Top 5 Mistakes Journalists Make about Sexless Japan

Honestly, I wasn’t planning to make the article this long. I just thought I could point out some obvious statistics many journalists seem to be oblivious of. But as I looked into publicly available statistical data, I noticed that some of their inaccurate assumptions were potentially fatal.

It all started with an article by the Guardian. It was entitled ‘Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?’ and began with a story of a Japanese woman who used to be a professional dominatrix and now is a sex and relationship counsellor.

With the help of catchy content, the article took off immediately and got more than 70,000 shares and likes on Facebook (which is a lot). Many other journalists followed by writing their own articles – most of them critical of the original article – to get a piece of the action.

A friend of mine shared a lot of these articles. As I read through them, I started asking myself questions: Are Japanese people really sexless? Is sexlessness Japan’s unique problem? Is it related to the low birth rate?

Then I realised something: while individual stories and interviews were interesting, some of their comments on Japan’s social situation were rather dubious.

‘One reason for the lack of babies is the emergence of a new breed of Japanese men, the otaku, who love manga, anime and computers – and sometimes show little interest in sex’, writes Anita Rani from the BBC.

As represented by this sentence, the article is based on a seemingly innocent assumption that the apparent lack of interest in sex is a major cause of the low birth rate, which turned out to be wrong, according to my research. (It also talks about immigrants, without showing the connection to the article’s main issue.)

I came up with one hypothesis: many married people I know have had less education than the ones who are still unmarried. Maybe the education level has something to do with the birth rate?

I did some quick research and found out that there was a strong correlation between countries’ educational attainment and their fertility rates; it was a well-known fact. ‘This is interesting,’ I said to myself.

I started digging various publicly available statistics to see whether other things that journalists were writing were statistically sound. One question led to another and, before I knew it, I had 20 sets of statistical data ranging from literacy rates to frequency of sex.

Here are some of the things I found out:

1: Sexless Means a Low Fertility Rate

This association repeatedly comes up. In the aforementioned Guardian article, Haworth writes: ‘increasing numbers (of Japanese people) can’t be bothered with sex. For their government, “celibacy syndrome” is part of a looming national catastrophe. Japan already has one of the world’s lowest birth rates’, assuming that the lack of interest in sex is highly related to the country’s low birth rate.

But the truth is this: frequency of sex doesn’t correlate to the fertility rate.

The x axis shows how many times people have sex per year on average, and the y axis shows countries’ fertility rates.

As you can see, the plots are completely scattered and there is no apparent trend. The correlation between the frequency of sex and the fertility rate is virtually non-existent. (0.01 out of 1.00. If you want to know more about this number, look here: Pearson Product-Moment Correlation)

People in countries like Greece, Croatia, and Bulgaria have sex many times a year, but their fertility rate is as low as Japan’s. In fact, the fertility rate varies widely between the countries where people have sex 80-120 times a year. Most of the countries are within this range.

It may seem counter-intuitive but it is completely possible. For example, you can have sex as many times as you want without having a baby if you practise correctly protected sex. On the other hand, you can still have a baby even if you have sex only once in your lifetime. People have control over having children regardless of how frequently they have sex.

This also tells us the existence of other factors that really affects birth rates. But a lot of people (including professional researchers) have already discussed this and that’s not the main theme of this article.

Are you suspicious about this number? I also calculated the correlation using different statistics by Durex from a different year: the percentage of respondents who have sex weekly. This time, the number was -0.2 out of -1.0, which means a very weak reverse correlation. The more regularly people have sex, the slightly lower the birth rate.

Sexlessness and fertility rates are two separate things. Many articles I’ve read confused these two and, as a consequence, drew inaccurate assumptions about Japanese social issues.

This is a very important fact because, if the link between sexlessness and the low fertility rate is non-existent, many ‘arguments’ based on Japan’s lack of interest in sex are invalid as the premise is false.

I actually thought that frequency of sex correlated to birth rates before I did this research. So the result was somewhat unexpected to me too.

The causes of low fatality rate is complex. Saying that the low libido is the cause may be be catchy and gets attention, but it’s overly simplistic and untruthful.

2: A Low Birth Rate is Japan’s Unique Problem

To be fair, many journalists understand this one; the low birth rate is far from a Japan-only problem. In an article entitled ‘No, Japanese People Haven’t Given Up on Sex’, Joshua Keating from Slate writes: ‘Japan is a leading indicator of a trend rather than an outlier. Birth rates are falling almost everywhere in the world except for sub-Saharan Africa.’

However, many people continue to imply that Japan’s low birth rate is something exceptional. Justin McCurry from the Guardian, in his article about Japanese women seeking instant sexual partners though an agency, opens the article by writing that ‘in 2003 Japan’s birth rate 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.’ He seems to be oblivious to the fact that a low fertility rate is a strong trend amongst highly educated nations.


