As couples around the world celebrate their love on Valentine’s Day, Japan is grappling with a strange problem: its citizens have lost the spark in the bedroom.
A new survey by the Japan family planning association found that nearly half of married couples had not had sex for more than a month and did not expect that to change in the near future.
A record high 47.2% of married men and women said they were in sexless marriages, up 2.6 percentage points from the previous poll in 2014, the association said, and significantly higher than the 31.9% recorded when it conducted its first survey of the nation’s bedroom habits in 2004.
“The tendency of being in a sexless marriage has increased further,” Japanese media quoted the association’s president, Kunio Kitamura, as saying.
The highest rate of sexlessness was found among people in their mid- to late 40s – a time when the demands of work and family can be at their greatest.
More than 22% of all women surveyed said they found sex “troublesome”.
Among married men, 35.2% said that work left them “too tired” for sex – up dramatically from 21.3% in 2014 – while smaller numbers said they had come to see their wives solely as family members rather than as sexual partners, or that their sex lives had fizzled out after the birth of a child.
“This is the first time over 30% of men answered that they were too tired from work to have sex,” Kitamura said. “Apart from improving working hours, there is also a need to review how people work.”
Pressure to overhaul Japanese employment practices to allow more time for family life has increased in recent years, yet little action has been taken to cut working hours.
The government is expected to set an upper limit for overtime of around 60 hours a month in an attempt to address long working hours highlighted by the recent suicide of a 24-year-old employee of an advertising firm who had worked more than 100 hours of overtime a month leading up to her death in late 2015.
A survey conducted last year suggested that Japan is experiencing a rise in the number of virgins.
The National Institution of Population and Social Security Research’s poll of 5,000 single men and women aged 18-34 found that the proportion of virgins had increased significantly over the past decade: among men, 42% said they had never had sex; among women the figure was 44%.
Lack of interest in sex among married couples and the resulting low birth rate raise the prospect of long-term population decline and the economic fallout from a dwindling workforce.
Japan’s fertility rate – currently 1.4 children per woman – is one of the lowest in the world. Significantly, the country also has one of the highest longevity rates in the world.
The population is dropping rapidly, and becoming increasingly weighted toward older people. After peaking seven years ago, at 128 million, Japan’s population has been falling — and is on a path to decline by about a million people a year.
Without a dramatic change in either the birthrate or its restrictive immigration policies, Japan simply won’t have enough workers to support its retirees, and will enter a demographic death spiral, say experts.