Half of married couples in Japan are sexless

Every two or so months, we seem to stumble upon yet another news story about sexlessness in Japan. And with perfect timing, here’s the latest, following the claim that two in three marriages in Japan are sexless that we wrote about in January.

As always, these assertions are based on surveys with dubiously small samples. First published in the Japan Times, this latest story states that nearly half of married couples don’t have sex. (And if you’re now feeling déjà vu, you’re not alone: an almost identical article appeared in 2017.)

The first question mark about this is the definition of sexless.

Here, the criteria is sexual activity once a month. That’s a reasonable line in the sand, we suppose, though with how long people work in Japan and the toil of having children (plus maybe a business trip or two), a month is not such a long time. Add in other factors more specific to Japan — the custom of sleeping as a family together in a room on futons laid out next to each other or the thinness of walls in apartments — and a dry spell is not just expected, it’s arguably necessary to avoid being caught in flagrante by other members of your family.

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The findings come from a Japan Family Planning Association survey, which came out at the end of last week. The survey was held with a random sample of 3,000 men and women aged between 16 and 49, though a mere 26.6% of the target sample responded. We are also confused about the sample choice, since the findings are all about married couples but the source article throws in a finding about unmarried couples, implying that the sample size of married respondents is even smaller that 26.6%.

Such quibbles about methodology aside, why are couples not intimate? Most male respondents gave the reason that chimes true if you have ever scanned Reddit forums where husbands gripe about their wives: the wife does not respond to their advances.

For women, the main reason is more practical: intimacy is too much hassle. Other common reasons women gave were work fatigue and the changes rendered to their body by pregnancy or giving birth.

There is a clear gender divide here, with the guys clearly keen on maintaining intimacy but a significant minority of women not enthusiastic at all.

About 80% of men answered that they were “interested” in having sex, while about 40% of women answered that they were “not interested.”

In which case, openness may be the best medicine — along with the promise to make intimacy interesting and decidedly not a hassle for both members of a couple.

Easier to write on a blog than in practice, indeed, but we’ve seen married friends retreat into bitter silences about intimacy, and it is one of the factors that leads to divorce, though ironically, the kids who are indirectly responsible for the sexlessness are also often directly the reason that unhappy couples may stay stubbornly together.

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We would also be interested to hear if these numbers are similar for couples who are not married and/or don’t have kids. Fear is the mind killer, as Frank Herbert memorably wrote, but offspring are the intimacy killer. (The article states that 41.4% of men and 36.6% of women unmarried between the ages of 18 and 34 said that they “never had sexual intercourse,” but we don’t understand how this fits in with the survey, which is otherwise framed in terms of married couples.)

We have seen a lot of these “sexless Japan” stories and surveys over the years, and they are much of a muchness. However, they sometimes claim to demonstrate a trend toward increased sexlessness. In other words, contemporary lifestyle or attitudes are actively decreasing intimacy.

The results of the survey showed that 48.3% of married couples were “sexless,” up 1.1 percentage point from the previous survey conducted in 2016. The rate of sexless couples has continued to increase year by year since 2004, when it was 31.9%.

If that’s true, we should be worried, since the population of Japan is declining, fewer people are marrying, and fewer children are being born.

The director of the Japan Family Planning Association, a physician who oversaw the survey, warned, “It is definitely possible that this trend toward sexlessness will continue in the future.”

Let’s assume it’s true, and it might well correspond with similar trends outside Japan, the reasons are probably quite complex. The ready availability of pornography (and other content like hentai manga and eroge) on people’s phones in the age of 4G means the members of sexless couples can satisfy their desire for sex (at least to a certain extent).

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In general, Japan’s adult video industry is huge and accessible, with content for every fetish and taste, and that’s before we even start thinking about the vast array of incredible sex toys that exist (for both men and women).

And likewise, prostitution and compensated dating offer options for married men or women who want sex, just as long as they have the yen to pay for it. Oh, and having an affair is also pretty common among Japanese men too.

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