This figure shows the strong reverse correlation (-0.8 out of -1.0) between countries’ IQ scores and their fertility rates. The x axis represents the IQ scores and the y axis represents the fertility rate. As you can see, if you go to the right side of the figure (high IQ score), the fertility rate gets lower. This is a typical linear correlation.

Mind you, I know that the IQ is a highly problematic concept. So let’s say it about educational attainment.

Japan’s birth rate is not particularly low considering that the higher the educational attainment, the lower the birth rate.

Japan is merely following this global trend. If there are true outliers, they are countries like Singapore or Cuba.

IQ is highly correlated to various educational indexes. I also used educational indexes, percentage of secondary education enrolment and literacy rate, and calculated the correlation between them and the fertility rates and got similar results.

While this correlation alone doesn’t necessarily imply that the educational attainment is the direct cause of the low birth rate, you can assume there’s some relationship (whether direct, indirect, or through another variable like different lifestyles) between them. The correlation is very strong.

3: Long Working Hours Cause Sexlessness.

Some people blame Japan’s infamous working hours for sexlessness. William Pesek from Bloomberg says, ‘. . . the exclusion of more and more Japanese from the lifetime employment system that’s long been the cornerstone of Japan Inc., forcing many to work additional jobs. If you leave for work at 6 a.m. and get home close to midnight, including weekends, where is there time for dating?’

He doesn’t explicitly say that long hours cause sexlessness: he says ‘dating’, which may or may not involve sex. So it might not be fair to quote him here. To make my point, I quote someone from Facebook: ‘the problem I had with the Guardian article is that the lack of sex here was positioned as a racial/cultural problem. It’s really a problem of overwork.’

But long work hours almost don’t correlate at all to sexual infrequency.


The x axis shows the average annual hours actually worked per worker, and the y axis shows how many times people have sex a year.

The distribution is quite flat, except for Japan where people have much less sex than any other country. Spain and Greece are also far away from the other countries as people apparently have much more sex. Otherwise, there’s only a weak positive correlation (0.18 out of 1) between working hours and frequency of sex: the longer you work, the more you have sex. But this correlation is very weak and not definitive at all.

Longer work hours don’t imply less sex, if anything they might imply more sex.

(*Edit: A few people pointed out that this comparison is highly questionable due to many factors. I have to admit that I was quite hasty on this one. Check out the excellent comment by Christopher Magor in the comment section below.)

4: Slow Economic Growth Causes Sexlessness

William Pesek is very clear on this point: ‘the root of Japan’s supposed sex drought isn’t culture, but economics,’ he writes. He seems to be quite convinced by this. A few paragraphs later, he also writes that ‘the real issue is that many avoid traditional, committed relationships out of doubts about the future that are based on economics rather than culture.’

He also says that ‘if low libido were strictly societal, why do the Czech Republic, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Spain and Taiwan have fertility rates as low as Japan’s?’ But we already know the answer: frequency of sex has very little to do with fertility rates. So it’s totally possible that other countries have lower fertility rates while they have more sex.

Anyway, the economy (economic growth, to be more precise) doesn’t correlate much to sexual frequency.


The x axis is the real growth rate and the y axis is the frequency of sex per year. The correlation is -0.185 out of -1.000, which is a very, very weak reverse correlation: the more the economic growth, the slightly less likely the sex.

The assumption that slow economic growth is the cause of sexlessness is very likely to be false.

Of course you can still argue that Japanese people are particularly sensitive to economic mood. But in this case, you would need to provide a convincing reason why Japanese people can be so ‘different’.

5: Women’s Social Advancement is the Cause of Sexlessness

Japan’s gender gap is notoriously bad. But some people think that women are relatively stronger than before and that makes men scared of them, which causes low sexual drive.

Roland Kelts from the Guardian presents one of the ‘theories’, ‘that Japanese women have become stronger socially and economically at the very same time that Japanese men have become more mole-ish and fully absorbed in virtual worlds, satiated by the very technological wizardry their forebears foisted upon them, and even preferring it to reality.’

However, the gender gap doesn’t correlate to the frequency of sex.


The x axis represents The Global Gender Gap Index by the World Economic Forum (the higher the better). The y axis represents the frequency of sex.

There’s almost no correlation between the gender gap and the frequency of sex. The number is 0.13 out of 1, which means there’s only a very weak correlation: the lower the gender gap, the more the sex.

Gender gap is not a good indicator of sexlessness.

This relationship is not obvious at all. Some people think that men are intimidated by strong, independent women. Other people think that modern women are freer to express their sexuality. Both can be true, or false. But the link to the frequency of sex is not apparent in these data.


I know this article is lengthy. So if you just skip to this part, no worries: you can just read these bullet points to get the main idea.

