One in 10 Adults In Their 30s In Japan Haven't Had Sex — Here's Why

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor By Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor

Kelly Gonsalves is the sex and relationships editor at mindbodygreen. Her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, and elsewhere.

Image by Andrey Pavlov / Stocksy

Young people just aren't having sex these days.

In 2018, the share of Americans not having sex reached an "all-time high," according to a Washington Post report on the latest data from the General Social Survey. Nearly a quarter of Americans between ages 18 and 29 had no sex in the past year, a rate that's doubled in the last decade.

And a new study now shows we're not the only country undergoing a bit of a sex recession: Apparently one in 10 adults in their 30s in Japan has never had heterosexual sex.

The study, published in the journal BMC Public Health, analyzed data from Japan's National Fertility Survey collected between 1987 and 2015 on tens of thousands of adults in Japan (between 11,553 and 17,859 people ages 18 to 39, to be exact). They found the number of people who've never had heterosexual sex (defined in the study as vaginal intercourse between a man and a woman) has been on the rise since 1992. About 25 percent of women and 26 percent of men between ages 18 and 39 have never had heterosexual sex. Among never-married adults in that age group, that rate jumps to 40 percent.

Notably, the sexual culture in Japan is a little different from that of the U.S., so while the youngest age groups not having a ton of sex is more expected, the fact that one in 10 adults in their 30s is sexually inexperienced is more surprising.

Why people are having less sex.

First of all, it's important to note that Japan's National Fertility Survey, conducted by a group under the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, does not collect any data on sex between people of the same gender or other genders. It's very possible that some portion of the one in 10 "sexually inexperienced" adults from this study are, in fact, just having sex with people of the same gender or in ways that don't involve vaginal intercourse. (Many of the studies on American sex trends suffer from this very same inaccurate definition of what constitutes "sex.")

In the U.S., about 5% of the population identifies as LGBTQ. "If 5% of the young adults in Japan were to have engaged in same-sex sexual activities without ever having had heterosexual intercourse, around one in 20 30- to 39-year-old women and men, according to our findings, would still lack sexual experience," the researchers note in the BMC Public Health paper. That's a big cut on how serious the issue is.

Aside from the question of representation, there are dozens of theories as to why people aren't having as much sex these days, but one big issue is likely unemployment. Being unemployed, working a temporary or part-time gig, or earning low income all made men between ages 25 and 39 much more likely to have no sexual experience with women. Those in the lowest income bracket were 10 to 20 times less likely to have had sex with women than those in the highest income bracket.

That connection between a steady job and sex seems valid in the U.S. as well: According to the GSS report, 54 percent of unemployed Americans don't have a steady relationship, compared to 32 percent of Americans with jobs. And 35 percent of men and 29 percent of women between ages 18 and 34 live with their parents, which is also usually an economically motivated decision and a big barrier to sex.

That means socioeconomic stress likely plays a big role in why people aren't having sex. When people are too busy worrying about putting food on the table and paying rent, sex will naturally become a lower priority.

Sex as a part of holistic health.

It's important to note that not everybody is unhappy about having less sex. "While positive sexual experiences are important contributors to quality of life, some individuals may not consider the absence of sex as a source of dissatisfaction," the researchers write, noting research that shows Americans who aren't having sex report being just as happy as their sexually active peers. They add, "In Japan, it has been reported that some adults do not consider intimate relationships as being a high priority in their lives, with financial insecurity and long working hours possibly contributing to the purported trend."

That said, in this particular study, 80 percent of women and men between ages 25 and 39 who haven't had heterosexual sex did say they want to get married sometime, suggesting the lack of sex might not be because they don't want it.

These trends aren't exactly things we can really fix as individuals. If we're worried about people not having enough sex (which is a public concern for Japan, where the overall population is on the decline but also a valid concern anywhere considering sex is an important contributor to overall well-being), then part of the solution must happen on a higher level and involves creating more job opportunities for the populations in question.

One thing we all can do is make sure we're framing our conversations about sex in ways that emphasize its role as an important part of holistic health and happiness, one that's worth prioritizing to whatever degree possible even in times of hardship. Sex neurochemically reduces your stress levels, keeps your body healthy, and helps maintain strong relationships, all of which are benefits everyone should be able to have access to both in the good times and the bad.

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