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


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.


  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. DavidByron says:
  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. 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.

  6. (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.

  7. 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.


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