In Japan, virginity is on the up and up


Research shows more and more people are declining, or being excluded from, sex. Andrew Masterson reports.


Tokyo locals at the city's famous Shibuya crossing. Around one quarter of them, statistically, are virgins.

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The number of virgins in Japan is increasing faster than the population, research has revealed.

A study published in the journal BMC Public Health reveals that roughly one quarter of men and women aged between 18 and 39 in 2015 (the most recent data available) were classified as virgins. That’s up from 21.7% of women and 20% of men in 1992.

It must be said, however, that the definition of “virgin” in the research – which was led by Peter Ueda from the University of Tokyo – is tightly constrained and arguably discriminatory. Ueda’s team relied on data that defined a virgin only as a person who has never had heterosexual vaginal intercourse – with the inevitable consequence that sexually active gay men and women were automatically excluded.

Within the boundaries set by the search criteria, thus, information drawn from seven national fertility surveys indicate that virginity is increasing in every age group – even though the total number of virgins decreases in direct proportion to age.

Among people aged between 30 and 34 years old in 1992, 6.2% of women and 8.8% of men were classified as having no heterosexual experience. Those numbers jumped to 11.9% and 12.7% respectively by 2015.

In the 35 to 39 age group virgins accounted for 4% of women and 5.5% of men in 1992, but 8.9% and 9.5% in 2015.

Analysed by socio-economic division, the findings revealed that men who lived in cities with populations above one million, and who had permanent full-time employment, were less likely to be virgins than their counterparts in rural areas. Men on the lowest incomes were 10 to 20 times more likely to be virgins than those on the highest.

“Although the discussion around cause and effect becomes very complex when considering who becomes sexually experienced and who remains a virgin, we show that heterosexual inexperience is at least partly a socioeconomic issue for men,” says co-author Cyrus Ghaznavi.

“Simply put, money talks.”

For women, the findings were almost opposite. The survey found that those who were least likely to be virgins had low personal incomes and little employment. This, the researchers speculate, might describe married women who are full-time home-makers.

The scientists readily concede that their research has limitations that reflect issues with data collection. As well as rendering sexually active gay and lesbian people invisible, the survey designs also failed to capture people who were once sexually active but then ceased to be so.

“The most informative aspect of sexual inactivity involves those who have opted out of or are, for some reason they cannot control, excluded from the mating market, regardless of their previous sexual experience,” says Ghaznavi.

“We'd like to investigate those dynamics in future work.”

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  1. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6677-5
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