This Week in Sex: Have the Japanese Really Stopped Having Sex?

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Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: Have the Japanese Really Stopped Having Sex?

Martha Kempner

In this international edition of This Week in Sex, we look at the recent hubbub about sex in Japan, learn what makes an online sex store halal, and look at a program trying to overcome sexual taboos in Vietnam.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Have the Japanese Really Stopped Having Sex?

A recent article in the The Guardian has sparked many discussions about whether young adults in Japan have given up on sex. The article sites a number of recent studies and surveys that suggest sex, love, and procreation are all in a downward spiral. For example, a 2011 survey found that 61 percent of unmarried men and 49 percent of unmarried women ages 18 to 34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, an increase of almost 10 percent from five years earlier. Another survey found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all. And a third survey, conducted this year by the Japan Family Planning Association, found that 45 percent of women and more than a quarter of men ages 16 to 24 are “not interested in or despis[e] sexual contact.”

The birth rate in the country is also way down, with 2012 seeing the fewest babies born for any year on record. The population has been shrinking over the last decade and, if nothing changes, it is projected to decline by another one-third by 2060.

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These statistics have worried many; the Japanese media has taken to calling it the country’s celibacy syndrome, and many theories have been put forth as to what is behind these trends. Everything from changing gender roles to less job security to video games to post-traumatic stress from the 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster have been blamed.

Joshua Keating of Slate, however, thinks the problem may lie with cherry-picked statistics, a lack of comparison, and old-fashioned alarmism. Though many Japanese people are not married, one study, not mentioned in The Guardian, found that 90 percent of unmarried people in the country intended to marry someday and that the number of people intentionally delaying marriage was dropping.

He also notes that the statistics in the United States look quite similar; since 2010, the majority of Americans ages 25 to 34 have never been married. In one survey, 75 percent of respondents who were not in a committed relationship said they weren’t looking for one, and another survey found that half of single Americans have not been on a date in the last three months. As for sex, a National Survey of Family Growth study found that the number of Americans in their 20s who have had no sexual experiences is also on the rise.

Keating ends his article with a note from a colleague and a link to this graph, provided by the Washington Post, which suggests that everyone should calm down because Japanese people are still having sex:

japanese sex

Specifically, data from the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research shows that 50 percent of single women and 60 percent of single men in the country have had intercourse.

Well, that’s a relief.

Halal Online Sex Shop Opens in Turkey

Haluk Murat Demirel, a 38-year-old woman in Turkey, has opened the country’s first halal sex shop online. What makes a sex shop halal, you might ask? The shop only supplies halal-certified massage oils and lubricants, nothing is made using pork products, and anything that contains animal byproducts follows the strict halal laws on how the animals are killed. But there are other rules as well. Though porn is technically legal in Turkey, Islamic law says that men can only see a woman’s face and hands and that women cannot see anything between another woman’s bellybutton and knees. Therefore, Demirel’s site does not show any pornography. It also does not sell vibrators, because they are forbidden.

Some halal sites that have opened in other countries take the laws even further, creating separate areas on their sites for men and women in an effort to follow the Islamic tradition of purdah, or sex segregation.

One Islamic scholar who spoke to Foreign Policy noted that the rules of Islam make room for such a store. Hamza Yusuf, an American who co-founded Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California, explained that while there are strict rules against pre-marital sex, sex within marriage is not confined to procreation as it is in some religions. In fact, Muhammad told men not to leave their wives for more than six months so as to avoid sexual neglect. As Yusuf put it, “It is not a prudish culture.”

Thus far, the site has been very popular, with over 33,000 visitors last Sunday alone. Demirel says that she has been most surprised by the demand for women’s products.

One Response to Poor Adolescent Sexual Health in Vietnam

Data suggests that young people in Vietnam are starting to have sex earlier but don’t have the information they need to stay sexually healthy. A 2010 report by UNICEF Vietnam, for example, found that 23 percent of adolescents did not know about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and only 14 percent say they use contraception. The problem, according to that report, is that “[a]dolescent reproductive health care is not fully recognized or implemented, with sexual and reproductive health education in school still a sensitive issue.” Others add that deep-seated taboos about sexuality, parental encouragement to stay abstinent until marriage, and a stigma around HIV and prostitution all contribute to a culture in which young people are uneducated and unprepared.

To combat this, the Vietnam chapter of AIESEC, a global youth network, started conducting workshops with high school students to discuss the dangers of STIs and provide condom demonstrations, cucumber and all. College students lead the workshops in high schools and also reach young people in other places like public parks, where they discuss all sorts of taboo subjects, including homosexuality and abortion. The volunteers also give out condoms. In addition, the group sponsored a family festival in Ho Chi Min City in August that had the theme “safe sex around the world.”