  • Sexlessness has nothing to do with low birth rates. They should be discussed separately.
  • The low fertility rate is not Japan’s unique problem. It’s a very strong trend among the highly educated nations.
  • Sexlessness has nothing to do with a low marriage rate either. They should also be discussed separately.
  • Many people mix sexlessness and fertility rates all together and try to come up with something. They are two possibly independent variables.
  • Working long hours doesn’t make you sexless.
  • Slow economic growth doesn’t make you sexless.
  • Narrowing the gender gap won’t make people have more sex.

The statements above are statistically not very accurate in favour of simplicity. They should be something like, ‘based on the correlation, it is likely that…’ Before you say something about correlation and causation, read the main article and the footnote.

I’m also aware of the possibility that my conclusions are false as my research is far from thorough. Read the footnote to learn more about this.

So, What Was the Real Problem?

If sexlessness doesn’t relate to any real social problem, what is really wrong with having less sex? I mean, as long as people are happy they should be OK, right?

Interestingly, the frequency of sex doesn’t correlate with a country’s suicide rate, which can be a good indicator of happiness. And, ironically, Durex’s own study shows that the frequency only has a very weak correlation (0.27 out of 1) with sexual satisfaction. Quantity doesn’t mean quality. (But, for the record, Japanese people are also extremely low – 15% – on sexual satisfaction.)

Sexual choice is really a personal matter. Talking about it as if it has a real impact on other social issues is potentially misleading.

(Long) Footnotes

I tried to keep the main article short. I didn’t exactly succeed, but there is just so much to talk about.

This article’s weakness

Most of the statistics in this article heavily rely on Durex’s sexual survey, and one can still question the validity of such a survey. They conducted the survey online in most countries. Also, all the numbers are obviously self-reported.

Also, I am aware that in order to measure the possible impact of sexlessness on Japanese society in particular, you have to examine the historical sexlessness within Japan. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any statistics on this. It is quite possible that frequency of sex has unique meanings in some countries.

If you know other good statistics available on this subject, please let me know. I think we need to validate the results with other statistics.

About the article by Abigail Haworth

Actually, I quite enjoyed reading the Guardian article by Abigail Haworth. She tells an interesting story about the sex counsellor and her clients. She also interviewed quite a few people and I think their stories represent quite well the feeling of certain young Japanese people.

Journalists’ problems

The way journalists (at least the ones I examined here) write stories is to come up with catchy stories, write them and connect them with seemingly related numbers. The problem is that when they try to connect their stories to social issues, they sometimes make logical leaps, and some people buy their ‘arguments’.

Wait, correlation doesn’t imply causation and causation can exist without correlation!

…you may scream. Well, I think it’s easy to understand that correlation doesn’t imply causation, right? (But we still make this mistake because it can be confusing.)

But when it comes to the fact that the absence of correlation doesn’t imply the absence of causation, it’s much harder to explain. I should be aware of this because most of this article is related to this.

Let’s think about sexlessness and fertility rates. I said that there’s virtually no correlation between the frequency of sex and the birth rate. However, this doesn’t mean that there’s not causation: there obviously is! You have to have sex in order to make a baby. In other words, sex causes babies, albeit not always.

You can also think that if the frequency of sex is 0, the fertility rate will also be 0 (assuming of course there’s no sperm donation).

But the data show that there’s no correlation. What does it mean?

When correlations are absent despite the existence of causation, it possibly means that there are other external factors that neutralise the results, which is exactly the case in this instance: birth control. In this case, it is highly likely that the high sex frequency doesn’t produce more children because people use condoms and possibly abortion when that fails. (Theoretically, you can also think of other factors like epidemics.)

How about non-linear correlation?

The numbers that indicates the correlation is called ‘he Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient’, also known as Pearson’s r. One of the pitfalls of using it is that it can only capture linear correlation. That’s why you always have to make plot charts to see if there’s any apparent non-linear correlation, which I did.

It’s still possible that meaningful correlation exits

In this article, I threw in every country with available data. But there’s still a possibility that we can find meaningful correlation by filtering out countries by other variables. I can think of a few possibly relevant variables: religion, region, race, language family, immigration rate, GDP per capita etc. Those elements seem to be relevant to sex and marriage.

It’s also possible that a particular variable is meaningful despite the global trend, if there are unique factors that are only present in Japan

For example, if there’s a very unique cultural element in Japan, it will be possible that a particular variable still correlates to some other variables, only in Japan.

For example, suppose that, for some reason, Japanese people don’t use condoms (which, by the way, would be very ironic since Japan produces extremely high quality condoms). If this happened, more sex would obviously mean more babies.

When something unique like this exists, global trends don’t mean much in that particular case.

