, as you pointed out, the percentage of women who are not interested in sex has also increased. I think maybe this has more to do with an oppressive/repressive culture and high levels of depression(also, seeking treatment for mental illnesses such as depression is heavily discouraged in Asian cultures). It seems like a unique phenomena to me. That being said, maybe we should stop pretending that the only thing men care about is sex, and conversely, that women don’t want men to be interested in sex 😉 just in case

    • I don’t know about that, isn’t it plausible that raising the cost of being a husband can lead to some men to graciefully opt out of the marriage contract?

      Maybe this is a reflection of modern individualism.

  16. Josue García Yza says:

    get me to Japan and i will find the way to have as much sex as i can 😉

  17. nomoreh1b says:

    I think Japan is something of a contradiction. There is a big porn industry in Japan-but folks aren’t procreating-and asexuality is rising. That said, there are Japanese having sex. The biggest orgy in the world was in Japan. Swinging in Japan is becoming much bigger.

    the Procreation issue can be handled in part by careful incentives that support parents more effectively.There is a reason why Sweden has a higher birthrate than france or Italy. I’m not saying Sweden is utopia. This stuff would also have to be adapted to Japanese sensibilities.
    The thing is:housing in Japan is insanely expensive-which makes the idea of procreating less appealing.

    Japanese men area also big on sex tourism-if they have the money. I suspect these herbavoires DO NOT and have given up on it. I think in general:
    put money into the hands of young men and they WILL tend to spend it on getting sex in various ways.

  18. samuel welsh says:

    its a sadd problem here, japanese wifes also have it.
    very unromantic country.

  19. Neoimperialist says:

    This is what happens when a society messes around with gender roles and identities. In case you haven’t picked up on it, American men are rejecting American women too.

  20. Well I think if there is no sex drive, make the men watch porn. That is what they do with pandas in captivity to get them to breed. Seriously, they do that. Look it up.

  21. Sex has always been very different in Japan than it is in western cultures. In Japan, the idea that a man should turn to his wife for sexual pleasure is a very new and very Western idea. For centuries, there have been two categories of women: wives and water trade women. Wives were expected to be modest, frugal, and good at rearing children. They were not expected to be witty, intellectual, or sexy. Water trade women, on the other hand (the old courtesans, prostitutes, dancers, geisha, waitresses, and the modern bar hostess) all worked jobs that required them to be intellectual and sexy because tehir job was to stroke a man’s ego and sexual desire. Prostitution was legal in Japan up until 1958. Even as recent as the 1970s (see Liza Dalby’s anthropological study “Geisha), men were still turning to geisha and bar hostesses for fulfilling female relationships. (Though these women are not prostitutes and should not be confused as such.)

    The Westernization of Japan could very well be what is killing their sex drive. To ask them to put aside centuries of clear-cut gender roles will be a hard thng for them.

    • You’ve got to be kidding me. Japan is just returning to their original roots, a mostly pastoral island nation that barely registered a blip in global events for hundreds of years, like Indonesia. Westernization didn’t kill their sex drive, in fact it was Westernization that first sparked their “animal spirits” since the Meiji Restoration. Japan’s WWII adventures were a product of Westernization (although bastardized), not the other way around.

      China for instance has adopted Westernization with full force in recent years and you see a lot of testosterone today in their society, much more aggressive than Japan today.

    • Exactly. This chick knows what she’s talking about.

      Jon, the good part of westernization, namely, capitalism is masculine at its core and encourages the sex drives of both genders, but the bad part that Katy is referring to (the thing that saps men’s sexual energy) is feminism.

      Feminism tries to overturn traditional gender roles and the problem with that is that when women start acting like men, it’s a TURN OFF! Same as when men act too feminine and metro. So when men feel emasculated (as they do now watching millions of Japanese women take their jobs and leave them living in their parent’s basements), they feel less like men. It’s a very simple dynamic (and one that’s happening all over the world in other feminized countries–Sweden, starting to happen here in the US etc.)

