Japan is a country where sex occupies an odd cultural role. On the one hand, the island country has one of the biggest and fastest growing sex industries in the world. On the other hand, however, statistics seem to suggest that the Japanese are sexually repressed. According to a recent survey performed by researchers at the University of Tokyo, about 1 in 10 Japanese adults in their 30s are still virgins. Overall, about 1 in 4 Japanese adults aged 18 to 39 years old are sexually inexperienced. What’s more, the trends suggest that more and more people are sexually inexperienced than ever more.

“Previous news reports about virginity rates among Japanese young adults were a bit sensationalist, only included never-married individuals, and did not distinguish virginity rates by age group,” said Dr. Peter Ueda, an expert in epidemiology and public health at the University of Tokyo and lead author of the new study.

In their new study, the researchers analyzed heterosexual experience among the whole Japanese population in order to arrive at a more clearly defined age and socioeconomic status of virgins and compare trends over time. The data was sourced from seven surveys conducted as part of the National Fertility Survey of Japan, each involving between 11,553 and 17,590 adults aged 18 to 39 years old.

The main findings were:

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  • About 24.6% of women aged 18 to 39 years old were sexually inexperienced, compared to 21.7% in 1992. About 25.8% of men in the same age bracket were virgins, compared to 20% in 1992.
  • What was surprising to see was the increased virginity rates among older adults. In 2015, 11.9% of women and 12.7% of men aged 30 to 34 years were still virgins, compared to 6.2% and 8.8% respectively in 1987. Among people aged 35 to 39, 8.9% of women and 9.5% of men had no experience of heterosexual vaginal intercourse in 2015, compared to only 4% of women and 5.5% of men in 1992.

Credit: Caitlin Devor, The University of Tokyo

“Sexual inactivity or inexperience, whether voluntary or not, should not be exoticized, ridiculed, or necessarily considered a concern for everyone. More research is needed on reasons for sexual inactivity and how mating market dynamics might be evolving due to online dating, shifting expectations in romantic and sexual relationships, and changing values, lifestyles, and labor market trends,” said Ueda.

Why are millions and millions of Japanese so disinterested in sex? People have pointed the finger to everything from anime to porn to even women not pulling their weight. But the truth is no one’s really sure why. One possible factor might have to do with finance. Men were more likely to have had intercourse if they had a full-time job and lived in cities with more than one million inhabitants. Men in the highest income bracket were 10 to 20 times more likely to have had intercourse than men in the lowest income categories. Meanwhile, women were more likely to have had intercourse if their personal incomes were low, which may be explained by the fact that most married women in Japan become full-time homemakers that do not earn a wage.

“Although the discussion around cause and effect becomes very complex when considering who becomes sexually experienced and who remains a virgin, we show that heterosexual inexperience is at least partly a socioeconomic issue for men. Simply put, money talks,” said Cyrus Ghaznavi, first author of the study published in the journal BMC Public Health.

Whatever may be the cause of this dramatic sex drought, widescale celibacy is a big problem for the Japanese government. If there is no sex, there are no babies, and a country with not enough babies to “replenish the stock” has a bleak future. If current trends continue unabated, the country’s population is expected to plunge one-third by 2060. Elsewhere, the number of sexually inexperienced people are also growing in the UK, US, and Australia where the rates of heterosexual inexperience are about 1% to 5% among adults around their 30s. These numbers suggest that Japan is simply leading a global trend of sexual inactivity.

The present survey didn’t answer a very important question that’s more relevant for a country’s fertility rate: how many people have had intercourse in the past, but have since become sexually inactive? That’s something that researchers hope to answer in the future, but one thing’s for sure — there must be a lot. Just last week, ZME Science reported that 23% of adult Americans spent 2018 in a celibate state. Astonishingly, 28% of American men between 18 and 30 haven’t had sex in the past year, which is three times the 2008 figure.