Saturday, January 14, 2006

Very Odd, Especially to Hypersexualized American Eyes...

Japan's Virgin Wives Turn to Sex Volunteers
Lustless matches put country on brink of demographic disaster.

By Guardian Newspapers, 4/4/2005

Like many Japanese women, Junko waited until her early 30s to get married. When she and her fiance, an employee of a well-known firm, decided to tie the knot, she set her sights on making a home, putting away some money and starting a family.
Fifteen years later, Junko and her husband are childless. It is not that they cannot have children; it is just that they have never had sex.

The sexless marriage is one of several reasons why experts fear Japan is on the verge of a demographic disaster.
In 2003 Japan's birthrate hit a record low of 1.29 - the average number of times a woman gives birth during her lifetime - one of the lowest rates in the world, according to the cabinet office. The population will peak [...] at about 128 million, then decline to just over 100 million by 2050. [...]

The number of married couples is in rapid decline. In 2000 almost 70% of men and 54% of women between 25 and 29 were unmarried. That bodes ill for the birthrate, [Ya think ?! - Oro] as conservative Japanese society frowns upon having children outside marriage.

A survey of 600 women found that 26% had not had sex with their husbands in the past year.
"We are sort of room-mates rather than a married couple," one 31-year-old man, who had not had sex with his wife for two years, told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

The government has introduced several measures to lift the birthrate. Fathers will be encouraged to take more than the 47% of annual paid leave they currently use, and their employers will be told to provide more opportunities for them to stay at home with their children.

Local authorities, meanwhile, are devising novel ways to increase fertility. In the town of Yamatsuri women will receive 1m yen [$ 8,500; £ 5,000] if they have a third child, and in Ishikawa prefecture families with three children will get discounts at shops and restaurants. [...]

The divorce rate has nearly doubled in the past 10 years, with more women blaming their sexually inactive, as opposed to sexually errant, husbands for break-ups.

What's a girl to do ?
If you click through the link, the full article describes how someone has set up a network of amateur sex surrogates, who, out of the goodness of their hearts, are willing to go out on a dinner date with these hard-up women, and then on to a hotel.

"The population will decline to just over 100 million by 2050." Maybe. Just a guess, really, but it's a good-enough guideline to use when making long-term decisions, as long as it's kept in mind that both the population figure and date are CERTAIN to be wrong.

Italian society frowns on out-of-wedlock births, as well, but in Italy that's led to more abortions, not less sex.
However, the Italian fertility rate is virtually identical to that of Japan, so it's apparent that both societies are broken in some way.

If that 600-woman survey is anywhere near correct...
I have no doubt that a similar survey of American women would find that 26% of women had sex with their husbands only once or twice a month, (although I'm too lazy to actually look it up, since that survey is sure to exist), but something is clearly wrong when one out of four marriages are platonic.

Also, if 70% of 20-something men, but only 50% of 20-something women, are unmarried, it suggests that Japanese women often marry much older men.
While that was exactly the marriage advice proffered in Little Women, there the women in question were a decade younger, and so were the "older men".


Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Fathers will be encouraged to take more than the 47% of annual paid leave they currently use, and their employers will be told to provide more opportunities for them to stay at home with their children.

I dunno...

It always amuses me to see proponents of higher birthrates devise schemes whose underlying rationale is that folks aren't having kids because they don't have time or money or are suffering from some sexual dysfunction. The implication is that kids are an unmitigated joy and we would all want dozens of them if we had more time and cash. Oroborous, all those fertile Mormons must just wile away their idle days clipping their investment coupons, no?

You see this distortion in custody trials, where the parties have to pretend the kids (who no one ever meets)are pure and innocent and that each extra minute with them is uninterrupted bliss. I recall one saccharine modern judge reaming out a couple for fighting and pronouncing patronizingly that they must always remember their kids (who he had never met and never would) were "gifts." It was all I could do to keep myself from jumping up and saying: "Glad you feel that way, Your Honour, because they are coming over to your house for the weekend."