      When your government creates a welfare state that marginalizes the need for the family unit and traditional values (dad, mom, keeping a household, child-rearing etc.) it has a devastating effect on marriage rates, sex etc. This is common knowledge. Again, research Sweden, a feminist’s fantasy-land and see what the result of that experiment was (and still is, unfortunately).

      My advice to Japanese men (coming from an American who sympathizes with the situation and who in many ways sees the same thing happening here with rampant Socialism a la Obama) is to do what American guys do–enjoy the easy sex that feminism makes possible by banging as many career-minded feminist chicks as possible and when you get bored of that, either wife up a girl who still sees value in family-life or marry someone from a different culture altogether.

      • Their women aren’t feminist in any sense of the word. Their men simply don’t care as much about sex as men here do. I know this is a difficult thing to understand because in Western society today there are only two important drives: the drive for sex and the drive for money.

        The drive for money has been there for a long time but the importance of sex is very recent. In the 18th and 19th century the greatest concerns were not sexual. People strove for things like rank, honour, respectability, social esteem. So Japan is not so much an aberration. We are.

  22. Because Japanese society is too oppressive. It doesn’t allow people to develop their personalities. Women are still discriminated against a lot more than in the West, and there are almost no out of wedlock births. I believe if you took out all the out of wedlock births, the US birth rate would be the same as Japan’s or lower.

    • There is no evidence that women are discriminated against in the west, but there is evidence of preferential hiring.

      Where is the evidence on Japan?

  23. *sigh* But they are having sex. Why else do you think Japan has a massive sex industry built around porn and prostitutes and a culture of making women sexual objects?

    What they are not having is relationships and babies. You need to look at it from the other side too – as a women you get knocked up its not all that expensive, time consuming or morally difficult to have to aborted.

    Compared to “normal” Japanese men – men who molest women at every chance, who go on sex tours throughout Asia, men who have enabled things like ‘Love Hotels’ to exist, men who keep LV and Hostess Clubs in business – compared to them these guys are like court eunuchs.

    • “Compared to “normal” Japanese men – men who molest women at every chance, who go on sex tours throughout Asia”

      Do you have any evidence at all that is representitive of “normal” japanese men? There would have to be evidence that is a majority to make such claims as “normal”, otherwise it’s just an unsupported stereotype. How many nerds, how many perverts? Where is the evidence?

      • In Japan, it’s very common for women to be molested in public transporation systems. Look it up. It’s gotten so bad they’ve had to have their own compartment, but if there’s no room and a woman finds herself with the men, the men thinks she’s free game. Japanese men are also not afraid to grope women…in plain view.

        • Plus, there are also stores in Japan that sell used panties from Japanese schoolgirls.

        • Its not quite as common as you think it is. It happens for sure. But its not that common. India for instance has a big problem with this. I took the Japanese transit.

          Typically no one will even look at you. They consider it rude.

  24. i wonder how much this is related to lack of sex drive/increase in “herbivores”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/17/world/asia/17japan.html?_r=1

  25. This survery seems incomplete. It provides a lot of information about how men (and women) in Japan are not having sex with each other. It provides no information about anyone’s level of ‘carnal urges’. Perhaps given the ubiquity of porn they are all finding it easier to just ‘date’ themselves.

  26. How demeaning it is to be called an “Herbivore” when referring to a man’s sexual appetite! If the culture has turned emasculating then what the hell do you expect? I am married, but if I had to go through the dating scene again, its not too hard to imagine how one could become depressed about dating real fast. The demands upon single men to be perfect “knights-in-shining-armor” are immense and an impossible criteria to meet, so at some point one could easily say, “why try?”

    • The culture hasn’t done any such thing. Hardcore masculinity is still the norm.. hence peope in Japan just freaking out about these herbivore men.

      I don’t think people view herbivore and carnivore as necessarily demeaning… I saw a documentary where young men were self-identifying.

      • “Hardcore masculinity is still the norm”

        There is no hardcore masculinity in Japan. My Japanese ex used to tell me that Japanese men are too weak. She meant both physically and in other ways. Korean men on the other hand are very different…there are plenty of extremely masculine me there.

        The younger generation in Japan is completely feminized. Many even look like girls.