Sexlessness is quite independent from other variables

I tried to find correlations between frequency of sex and other variables (IQ, birth rates, education index, secondary school enrolment, suicide rates, life expectancy, GDP, percentage of people over 65, working hours, gender gap, marriage rate, divorce rates, sex satisfaction, and economic growth.) But the only apparent correlation I found is the literacy rate (and the education index, to some extent). So, highly educated people are somewhat likely to have sex more frequently. If this is true, Japan’s sexlessness is a complete outlier.

Well, maybe it’s just culture after all? Some of the articles I talked about deny this simple assumption, with varying reasoning which I refuted. In that case, the real question will be this: how do we know if this is something we call ‘culture’? And where did this ‘culture’ really come from?


News Articles

Abigail Haworth (20/Oct/2013). Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex? The Guardian.

Roland Kelts (27/Dec/2011). Japan leads the way in sexless love. The Guardian

Justin McCurry (4/Apr/2005). Japan’s virgin wives turn to sex volunteers. The Guardian.

Anita Rani (24/Oct/2013). The Japanese men who prefer virtual girlfriends to sex. The BBC.

Joshua Keating (23/Oct/2013). No, Japanese People Haven’t Given Up on Sex. Slate.

William Pesek (26/Oct/2013). The Lust Beneath Japan’s Sex Drought. Bloomberg.

Statistical Data

Central Intelligence Agency (2012). GDP (OFFICIAL EXCHANGE RATE).

Central Intelligence Agency (2013). AGE STRUCTURE.

Central Intelligence Agency (2013). The World Fact Book.

Durex (2005). 2005 Global Sex Survey.

Durex (2006). Sexual Wellbeing Global Survey.

Human Development Reports (2009). Human development index 2007 and its components.

OECD (2005). StatExtracts.

Richard Lynn (2006). Intelligence and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations.

The World Bank (2012). GDP growth (annual %).

The World Bank (2012). GDP per capita (current US$).

The World Bank (2012). Life expectancy at birth, total (years).

The World Bank (2012). School enrollment, secondary (% net)

Unesco (1997). Literacy, culture and communication.

UNSD (2008). Marriages and crude marriage rates, by urban/rural residence: 2002-2006.

World Economic Forum (2013). The Global Gender Gap Report 2013.

World Health Organization (2011). Suicide rates per 100,000 by country, year and sex.

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Guillaume A.
9 years ago

Once again, a very interesting piece of text. And unlike so many times before when I found that I have many comments, but will delay writing them “later” – witch ultimately turns out to be “never”- I took my keyboard immediately.
Not surprisingly, like many topics related to sex – and Japan – I was once curious about sexlessness in Japan. Reading articles, both serious and “catchy” ones – the laters being the more common, and resurfacing quite regularly in western press – I have came to the same conclusion as you did: there is huge mistake linking sexlessness AND Japan specifically. Likewise, it is a mistake to link frequency of sex with birth rate, or with satisfaction, or with wealth, climate, and the like… As far as I can catch it, it seems sex activities are more or less an isolated phenomena, following “trends” on its own…
You can be poor and have plenty of sex. Or not at all. And rich with plenty of sex, or none… So I completely agree with your conclusions, even-thou I would disregard most of the research leading to them – I especially can not agree with the use if IQ or economic growth rate as potential correlative statistics…

What I would love to discuss about is actually something a little larger than your topic. You tried to shown that sexlessness is not a Japanese problem – which I agree with – and can not explain other social trends, like the low fertility rate – which I also agree with. And you also said sexlessness is maybe not a problem at all.
So, sexlessness is a media (and maybe political) construction. Why is that so, both inside and outside Japan?

I have a small idea on why, and it is more about the <i>idea</i> of Japan than actual facts.
For westerners, and since at least the eighteenth century, Japan has always been “the exotic far east” representative. It has been the country of all strange and uncanny behaviours, regarding food, clothes and, yes, sex. It has always worked with the public here to sell Japan as such exotic country. I can give countless examples, but will just focus on our topic here.
Most western countries – following US trend – have started since the end of the 1960's to consider “good sex” as a must in any healthy life (which ironically has always been the case in Japan). It has come to the point that sexual satisfaction, orgasms and number of intercourses are considered key values to measure an “healthy relationship”. I would not develop here, but lets just say that presenting Japan as “sexless” is just part of this trend: any positive needs a negative, and Japan is a possible candidate – and yes, Singapore would serve much better for this purpose, but who cares the island city?
What I mean is: caring so much about sexlessness in Japan is, for western press, a good way to talk about western societies instead, in contrast… It's a kind of gratification – we are correct, they are wrong – and a self satisfaction – we are correct to care about having enough sex… Which means that deep inside, we are not so sure to be correct…