Children give us joy, wonder, meaning, a sense of immortality and a purpose in life, but they also rob us of our time, money, health and freedom. If you believe or are led to believe the first are the most important, you will be blessed with them and feel blessed, but if you think the second are the prority you will be ambivalent, at least after the first. As we are now in an era where individual choice is so sacred even grandmothers-in-waiting decline to nag, it is clear where many think their priorities lie.

January 14, 2006 5:42 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

While I wouldn't let the personal choice bugaboo off the hook, I have to believe that there is some other reason at work here. I have a theory that in Germany and Japan, as a result of their overwhelmingly decisive defeats in WWII, have lost a vital part of their national psyche upon which their nation's men can base their sense of manhood.

Let's face it, we emasculated Japan as a nation. They have been forbidden from engaging in any military assertions beyond their own defense, and that is largely guaranteed by American might.

Germans and Japanese have been brought up believing that their national heritage is one of disgrace and unspeakable evil. They've been forced to disown their heritage. Those traits that they have traditionally associated with healthy masculinity, a desire to fight heroically for family/community/fatherland, havebeen turned on their ears and treated as indicators of antisocial mental pathology.

I read recently, I think on BrosJudd, a quote from some philosopher of religion that the earliest conceptions of God were tied into the community/tribe. Worship of God was worship of the community. I think that that still holds. You can see that in American religiosity, even though Christianity is by definition a universalist faith.

But it was especially true of Japan and Germany. We not only wiped out the cream of Japanese manhood, we dethroned their living god. The Japanese psyche has no universalist god to worship as a backup. No Japanese male has any reason, any vision of a reason to serve heroically in a masculine role. Just life as cog in an industrial machine. Why would he want to wish such a life on offspring?

January 14, 2006 8:14 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

We didn't wipe out the cream of Japan's manhood. Nations' manhoods aren't divided into cream and milk, anyhow.

Nevertheless, most Japanese men never heard a shot fired in anger. The U.S. engaged about a tenth of the Imperial Army and was very glad not to have to fight the bulk of it in China and the home islands.

Duh. Lots of Japanese marriages are still arranged. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out why the mates are not hot for each other.

January 14, 2006 10:29 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Arranged marriages have never prevented offspring in the past, why would that be a reason now?

January 14, 2006 11:08 AM  
Blogger Duck said...


It's the military selection bureau that does the separating.

January 14, 2006 11:09 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Interesting post, but is it possible that concern with falling birthrates is misplaced?

I've come full circle on this topic. In the 60s and 70s I subscribed to the conventional wisdom that population growth was a ticking time bomb that would ultimately destroy the world. In the 80s and 90s I realized that view was almost certainly overstated. In the 00s I started to become concerned about falling birthrates in the west. But now I think there's minimal reason to be concerned with that either. I think that human societies will be able to cope with rising or falling birthrates for a long time to come.

Rising birthrates have historically had two classes of advantages (there may be others but I can't think of them at the moment): (1) economic and (2) defense. Both classes' advantages (if they ever really were advantages) are being neutralized by technology.

Economic advantages include general wealth (GDP and wealth per capita) and the ability to support social programs (for example, social security). Both of these are materially increased by increasing the percentage of the population that works and certainly having more young working people than old retired people helps this. But increasing birthrates is a rather indirect way to accomplish this. A much simpler way is to raise the retirement age. In my opinion, the idea that people should be idle the last 25 years of their lives is insane. In Japan, Europe, and the United States, the Social Security and other government revenue issues supposedly attributed to the aging of society would be completely solve instantaneously and forever by significantly raising the retirement age and the age at which their populations can collect benefits. When we were all factory workers and farmers, that wasn't possible, but there is little problem for most of the population to work into their 70s and 80s business sectors other than farming, some factory jobs, and some construction jobs.

