As you’ve probably noticed if you follow this site at all closely, we sometimes post about asexuality. For those who don’t know, asexuality is usually defined as ‘not experiencing sexual attraction’ and is a cultural identity which largely emerged online and has grown in prominence over the last decade. But from a sociological standpoint it seems clear that we can’t reduce not experiencing sexual attraction (as a characteristic or set thereof) to asexuality (as the cultural discourse which has grown out of online asexual spaces). To argue otherwise would imply that asexual people suddenly appeared at the same time as the asexual idea began to circulate online. In other words: our current notion of ‘asexuality’ is relatively recent but there is no prima facie reason to think this is true of not experiencing sexual attraction.
Approaching the topic in this way immediately opens up fascinating issues for comparative analysis, as accepting the premise that not experiencing sexual attraction is likely to be partly or wholly transcultural raises the obvious question of the alternative forms of cultural expression this experience has found in other times and places. This is why I was so fascinated by the following article exploring a radical transformation in Japanese sexual culture:
Japan’s under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren’t even dating, and increasing numbers can’t be bothered with sex. For their government, “celibacy syndrome” is part of a looming national catastrophe. Japan already has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million, which has been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to plunge a further one-third by 2060. Aoyama believes the country is experiencing “a flight from human intimacy” – and it’s partly the government’s fault.
The number of single people has reached a record high. A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all. (There are no figures for same-sex relationships.) Although there has long been a pragmatic separation of love and sex in Japan – a country mostly free of religious morals – sex fares no better. A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact”. More than a quarter of men felt the same way.
Japan’s under-40s won’t go forth and multiply out of duty, as postwar generations did. The country is undergoing major social transition after 20 years of economic stagnation. It is also battling against the effects on its already nuclear-destruction-scarred psyche of 2011’s earthquake, tsunami and radioactive meltdown. There is no going back. “Both men and women say to me they don’t see the point of love. They don’t believe it can lead anywhere,” says Aoyama. “Relationships have become too hard.”
Marriage has become a minefield of unattractive choices. Japanese men have become less career-driven, and less solvent, as lifetime job security has waned. Japanese women have become more independent and ambitious. Yet conservative attitudes in the home and workplace persist. Japan’s punishing corporate world makes it almost impossible for women to combine a career and family, while children are unaffordable unless both parents work. Cohabiting or unmarried parenthood is still unusual, dogged by bureaucratic disapproval.
Are similar trends happening elsewhere in the world? According to Google Analytics we have an astonishingly diverse international audience so it would be great to hear from people outside the Anglo-American world which is unfortunately still the horizon of the vast majority of research into asexuality.
Categories: Outflanking Platitudes