  27. “These men see a relationship as a burden, when it shouldn’t be.”

    They see relationships as one-sided…it’s all about her.
    That’s a burden when there is a gender double standard and the responsibility and blame always falls on men.
    When do we ever judge women negatively for not expressing their carnal urges?

    They are merely practicing the traditional modesty that women have always practiced.
    That’s the problem with American men, they give it up too easy.
    Anything that is easilly obtained or acquired has little value. Game theory 101.

  28. Well they can be who they want to be, I agree with that. It is just foreign to me is all. I’m not saying you go out and prey on women to fulfill your carnal urge. I’m talking about being with someone you care about, expressing those feelings. You don’t have to over do it, but there is an issue here, women are facing the same issues. It seems that traditions of the past, are fighting with the ways of the future. These men see a relationship as a burden, when it shouldn’t be. Yes we all know they can have their downsides, but being with someone you care about and love and when they love you back, is 1000X better than the supposed benefits of being single.

    Can they do what they want to do? Yes, of course. But perhaps there is a deeper issue here.

  29. @Ryan, it certainly is an insulting term because women don’t like men who won’t pander to them.

    Where is the carnal urge? Obviously these men have more important things in their lives than being controlled by their hormones. It’s good for men, but bad for women.

  30. for a country that cranks out more porn than any other country, I find it hard to believe a lack of sex drive, lol.

  31. Actually Americans work more than Japanese, Americans work more than any other industrialized country per capita. So that isn’t it.

    • “Actually Americans work more than Japanese”

      No they don’t. Japanese work way more. If statistics say otherwise than statistics are wrong.

  32. Because they are overworked to death. They need more free time.

  33. Denis, I don’t think this is politically motivated, i must admit, I try to be a better guy, but where is the carnal urge here? That is what confuses me, just strange to shy away from sex completely. Yes while immigration would help, there are old people in japan that would rather have a robot help them around the house than a foreigner. Xenophobia is high over there, but yes, a jump in the sex drive doesn’t hurt.

  34. “The herbivores have rejected just about every traditional definition of masculinity”

    What a horrible name to use for men who refuse to pander to women.
    They’re supposedly equal, shouldn’t they be treated as such?
    These men are equal rights activists.

  35. There’s a lot of interest in Japanese cultures from many countries. If they’re struggling with population issues, they should ease up immigration laws. I think they’d have a decent influx.

  36. As a character from one of my favorite anime movies said, “Overspecialize and you breed in weakness.” It’s not a surprise to me that the population is changing along with the environment that supported its growth. It definitely doesn’t seem to me to be an issue with the Japanese men, as part of “The Hervibore Dilemma” article suggests. Though I’m not surprised at the reaction of the women. I can’t say that I’ve known a woman that thought herself reasonably attractive who reacted well to someone not being moved by her. I did like they way the article ended …

    “Fukasawa sees grass-eating boys as a positive development for Japanese society. She notes that before World War II, herbivores were more common: Novelists such as Osamu Dazai and Soseki Natsume would have been considered grass-eating boys. But in the postwar economic boom, men became increasingly macho, increasingly hungry for products to mark their personal economic progress. Young Japanese men today are choosing to have less to prove.”

    I wonder what the pre-industrial population level of Japan was … and if that is where they are headed right now.

  37. If they don’t want to have sex, they don’t want t have sex. Where’s the problem? If we set the reproductive aspect aside for a moment, there isn’t one at all. Plenty of people don’t want to have sex. Most people already are straight and don’t want to have sex with half the population. So they’re not attracted to anyone in That Way? Big deal, nobody’s ever died from being a virgin.

    Looking at the population issue, I’m not concerned about that either. Why? The global population is still soaring. If they get desperate for new members of the population, I know a few Japanophiles who’d do anything to emigrate there.

    • That’s just the thing, though. Anyone who’s even vaguely acquainted with Japan’s foreign policy knows they’d rather invest billions in the robotics industry to try to solve the problem of labour shortage, in the face of possibly one of the largest population contractions in history, than open their doors any wider to immigrants.

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