But perhaps we won't even need to do that. Ray Kurzweil's description of the GNR (Genetics, Nanotechnology, and Robotics) technology trajectory may make it so we can all be as idle as we like for as much of our lives as we like in only a couple more decades. This may or may not be a good thing socially, but, if Kurzweil is right (and I think he makes an almost plausible case for it in "The Singularity is Near"), then the need for a growing population to support social programs will be completely eliminated.

In defense, technology nearly completely trumps numbers of soldiers now. Is there any army in the world that even with a ten times numerical advantage and even on their home turf could defeat the military of the Anglosphere (& Israel)? I'd easily bet on the Anglosphere and with the robotics and other technological initiatives I've seen coming, numbers of soldiers is going to become completely meaningless.

I've never been to Japan (though I'm scheduled to go to Osaka in February), but the descriptions I've seen indicate that it's very crowded. If so, it seems to me that if their population shrinks 25% in the next 50 years, that will be a very good thing for the Japanese.

[I may post some variant of this comment over at my blog later.]

January 14, 2006 12:09 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Peter Burnet wrote: "The implication is that kids are an unmitigated joy and we would all want dozens of them if we had more time and cash."

My experience is that implication is fairly accurate. My kids do give me "joy, wonder, meaning ... and a purpose in life" as you so eloquently put it, but they only do so because I have adequate resources for it to be so.

It seems pretty obvious to me that if one lives with children is a small cramped apartment with little money or time, one is going to find far less joy, etc., than if one lives in a nice sized house with money for books and good food and entertainment and baby-sitting and vacations, etc. In addition, I think the children would also find far less joy, etc. with respect to their own lives.

If my wife and I had more money and/or time (and/or other familial support) we probably would have had more children (and there is some remote chance that we still might have a third).

January 14, 2006 12:20 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Duck wrote: "Arranged marriages have never prevented offspring in the past, why would that be a reason now?"

More birth control options between now and then?

January 14, 2006 12:21 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

But the report says that these couples aren't even having sex. That is the fact that needs explaining.

January 14, 2006 12:28 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

I think the other 74% would have more than enough children to sustain the population if there were fewer reliable birth control methods.

January 14, 2006 12:56 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

That was 26% in the last year. Not 26% ever. I'd bet that they're disproportionately older.

January 14, 2006 12:58 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

When the Japanese lived in villages and farmed, children were vital, not only for labor but for inheritance and for maintaining the family name.

A sonless family would adopt, often a nephew.

Japanese don't live in villages any more, they live in tiny highrises. (In 1990, one third of apartments in Tokyo were smaller than 10 by 11.

They don't own any real estate to inherit any more, either.

And without village society to impose its sanctions, there is less concern (I am sure, never saw any discussion of this) about maintaining the family name and shrine. I bet most Japanese couldn't find their family shine nowadays.

Japan has 125 million people on a land base the size of California, but about 94% uninhabitable.

If its population does fall to 100 million, that will still be 50 percent more than the number that was considered impossibly high in 1935. The Japanese worried about overpopulation at least into the 1960s.

January 14, 2006 3:58 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I agree with Duck's take on the effects of Japanese history, although it's almost impossible issue to get any kind of systematic grip on the point. The same thing is going on in Russia and much of Eastern Europe. Not just declining birthrates, but a whole mess of social pathologies that we naive Westerners thought they would avoid/overcome quickly with a little freedom and self-reliance. As to the rest of Europe, there is something weird about their frantic adherence to the transnational dream and their oft-stated fear they will dissolve in war if it doesn't march on without interruption. This does have an effect on how they live, see the future and perceive moral issues. South America fought a war a minute in the 19th century, but has been incredibly peaceful since even though they are fanatics about sovereignty.

Moral: If you are going to try and conquer the world in the name of an evil doctrine you will take a lot of people with you. But, if you lose, your nation will suffer for a long time. Sins of the father...

January 14, 2006 4:15 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

[A]ll those fertile Mormons must just wile away their idle days clipping their investment coupons, no?

Hah, they wish - although the mean household income for Mormons, at least in America, is significantly higher than the mean household income of Americans as a whole.

