Media Watch: What Was the “Sexless Japan” Thing All About?

We’ve all spent the past week being told by foreign media that nobody in Japan is having sex, but why? Here’s a rough guide to what happened.

The story began with Abigail Howarth’s piece for the Guardian “Why Have Young Japanese People Stopped Having Sex?,” which received tens of thousands of Facebook shares and instantly began spawning more and more sensational articles from reputable news sources. Suddenly “Sexless Japan” became big news as anecdotal evidence was used to validate wild hypotheses and speculation on the consequences.

One example was this Washington Post piece, in which (the usually excellent) Max Fisher built on an assumed link between low frequency of sex and low fertility rates to imply that the global economy could fall apart unless Japanese people start having more sex.

Earth, 2060. Because the Japanese didn't have enough sex (pic: Shutterstock)

Earth, 2060. The empires of man are reduced to rubble and ash because the Japanese didn’t have enough sex (pic: Shutterstock)

Slate ran an article with the headline “Young People in Japan Have Given Up on Sex,” before apparently mulling it over and posting another article the very next day, “No, Japanese People Haven’t Given Up on Sex.” In the second they compared some of the statistics referenced in the Guardian with their American equivalents, finding that they weren’t as surprising as they first seemed (though still high).

A BBC documentary , “No Sex, We’re Japanese,” seemed to blame otaku culture for a low frequency of sex and Time took this idea further, opening with the incredible line, “Why have sex when you can manage a virtual candy store in a video game? That’s the question millions of Japanese are asking themselves as they increasingly choose to stay single and not have sex.”

Just one of the millions currently asking themselves that question (pic: Shutterstock)

Just one of the millions currently asking themselves that question (pic: Shutterstock)

A few media outlets took a more measured approach and published critiques of the media storm, such as this one in the Telegraph. At Kotaku, Brian Ashcraft explained how three Japanese phrases were misinterpreted to support Howarth’s assertions in the Guardian.

Perhaps one of the most interesting pieces to emerge from the debris of “Sexless Japan” was written by a Japanese blogger named Yuta Aoki. The piece, “Top 5 Mistakes Journalists Make About Sexless Japan,”  doesn’t dispute that Japanese people tend to have sex less frequently than most countries, but uses statistical evidence in an attempt to dispel five myths often purported during the media’s discussion of that fact.

As always, we’re interested to hear your opinions on the issue (except you, Irrationally Angry Commenter). Let us know in the comments below.

If this receives no comments we’ll assume you’re all too busy having sex and consider the matter closed.

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