Inside Japan – and mind it, I can only talk about an outsider here – the “problem” of sexlessness is also a mediatically constructed rhetoric: one of the many “social problem” Japanese media love to comment at length from time to time, like was Otaku movement, Ikikomoris, “eating grass” young male, and the like… But it serve a deep political means as well – and a conservative one, I believe.
The main idea of conservative people – in charge nowadays – is that Japan is becoming weak and degenerate because it parts from traditional values.
First of all, the huge mistake that you correctly points out: sex is NOT equal to birth. Yes, you need the first for the later, but reverse is clearly not true. But in many conservative minds, contraception is still not completely integrated. (Side note: contraception in Japan is an interesting topic on its own). The same way that getting married should not be equated to having more sex, or more babies…
You mentioned gender gap, and female empowerment. “Lack of virility” in young men could have been added too. Another conservative idea: the one of gender inequality, and the position of women as “reproductive factories.” Classic: if all goes wrong (here, if sex goes less), blame the girls.
In other word, within Japan, worries about sexlessness is, as much as I can see, part of a conservative agenda, is politically constructed and used. Because, well, as you said, if people are happy as is, why bother? But conservative society could NOT be happy with less babies…

The fall in birthrate is a general trend. And Japan is not as spearheading as you may think – China, Singapore, Germany are good examples too. If correlated with anything, education and general well-being should be pointed out. But having babies is unrelated to having more or less (or no) sex. It's clearly a different kind of choice.
Sex is a matter of gratification (self and shared one). Having a baby, a matter of desire and opportunity.
What may be true is that Japanese society is not allowing a lot of space of either gratification AND for desire/opportunity, but it's a side effect, rather than a true direct correlation.
And ultimately, although it is a very interesting topic to discuss, why would we and the media bother to look what people are doing with their bodies? Why we have to consider frequency as a proof of well being? In assuming sexless society is both a sick and unhappy one, I believe we are making a terrible mistake.

Guillaume A.
9 years ago
Reply to  yuta

Indeed, there is clearly a dogma on what is supposed to be a “healthy sex life”. It is not enough, in most cases, that WE, personally, are satisfied. As a social group, western people also LOVES to impose norms: not just feeling right, but wanting to get society agreement as well.
Japanese are more – or use to be – “live and let live” style on that specific topic, because it was considered a minor problem, and a private preference one. Sex always been too much of a public interest in Europe and the US, if you want my full opinion.

Not surprisingly, I also share your opinion. I always compared sex and chocolate – my favorite metaphor. How much you love chocolate is your problem, and the kind you like, and how often you want to eat… It's strange to imagine someone saying “no, you have to love black chocolate only, and eat some three times a week only!”
I also like to think that if you can't get chocolate, you won't die… My life won't be the same happy without it, but well, it won't kill me if can't get some. And I can certainly accept someone saying he not want, need, or like such food…
Now change chocolate with sex, and you will get my idea on it too. “It's a desire, not a need”.

About birth rate, it's a delicate problem. I cannot be judgmental: it's after all a consequence of the millions of individual and couple decisions… But what I am sure about is that it is a politically and socially extremely charged issue. Especially in Japan nowadays, compared to France, but historically the same ideas were very common here a century ago…
How to accept decline? How to shake a society based on growth – economic, but ultimately population growth? Why are we even thinking “less child=decline”?
The funny point to me – from outside – is to see outdated conservative old men (the political elite of Japan) trying to tackle an issue they have no idea about, and no power on: it's about controlling young female bodies, after all… but they have no ideas what their young (grand-)daughters really want, nor need…

P.S. Is that me, or the HTML tags aren't working ?

9 years ago

Yes you are right in that claims of causation cannot be made using correlation analysis. However, you cannot disprove claims of causation using correlation analysis as you say so yourself. You've made the same mistakes you criticize.

9 years ago

In the first graph, frequency of sex for Spain is approximately 105 while in the third one it's closer to 155.

9 years ago

Yuta, I think you did a fine job refuting journalists who go to press with insufficient facts. Sadly deadlines often force them to go with what they have or face the possibility of not being published. Rather than risk the possibility of missing their last call to make press, these journalists shrug their collective shoulders and submit what they have written hoping the editor won't muck things up too badly.
What I find most interesting about "Polls" and "data collecting" is how often they are based upon poorly worded questions, lack of privacy and failure to input the information correctly.
Asking a young women in a crowded shopping mall about sex where other people can hear her response will get you one kind of answer, asking a man in a bar after 3 drinks the exact same question will get you a different kind of answer.

