Headed for Extinction

The Japanese Can't Be Bothered with Sex

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When a society no longer desires to make babies, could it also lose its desire for...well, relations, too? Stay tuned to BreakPoint.

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Eric Metaxas

Long-time BreakPoint listeners know about Japan’s catastrophically-low birthrates: by 2060, Japan’s population is projected to fall by a third, the same percentage killed by the Black Death in 14th-century Europe.

Japan’s demographic decline has spawned some creepy adaptations, such as lifelike talking dolls for elderly Japanese without grandchildren, or the borrowing of other people’s grandchildren for a day.

Attempts to encourage child-bearing through economic incentives have failed, as they have in other countries with low birth-rates. Younger Japanese aren’t interested in reproducing themselves.

And now, according to a recent article in the UK’s Guardian, they’re increasingly uninterested in sex, as well.

A 2011 survey found that 61 percent of unmarried men and 49 percent of unmarried women between 18 and 34 were not involved in any kind of relationship. Another survey found that a third of those under thirty had never dated.

Daily_Commentary_10_28_13MMore ominously, a study by the Japan Family Planning Association revealed that 45 percent of all Japanese women between the ages of 16 and 24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact.” More than a quarter of their male counterparts felt the same way.

As the Guardian puts it, “Japan’s under-40s won’t go forth and multiply out of duty, as postwar generations did.” Why? Part of the reason has to do with Japanese attitudes to women in the workforce. As one 32-year-old woman told the paper, “a woman’s chances of promotion in Japan stop dead as soon as she marries.” The assumption is that she’ll become pregnant and have to resign.

While that helps to explain why her generation isn’t having children or even getting married, it doesn’t explain the lack of interest in sex. And it certainly doesn’t explain why an increasing number of Japanese men aren’t interested in it either.

One 31-year-old man spoke for many of his peers when he said, “I find some of my female friends attractive but I've learned to live without sex. Emotional entanglements are too complicated . . . I can’t be bothered.”

“Can’t be bothered.” Or mendokusai in Japanese. (Didn’t think I could speak Japanese, did you? Well, I can’t.)

Most of the other possible factors the Guardian cites, including “the lack of a religious authority that ordains marriage and family,” are only partial explanations. Japan’s “precarious earthquake-prone ecology that engenders feelings of futility, and the high cost of living and raising children” don’t explain the increasing lack of interest in sex. But here’s something that does: it’s the lack of interest in having children. The assumption of the sexual revolution was that, having severed the link between sex and procreation, the result would be “better sex.”

Newsletter_Gen_180x180_BBut the Japanese experience suggests that the opposite may be closer to the truth. Having stripped sex of one of its God-ordained purpose, we turned it into just another pleasurable human activity, albeit one that often comes with complicated emotional entanglements.

Since the “urban pastimes” available to younger Japanese provide pleasure without the entanglements, sex can seem like a bad investment of time and energy. Mendokusai.

The Guardian calls Japan’s separation of love and sex “pragmatic.” But the evidence strongly suggests that there is nothing “pragmatic”—as in “dealing with things sensibly and realistically”—about that separation. We human beings simply aren’t wired that way.

In some important respects, the difference between Japan and us is one of degree, not kind. It remains to be seen if a generation of young Americans will one day replace “whatever” with “mendokusai.”

Further Reading and Information

BP-Takeaction_102813Headed for Extinction: The Japanese Can’t Be Bothered with Sex - Next Steps

Japan's experience is a cautionary tale of what can happen when sex is separated from love and procreation, and considered just another past-time. When people "can't be bothered," a culture dies out.

Click on the link to John Stonestreet's thought-provoking series "Sexual Brokenness" which highlights  what we must understand to navigate our culture's brokenness without becoming a victim of it.



Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?
Abigail Haworth | The Observer | October 19, 2013

"The Talk" CD and "Sexual Brokenness" Special Set
John Stonestreet | BreakPoint


The effect of pornography
I agree with Mr. Smith. My understanding is that pornography has been widely accepted in Japan for a long time. My understanding is that it is so accepted that men will sit in public places and look at pornography in a way that allows even a casual passerby see what they are doing.
Life imitates art?
The study about falling reproduction rates and how it interacted with sexual desire was foretold by PD James in her book "Children of Men".
Is this the direction of the US?
I love the Japanese and have lived in Japan (but my Japanese is as bad as Eric's). I wonder if we took away the Japanese sense of society at the end of the War, when we stripped them of their God, made the Emperor admit he was not descended from the Sun, and did not offer a replacement. The ancestor worship I have seen in Japan, or the Bhuddism, is a poor substitute for a religion that offers an interaction with a living and loving God. A religion that is both relevant and that offers hope.

I wonder if the constant trashing of the American culture -- and its faith-based foundations -- will lead to the US becoming irrelevant. I already see the same trends in college age students, who are either not interested in procreation, or who see it as a distraction.
In the "can it happen here?" discussion, attention should be paid to the effect of pornography. I don't remember if it was a prior BP commentary, or a link from the blog, that noted that extensive use of pornography reduces the ability to actually perform. Just another extension of Gresham's Law: Bad money drives out good, and counterfeit sex drives out the real thing.