A recent story in the Guardian rocketed around the internet recently. It’s not surprising how quickly the story was picked up given the provocative headline: “Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?”
Now, obviously, a whole country didn’t completely literally stop having sex, but birth rates have been dropping and interest in sex and relationships have been measured at record lows.
The number of single people has reached a record high. A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all. (There are no figures for same-sex relationships.) Although there has long been a pragmatic separation of love and sex in Japan – a country mostly free of religious morals – sex fares no better. A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact”. More than a quarter of men felt the same way.
What is going on here?
The article lists all the usual excuses: too busy, too tired, technological substitutes, you know the story. But there are other reasons, too. Businesses feel women will quit their jobs once they have a baby. And they feel babies are likely after marriage. Thus women put off marriage to avoid triggering career suicide. But overall, those interviewed for the article make it sound like it’s just a big bother. There’s work to be done and the reward doesn’t match the effort.
One must be careful not to stereotype an entire culture when reading these type of stories. We also must avoid projecting our own biases onto these people. But perhaps we can learn something about ourselves by viewing this phenomenon from the safe perspective of our own culture.
To me, the interesting aspect is the disconnect from what is real and what is important in life. And this is where I see North Americans heading down the same road, although the exact manifestation looks different.
Capitalism is an awesome power. I love the power of money to motivate people. I love how it makes us push ourselves to do better. An unleashed marketplace is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. But it makes a better servant than a master.
The Japanese obsession with career mirrors our own in many ways. But like many things exported from America, they’ve taken our ideas and made them more efficient. I was in Japan a few years ago and riding the subway during the evening was a stereotype come to life. The train cars are totally silent. Each and every person (except for we tourists) was glazed over and typing frantically on their cell phone. They were tired, you could tell. The kind of tired you only get from being in an office all day. Their bodies swayed gently as the train rolled along. They glanced up only occasionally to see if it was their stop. On the sidewalks, people rush quickly to and from their jobs, barely looking from side-to-side as they scurry (violent crime is almost unheard of so there is little need to glance around for personal protection the way we do here in the U.S.)
I think what Japan has created here is the perfect worker drone, or something close to it. Could this help explain the Japanese fascination with robots?
(Quick side note: I don’t mean to imply everyone we met everywhere has turned into a worker drone. It was also one of the most peaceful and calm places I’ve been. People largely were very happy, open and friendly. They believe in nature, beauty and well-designed cities. It’s just in the business districts and subways where you could really see the strain on the working class.)
In modern times, the Japanese have an unwritten understanding of lifetime (or close to it) job security. In recent years, this is reportedly slipping with more contract workers and less security overall. However, incidences of losing one’s job involuntarily are still quite rare. This security comes with a price, however, in many unpaid hours and institutional and peer pressure to work many hours. On a societal level this obviously impacts relationships and family stability. On an individual level, the price is even higher as many lead empty, unfulfilling lives of drudgery and exhaustion. Who benefits? Well, the employers, of course, pocketing free labor and a stable workforce. What does it matter if people drop dead from overwork? Yes, it happens. It’s a phenomenon common enough there is actually a word for it: karoshi.
Are we heading this direction? Are we already there? We already have a massive labor theft problem here. We already have families falling apart under financial strain. We spend hours glazed over sitting in idling cars trying to get home where we glaze over a few hours more watching TV before stumbling to bed to do it all over again. Japan may have a low marriage rate, but we have an abysmal divorce rate. While it’s still expected that the mother stays home to raise the child in Japan, we ship our little ones off to be raised by others in large groups of other kids. Maybe we’re all just the same.
Naturopathic doctors often look at the skin to determine your overall health. Blemishes, rashes, pimples, etc. are all indicators of various medical issues, frequently related to diet. More fundamentally, however, clear, glowing skin indicates vibrant health. Just look up “health” in any stock image site to see what I mean.
A person’s sex life is the same way. It can be an indicator of overall health and life balance. While not as outwardly visible as your skin, it’s still acts as the same type of viewing window into your overall life — even if you’re the only one who can see it.
When something as fundamental as normal sexual interactions between people begins to break down, we know the problems run deep and have been building for years, possibly generations.
The Japanese are panicking because they are concerned about a shrinking economy (and their obsession with racial purity precludes them leaning on immigration the way other countries have done.) We don’t yet know what other problems these breakdowns in normal human interactions will have. We know pretending we can force ourselves into something beyond human causes major dysfunction — just ask any altar boy. We also well understand the strain modern life can take on us, most clearly seen when the vulnerable finally snap — all too often with weaponry in-hand.
Humans are animals as much as we like to we pretend we’re not. Allowing ourselves to be turned into machines for the sake of money is damaging to ourselves and society. Yes, we need food, clothing, shelter, rest, sex, love and emotional support to survive. And that’s just for survival. Is survival the goal? Or should the goal be to live as full and vibrant a life as possible? Society should be geared to harvest the maximum value from each individual, but that value shouldn’t be measured in money.
The important thing is that men should have a purpose in life. It should be something useful, something good.
No one wants to give up the advancements of the modern world. In many important ways, things are better now than they have ever been. But we cannot lose who we are. Stories like this one out of Japan should be the canaries in the coal mine warning us we’re veering off-course. It’s not too late to change and individuals must lead the way by valuing their humanity more than money. Choose how much and when you’ll work. Buy your freedom as soon as possible and devote your life to what you think is important. Your society (and your spouse) will thank you.