9 years ago

i agree with everything in the posting, but it responds only to the sensationalist aspects of the reporting (which is entirely understandable as it was very sensationalist).

however, what if you turn that statistical analysis toward the question of declining birthrates? i would argue–based purely on unreliable anecdotal and experiential data–that there are a number of factors that serve to actively decrease birth rates. the economic decline (wanting to provide a solid future for one's children with limited means=fewer children). the hostile attitude of the japanese gov't, legal system and corporate environment toward working women (this hardly needs to be demonstrated). women are being (as they have been for a long time) forced to choose between a career and family. increasingly they are choosing "career". one of the reasons (again, based on anecdotal data) is that they are no longer so willing to harness themselves to men whose careers are not as stable as they used to be.

i understand and wholly sympathise with the desire to debunk orientalist and exoticist reporting. but, for japan's sake, the big issue is why families (not *women*) are finding it difficult to support the raising of more than 1.X children. its not a "woman" issue, its not a "sex" issue. its a societal issue that, alas, has not received the attention it is so obviously clamouring for because (in my view) the people with all the power are hyper-conservative japanese grandfathers who haven't got a clue what's actually happening in the world.

on the other hand, if this leads to a more open immigration policy in japan (really, this is the only option to avoid implosion) so much the better! amazing country-would love to live there.

Arthur W. Westerberg
Arthur W. Westerberg
9 years ago

I never comment on articles, but I will make an exception here. First reaction: Wow, an article that uses intelligence in constructing its thesis. Congratulations. When I first read the Guardian article, my reaction was "here is another article written by someone who wants to hear him/herself "talk."

Well done.

Nick Nolan
Nick Nolan
9 years ago

My hypotheisis: high education together with female inequality causes sexlessness and low fertilty.

9 years ago
Reply to  Nick Nolan

Sounds possible. OP could try running a multiple regression with an interaction terms for IQ & female inequality and seeing if the combo does anything different.

Actually OP, what *does* the multiple regression look like? Showing a whole bunch of 2D plots, while informative in its own right, is incomplete.

Ray C.
Ray C.
9 years ago

I suppose I could go on a bit of a rant about media and how articles such as the one referenced by The Guardian are presented not so much to inform as to garner attention & advertising income. However, I will ask if the issue of fertility rates took into account the increase in the median age of the populations of these assorted nations. I seem to remember reading that Japan's population has a significantly higher median age as compared to others, which is perhaps a reflection of the lower immigration level. I regret that I don't have sources for this, perhaps someone will provide such?

9 years ago

I haven't been in Japan but by reading you can figure out that getting an "established position" where you can fully own a house and maintain a family is rather difficult for the mean. Add to that the fact that people is educated and knows how to do birth control and you end with low pregnancies.

9 years ago

I'll tell you a secret:
I have a personal journalist shit list that I like to cultivate and update, for shits and giggles, because it makes me feel better when journalists piss me off and, you know, in case I ever become wildly famous (ha!).

The article printed in the Guardian newspaper was actually written by a journalist who also made a TV documentary for the BBC on the same issue. I watched that documentary. Having watched that documentary, I then proceeded to add the following entry to my journalist shit list:

<blockquote>Anita Rani (incredibly condescending, patronising, judgemental, uncurious, sexist and disrespectful of fellow human beings – and also quite close- and simple-minded at times; cf. “This World – No Sex Please, We're Japanese”:
The Japanese don’t produce many babies. Well, it takes two to make a child. What does Ms. Rani do? She blames men, doesn’t blame women of course – them she understands, and to top it off, she baby-talks with/talks down to elders. She is one of the most annoying persons …in the world.)</blockquote>

9 years ago

Kudos for "This article’s weakness" section. I totally agree with it

9 years ago

you lost me on point 2 because the IQ argument is a colonial and a racist argument. Who measures and how are IQs of a nation determined, is strictly based on the model of a western education? I notice you omitted the source for this claim.
Referring to higher education levels achieved by a large populace of a nation may be a more convincing argument if there are some stats to back it up

8 years ago
Reply to  Rick

Not only your definition IQ is very volatile,it made me realize the rest of your argument is exactly a counter-argument of the mainstream view of Japanese sexlessness. Meaning it also doesn't disprove what Guardian is saying.
I don't see how their opinion and yours are quite that different. In the end, I "prefer" yours, but have to objectively disagree with your opinion and the Guardian's.

9 years ago

You did actually look at your data and realize the Japanese are in fact actually having much less sex than the rest of the developed world, right? Go ahead and lead off your article with that concession, followed by "…but there's just no statistically-justifiable correlation between that fact and the birthrate".

The current article is just a very very long exercise in "NAHNAHNAH I can't hear you".

Christopher Magor
9 years ago

I did the math, and something smells off about those work-hour numbers. When you factor in two days off a week (yeah right), 20 public holidays (possibly) and 30 days of flexi-leave (yeah right), then you arrive at about 8.2h per day. I don't know anyone in full-time employment who gets to work at 9am and goes home at 5pm. After living here for 12 years, I know plenty of people who start work early and go home three hours late. I query the 1750 work hours per year figure.