Like the New England WASPs of yore, Mormon culture tends (tends)to attract high-achievers, and promote productivity.

Mormons tend to believe that having children is, like, the point of life, and also to view large families in an archaic way, i.e., that more children are actually assets, not liabilites.
Which makes some sense, because Mormon culture is more family-centric and community oriented than is American society as a whole, so it's not irrational for Mormon parents to believe that their many kids actually WILL provide for them in their dotage, or at least that the kids will enrich and grow the Church.

Given that in our Third Wave society, humans are the primary resource, Mormon culture is actually more well-adapted for the future than is the First Wave thinking of the "population doomsayers".

Bret, I agree with the analysis of Ray Kurzweil, as you present it.
(BTW, never heard of Ray Kurzweil, so thanks for the tip, I'll definitely check out his works - sounds like they're right up my alley).

The post-industrial societies of Earth are going to have a supernova-sized explosion of productivity in the 21st century.
It's difficult to overstate how much things will change, although some SciFi authors have well-described some of what it'll be like, and how we might end up...

Imagine the effects of control of fire, the wheel, metallurgy, gunpowder, the printing press, controlled flight, electricity, and the telephone, all occurring in the same century - that is what it's going to be like.

While that's great for No. & So. America, Asia, Australia/NZ, and probably Europe, it may or may not be good news for many Africans and Arabs.

It depends on whether they're willing to abandon their failed cultures, and join us, or whether they prefer to fight our Starship Troopers with their IEDs and small arms.

I'm encouraged by the House of Saud's decision to open up their economy to the rest of the world, and of course the UAE has made great strides towards being a modern, if seedy and highly criminal, society and economy.

The Saudi decision was of course necessary, if their people were to survive the 21st century, but it's good to see them put pragmatism ahead of religious/cultural extremism - not all have in the past, or will in the future.

One point about falling fertility rates/technological explosion: Designer babies, cloning, and artificial wombs...
More women may be willing to raise children, than actually bear them - if we decide that increasing the population is a necessary thing, we will be able to do so, regardless of circumstances.

Yes, a lot of the variants of future societies that end up there are dystopic, but not all, and in any case the need to use that option isn't a given.

It exists, is all, like our nuclear arsenal.

January 14, 2006 7:07 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

I think most of this is explainable by these concurrent phenomena:

1. High marginal tax rates mean less discretionary income is left over to cover material desires and any children. (I'll bet there is a strong inverse correlation between tax rates and fertility)

2. Government sponsored day care. This is counterintuitive, and worthy of a post all on its own, but basically it boils down to this: when you pay large numbers of women to take care of other women's children, those women tend not to have kids of their own, or fewer if they do.

3. As opposed to pre-industrial societies, children represented a labor source, not a resource sink.

4. In post-industrial societies, children are not necessary to provide support in old age; what's more, those who decide not to have children and who also make a couple easy, prudent choices, are far better positioned in terms of provision in old age.

5. At the risk of extreme hubris, that is, to assume I can ascertain what women think, for a woman, there is a great deal of utility in the first child, and less utility in each succeeding birth.

6. Easy, cheap, and effective birth control, in conjunction with 4, means women far more often choose to have one or two children rather than three or more.

These trends are completely secular, even to the point of drastically affecting Mormon birthrates. When I lived in Idaho about 20 years ago, the average number of children per Mormon family was 5.5 (about 1.85, IIRC, for the rest).

It is now 2.9.

To the extent this is a problem, and, absent forcing women into involuntary fecunditude, the only options are to significantly reduce high marginal tax rates (which entails a bunch of other advisable changes) in social welfare countries, and ditch all government supported child care programs.


I have come that same full-circle, for nearly the same reasons.

I have read in various places that Italy could significantly forestall its social security crisis by simply raising its retirement age from 50 to a still too young 60.

In rough terms, it is reasonably easy to say how many people is too many, and that upper limit is energy bound.

However, it is much harder to say what represents too few.


