In a time when promiscuity is seemingly promoted by popular culture rather than dissuaded, youth in Japan are going against the tide.

More and more Japanese are refraining from engaging in sexual relationships, and many have no plans to do so in the near future, an apparent social affliction known as sekkusu shinai shokogun or “celibacy syndrome”.

According to a survey by the Japan Association for Sex Education questioning the sexual habits and dating practices of female college students, almost 40% of women admitted being virgins.

The figure jumped to 53.2% in 2011 from five years earlier. There was also a rise in virgins for both sexes, with 45% of Japanese women aged 16–24 are “not interested in or despise sexual contact” and more than a quarter of men feel the same way.

The number of single people in Japan is on an upward trajectory—61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18–34 were not in any kind of relationship, according to the National institute of Population and Social Security Research.

A separate study by Japan Crush found that 30% of unmarried men had never dated a woman at all.

The implications of not having sex is evident for a country with a rapidly aging population. Japan already has one of the lowest birth rates in the world. In 2012, the number of births fell to a new low of 1,037,101, which is a 16-year-low. Its population of 126 million is projected to plunge a further one-third by 2060.

Kunio Kitamura, head of the JFPA, goes as far as concluding that the current demographic crisis could eventually lead Japan to “perish into extinction.”

“Both men and women say . . . they don’t see the point of love. They don’t believe it can lead anywhere,” says Ai Aoyama, a sex and relationship counsellor.

Marriage is not faring better. Japanese women’s sentiments on the institution have been largely influenced by the patriarchal society.

Around 70% of women leave their jobs after their first child, while married women who stay at their jobs are often described as oniyome or “devil wives.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has recently trumpeted plans to increase female economic participation by improving conditions and daycare. But this will especially be difficult for Japan, which has been consistently ranked by the World Economic Forum as one of the world’s worst nations for gender equality at work.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: Sebra /