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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Japan sagging in sex department, hence fewer kids: expert

Staff writer

While the government hopes it can curb the falling birthrate by offering families more financial assistance, one expert says it's the lack of sex, not income, that lies at the root of the country's population problem.

Kunio Kitamura, executive director of the Japan Family Planning Association Inc., an entity under the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, said the real problem is the growing number of "sexless" couples.

A survey conducted last year of 936 people, aged 16 to 49, conducted by JFPA and Jichi Medical University in Tochigi Prefecture shows that 31 percent were "sexless" — which the Japan Society of Sexual Science defines as "not having sexual contact for over a month for no particular reason."

The results of the Durex condom annual sex survey also show that Japanese are reluctant when it comes to bedroom activities.

According to the most recent survey of 41 nations last October, the average Japanese has intercourse 45 times a year, compared with the global average of 103. Japan is repeatedly at the bottom of the list. Last year it trailed Singapore, which was 28 points higher.

"Japanese people simply aren't having sex," said Kitamura, who is also a gynecologist, adding that "as much as subsidies and welfare programs are important, sexlessness is also a critical issue in this problem" of the declining birthrate.

The term sexless was coined here in the early 1990s to describe the low rate of sex among Japanese. Experts still have not figured out what causes the low rate or how to raise it.

Kitamura has diagnosed many couples as being sexless.

He said that while the problem often is caused by men being so "stressed out" from work they don't have enough energy for sex, there are many couples who lead healthy lives and have good relationships but do not have a regular sexual relationship.

What stood out in the JFPA results was the lack of communication between the couples.

The survey revealed 44 percent of 292 people not having much sex felt that having a relationship with the opposite sex was "very tiresome" or "somewhat tiresome." This figure was 14 points higher than for people who had sex more often.

And only 30 percent of those having little sex had ever spoken about contraception with their sexual partners.

"Using condoms is still a major method of birth control in Japan, which means men take the lead during sex," Kitamura said.

With many women struggling to manage both career and family, he said it was natural for them to be less enthusiastic about sex since they are not in charge of birth control.

In another JFPA survey of 690 men, 47 percent answered that they "didn't work out a plan" to deal with a possible pregnancy, and more than half of those revealed that they had never talked about contraception with their partners.

Not having regular sex might also negatively affect the male body's ability to produce sperm.

Last month, research by St. Marianna University School of Medicine in Kanagawa Prefecture revealed that Japanese men aged 20 to 44 had a lower sperm count than people in the same age group from many European countries.

The study found that if the sperm count in Japanese men is set at 100, Finnish men are at 147, followed by Scottish men at 128, French at 110 and Danish at 104.

Previous studies have shown that pollution, including dioxin and ozone, cause sperm counts to decrease. Stress also has a negative impact.

The reason for the low sperm count found in the St. Marianna survey has not be determined, but Kitamura said it was important for men to have active sexual relationships.

For couples who aren't having much sex, Kitamura advised them to focus on communicating with each other.

"Ultimately, it's those interactions with the opposite sex that bring out the inevitable animal instinct in us — to reproduce," Kitamura said.

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