The hours that I spend at work are probably the least of any teacher in my Japanese high school. On an average day, I work 10-11 hours. I can take about 10 days of vacation time (out of a maximum of 30), and we get two weeks vacation over summer and a week in spring. However, there are probably about a dozen weekends a year where I work a Saturday, a few occasions where I work on public holidays and some weeks that I get no day off. Let's say that my 10 days of vacation time are canceled out by weekend work and that I get a 104 days off for weekends, 20 days for public holidays and 21 days for school vacation time – that leaves us at 220 work days. Now lets multiply that by my average work day of 10.5 hours – all of a sudden I am at 2,310… and I don't work all that hard.

As a matter of fact, there are plenty of days where I have to work 12h days, and when I have to mark tests, I often find myself getting to work at 7am and leave at 9pm. A 12h work day is the norm at my school. What do you think the situation is like for people that work at companies? It is next to impossible to take the full allotment of leave each year, and >12h days are not uncommon – and they don't get all of that extra school vacation time. For primary income earners, the reality is probably closer to 2800 hours per year. Where did the 1000 hours go.

There are two things that could have happened with the spurious work stats: 1) they could have based it on hours that people are contracted to work; 2) they included part-time workers and underemployed.

I don't know any full time worker here who is able to take his/her allotted amount of vacation time (unless they get sick-sick) – and most people get to work an hour early and go home 3-4 hours late. There are underemployed and part-time workers here, but let's think about it carefully – to truly gauge the impact of long work hours, they would need to be paired with other underemployed or part-time workers. For these stats to work properly, you need a proper denominator. Sex, when you are doing it right, involves at least two people. It only takes one of those people to be overwhelmed by work to screw up the equation – not both.

Furthermore, this doesn't take into account unpaid work in long-term relationships where both partners reside in one house. If one partner works full-time and another partner works part-time but also keeps the house, then he or she is probably doing the equivalent to a full-time job, if not more. Typical Japanese family situation: husband to goes to work full-time and wife works a part-time job a few days a week, and spends the other days running errands, caring for children, and doing housework. I'm betting that if housework is factored in then the typical part-time employed Japanese wife would work an 8-10h day.

9 years ago
Reply to  yuta

Kudos to your brother and father

Drive By
Drive By
9 years ago
Reply to  yuta

Greece and Spain's outlier status on the "hours worked" graph do not disprove the hypothesis; they both have high unemployment.
While Greece has a huge number of hours worked <em>per worker</em>, it's well-known a large proportion of Greeks aren't working, and the sex statistics don't differentiate between workers and non-workers. So those who are having the sex may not be those working long hours.

Peter Q
Peter Q
9 years ago

"To be fair, many journalists understand this one; the low birth rate is far from a Japan-only problem. "

Lower birth rates is not a problem — it's a good thing. The population of the earth is too high. This puts pressure on resources and the environment. If the earth's population were 1 million, many of our ecological problems would solve themselves.

DJ Sheala
9 years ago

Thabks for explanation, I always felt that sexlessness is not a problem, and that it does not corelate with low fertility. Kudos how you tackled Pearson. (Psychogy student here, currently fighting statistics.)

9 years ago

My Japanese friends are pretty much sexless. My male friends admit to not having sex for years (unless the delivery health services count) and 4 of my 5 female Japanese friends admit to not having sex often (one of them is 28 and only has had sex twice in her life).

The reasons are work, shyness, and too much effort from what they say.

9 years ago

Why can't people just mind their won business?
First everyone was up in arms about gay sex, how it's wrong, now they bitch about Japan not having enough sex. Get over it and fix your own problems. No one should give a fuck about what a complete strangers does in their bedroom.

9 years ago

I wonder if population density is a factor.

9 years ago

I have lived in Japan for many years and have interacted with numerous Japanese, so have enough experience to form an opinion. Yuta Aoki is making the mistake of many Japanese, who can also have nationalist or xenophobic mindset, and will lash out at anybody and anything that appears negative about Japan. Yuta didn't so much offer a plausible counter-theory on why the sexlessness issue in Japan was occurring, but was more into spinning perceived negative perception about Japanese, so that Japanese could be viewed more positively.

The sexlessness problem is a real phenomenon, as reported and complained about by Japanese themselves. The correlation between sexual frequency and birth rate is a logical one based on opportunity and interest. All other factors made equal, the less sex you have, the less likely you are to get pregnant. Not having sex, is related to opportunity to have sex and/or interest in having sex.

Japan has the problems of: sexlessness, low sexual frequency in marriage, HIGH sexual dissatisfaction, low birth rates, long working hours, AND women increasingly being in the workforce.

The COMBINATION of ALL these factors can be indicative and reflect a UNIQUE problem to Japan. It isn't about taking 1 specific factor in isolation and saying this is or isn't the reason for Japan's sexlessness. That is having tunnel vision. It is stepping back and looking at ALL the other factors involved. Comparing individual factors with those of other countries, isn't reflective of the situation in Japan. In other words, Japan is NOT Cuba. Cuba can't be used as an excuse or justification for sexlessness in Japan, and comparing Cuba and Japan can be like comparing apples to oranges.