I'm not sure there is something weird about their frantic adherence to the transnational dream (although their faith in the EU as its vehicle is a mystery). Two horrific wars in two generations, and the long term prospect of a third in a succeeding generation have very much left their mark.

Just like religious persecution and warfare in earlier centuries left their mark in contemporary political systems that go beyond religion neutral to actively hostile.

Its an action-reaction thing.

Russia, though, is in a truly frightening state. Whereas other countries with low birth rates could, in theory, reverse that trend within two years, Russia cannot. During the glory years of the worker's paradise, conventional birth control was unavailable, so women resorted to serial abortions, instead.

As a consequence of the medical standards for which the worker's paradise was so justifiably renowned, many of those women came to no longer need abortions. Sterility is like that.

I don't recall the numbers exactly, but Russia could see something like a 30% decrease in population within a generation. And because of that widespread sterility, there is no stopping that trend, no matter the desire.

Never mind the action-reaction thing. I visited the Soviet Union (I left the day of the coup, and even now wonder if it was something I said ...). I have been to a lot of places, and in my experience (which does not include Africa), it is in a class of stygian awfulness all its own.

January 15, 2006 5:36 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

"Never mind the action reaction thing ..."

Should have been:

"Just what you would expect from the action-reaction thing ..."


January 15, 2006 5:37 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Hey Skipper,
I think you left out the most important of all of the "concurrent phenomena": population density (which includes the effect of the percentage of people in dense urban settings). It's not possible for me to add a graph to my comment, but if you graph it, you'd see that the correlation is very tight - if causal, as I believe, it would explain a lot of the deviation in birth rates. It's simply easier to have more kids when there's more space to do so.

January 15, 2006 8:42 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


No doubt. IIRC, Western Europe has about 330 million people in an area about 2/3 that of the US.

Never mind Japan, which has more than a third of the US population in an area roughly the size of CA.

Before ignoring how much is too mountainous to be practically habitable.

Clearly, there is a lot more going on than simplistic culture/religious analyses include.

January 15, 2006 2:10 PM  
Blogger David said...

Peter and I have joked about this before, but if you can't spare 20 minutes a week to have sex, no amount of incentives are going to get you to actually have kids.

I wonder if the ever shortening Y chromosome hasn't caught up with the Japanese.

January 15, 2006 3:24 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Japanese sexual mores are very unlike ours.

And slow to change, I think.

The young lady whose desk adjoins mine told me that she would never put up with the behavior that her mother's generation did, and she's fourth-generation Japanese-American.

On the other hand, you can stand on the sidewalk on Front Street and watch the Japanese (from Japan) honeymooners, and it's really a pathetic show: they don't know each other and are trying to figure out if they have anything at all in common.

January 15, 2006 5:04 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

I can't say that I find Duck's 'historical emasculation' theory convincing. To attribute to WWII a general refusal to engage in, as David says, a 20 minute bunk-up once in a while seems to be stretching things.

Strikes me that if this is a trend, it's probably much more to do with the way the current Japanese population lives and finds partners and views sexuality. All that love hotel and manga schoolgirl stuff - to me, the Japanese attitide to sex is so alien that they may as well be martians.

January 16, 2006 1:20 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...


Twenty minutes a week! Why, you old devil, you.

January 16, 2006 4:01 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

If I was some sort of tacky Carry-On style comedian I might add: "Twenty minutes? That's what - ten times a week? Superhuman!"

But I'm not so I won't.

January 16, 2006 4:16 AM  
Blogger David said...

Peter: It's a commandment.

Brit: How's that possible? Just getting into costume takes 10 minutes.

January 16, 2006 12:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some men believe they should always be interested in sex and ready for it. But the human body doesn't always work that way. A man who has temporarily lost interest in sex - because of personal stress, depression, a relationship issue, or another reason - may not be able to get an erection because he is not aroused enough for it to happen. He also may get an erection but lose it before ejaculation, because he is too preoccupied with other issues.

December 29, 2008 1:26 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home