“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.”
So begins an article about the continuing loss of interest in sex among young people in Japan. The government even has a name for it: Celibacy syndrome. It’s examined at length in this article. Though a loss of interest in sex might be every fundamentalist preacher’s dream, a closer look at the “why” behind it should terrify us all, for its rooted in several dysfunctions that are the byproduct of an increasingly techno/material worldview that has little time for, or interest in, physical or spiritual realities. Here’s what I mean:
1. Work Life is consuming real life – Here’s an example from the article: Tomita has a job she loves in the human resources department of a French-owned bank. A fluent French speaker with two university degrees, she avoids romantic attachments so she can focus on work. “A boyfriend proposed to me three years ago. I turned him down when I realized I cared more about my job. After that, I lost interest in dating. It became awkward when the question of the future came up.” Careers take time in Japan, and they take time in the USA too. A fruit of this value structure is that there’s less energy, both physical and emotional, for the pursuit of intimacy. Still, it might be worth it if intimacy and union was something worth pursuing. But it’s not, because of the second problem.
2. Intimacy Cynicism. Every post-boomer generation seems to have an increasingly cynical view of marriage. There are lots of reasons for this but perhaps the biggest one is the appalling lack of accessible healthy marriage examples. Boomers marriages have failed more than previous generations. Further, among those that didn’t fail, many simply lowered the bar, particularly in religious circles, so that a successful marriage was defined as “not divorce”. I remember an older couple at church telling a young woman that the key to a successful marriage was to realize “there’s no back door – no escape – no leaving – no quitting” I watched the hope drain out of her face and after he left she said, “That’s why I doubt I’ll ever marry. I want intimacy, not a roommate to be stuck with the rest of my life.”
Of course, if I’m skeptical about marrying, or skeptical my marriage will last, then my own financial security becomes paramount “just in case”, and then the notion that either of us can contribute to the household in some way other than through a career evaporates. We each need our jobs, not out of a sense of calling, joy, or creativity, but as a trump card for our own survival. In such a setting, cynicism about the possibility of intimacy becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for many because you don’t have the hope and trust necessary to enter into the risk of commitment. “Marriage? Too risky.” I hear iterations of this regularly.
3. The Dusk of Commitment Free Sex – From the article: Tomita sometimes has one-night stands with men she meets in bars, but she says sex is not a priority, either. “I often get asked out by married men in the office who want an affair. They assume I’m desperate because I’m single.” She grimaces, then shrugs. “Mendokusai.”Mendokusai translates loosely as “Too troublesome” or “I can’t be bothered”. It’s the word I hear both sexes use most often when they talk about their relationship phobia
There are a growing number of young people who are beginning to experience the reality articulated in sources as wide ranging as the Bible and “No Strings Attached”: Sex has emotional consequences and costs. The notion that sex can be rewarding as “just sex” is increasingly seen through the lens of real experiences as myth. Sex is devalued. Intimacy is divorced from sex, or intimacy is birthed as an unanticipated expectation. And so, Mendokusai – not the worth the trouble. Or, as I’ve heard it said in Italian: Non vale il pene – not worth the penis
4. A disembodied existence. Our virtual world of social media, phones, TV, video games, and easy access to porn, creates an entire alternative, unreal world, a world which is consuming more and more time among the generations. Phillip Zimbardo speaks of this through the lens of American culture in his e-book, “The Demise of Guys”, cataloging many factors for the social, sexual, and intimacy dysfunction of men. The church, sadly, has been part of the problem too, not by encouraging social media and porn, but by ignoring enjoyment of, commitment to, and care for the body. Unfortunate understanding of our faith have exalted disembodied spiritual existence as a sort of “Christian nirvana” when in reality the Bible is filled with great food, wine, sex, thirst, hunger, sweat, blood, sunrises, mountains, rivers and streams, and everything else that invite us to be spiritual people in our bodies.
The therapist in Japan says, cites one man in his early 30s, a virgin, who can’t get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers. “I use therapies, such as yoga and hypnosis, to relax him and help him to understand the way that real human bodies work.”
If we who follow Christ shrug this off as “someone else’s problem” we’re blind both to our own sickness, and to the opportunity given us as a voice of hope and transformation. Christ followers must show the way forward by living out their faith in the flesh, which requires the risk of intimacy, the enjoyment and discipline of the body, and aliveness of the senses, and the embodiment of genuinely grace filled intimacy and sexuality, with all its vulnerability and courage. We can’t be light in this world without these commitments.
PS – since I’m out of words, and out of time, I’ll post thoughts regarding helpful steps for each of these four issues on Friday or next Monday. If you subscribe, you’ll be sure not to miss it! (just hit the “sign me up” button to the right)