Sexlessness In Japan

In dealing with Japanese women, the issues that create problems with sexual frequency are:

1. Lack of balance in life, so no time for sex or interacting with opposite sex

Many Japanese women work long hours, are working 2 jobs, excessively involved in group activities after school or work, or feel obliged to always hang out in female-only groups. In the case of female groups, many Japanese women feel pressure to hang out with their female groups socially, so don't have time to go out on dates with guys or don't have the courage to cancel on their girlfriends to meet a guy.

2. Lack of sexual experience and sexual interaction with the opposite sex, creates higher levels of fear and anxiety among Japanese women.

Many Japanese women are ashamed of their bodies, ashamed of their vagina, scared to be naked in front of men, afraid of performing sex badly, being awkward during sex; afraid their vagina is too wet, too big or will smell, etc… This fear and anxiety can reach levels of hysteria, phobias, and sexual dysfunction. This is a very Japanese phenomenon which is hard to explain, and not something that I have see as much in other countries or among other nationalities.

There is a common Japanese desire to look, act, and be perfect. Which is usually NOT humanly possible. But, not appearing "perfect" can cause shame and hurt pride, among various Japanese. Therefore, to avoid being embarrassed, they will avoid the situation altogether. That is, various Japanese women will avoid sex or men. And any awkward or bad experience they have with sex, will amplify fear and anxiety about any future sexual encounters. Instead of looking at sex as a fun and loving activity between a man and woman, where they can make mistakes or need to LEARN how to improve, they become overly worried about being embarrassed.

3. Infrequent sex has become a bad habit in Japan, which makes the problem worse.

Many Japanese women turn sex into such a special, stressful, and anxiety ridden event that they of course don't do it so often. For such women, sex is stressful. These women have not learned to naturally comfortable with sex. And since the do sex so infrequently, they may NEVER become comfortable with it. Japan's other problem is women STOPPING to have sex after 3 years of marriage.

It is very common for Japanese women to claim a man is their boyfriend, and have sex with him only 1x per week (or only 4x per month). This opens the door for all kinds of other relationship problem. Any person with a NORMAL sex drive (sex 2x to 5x a week), will not be satisfied with such infrequent sex, so will often cheat and get other boyfriends or girlfriend. So to have sex 2x or 3x a week, instead of with 1 person, they get or NEED to get 2 or 3. This can be both men and women doing this. Many people (men and women) in relationships or even marriages, have no idea about what is going on. The think they are satisfying their other with 1x a week or ever 2 weeks, when instead, they have multiple other boyfriends/girlfriends or are buying prostitutes (and prostitution is off the hook in Japan).

4. Immature thinking about sex and living with parents past 25.

Many Japanese women live with their parents until their 30s, 40s, and some never leave. This creates an unusual dynamic where such women are treated like teenagers by their parents. And in reflection to this, many such women THINK like teenagers about sex. Instead of learning to become comfortable with their sexuality as an adult woman, they want to be "good little girls" for their parents. They have excessive fear about what their parents or others might think, if they express themselves in sexual ways. Therefore, sexy stays "icky". Boys and men are "bad". Girls that like sex are "sluts". Such women can't overcome their childish and immature thinking on matters of sex, and living with their parents only makes the situation worse.

7 years ago
Reply to  Sokuju

This is such an excellent comment and so completely sums up a lot of the problem, it could be an article itself.
I too have been in Japan for many years and witnessed all of the disfunction you outline above.
Yes, women stopping to have sex after marriage usually comes as a big shock to the gaijin men who thought that promiscuous girl they picked up in a club and ended up marrying is now sleeping in a separate bed after a year or two of marriage because "the bait (sex) is no longer needed once the fish (husband) is caught."

I think I could expand on your comments to include some of the sexual pathology I've heard from foreign women friends who've tried to have relationships with Japanese men. Their "shyness" being first on the list followed closely by their infantile masochism.

I actually live in one of the "love hotel" districts in Tokyo so I witness a lot of creeping in and out of those places. And I'm betting a lot of these "couples" are, as you mention, going there for some sex on the side to make up for the dried up trickle of affection in their sex-parched primary relationships.

I completely disagree with the article writer and other commenters who say that "sexlessness is only a problem if you're unhappy about it".

In a "shoganai", "gaman/ganbare" culture like Japan where people earn status for how much misery they can endure, sexlessness hangs around a person's neck like a badge of honor.
That is, people convince themselves they're not unhappy about it by focusing their attention on other "Erai" activities like doing office work till late, going to their friends' nomikai, practicing, doing "hobbies", or endless studying.

But the gnawing lack of this fundamental human connection is threatening to turn Japanese society into a zest-less landscape of passionless, cardboard humanoids amidst the growing ranks of the aging…