Ten years on from Judd Apatow’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” the issue that confronts, dominates and depresses Steve Carell’s main character is all too real for many Japanese men.
Far away from Hollywood, being a virgin way past your twenties is no laughing matter.
41-year-old Takashi Sakai is just one of many middle-aged Japanese men who have still not have sex. He has never even had any form of a relationship with a woman. He told the AFP, “When you are young, you are afraid of rejection. I think it’s true that many people know just pretend that they have no feelings about sex, instead of risking outright failure.”
Sakai says it’s not that he’s not interested in women; he says he “admires” them. Rather, the inertia in his sexual life has gone on so long that he has no idea how to, in his words, “get on the right track”.
Such a problem is not one for Sakai to bear alone: a 2010 survey by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research found that a quarter of Japanese men in their thirties were virgins, a rise of three per cent from a 1992 poll.
As with many of Japan’s social concerns in recent years, much of the blame has been placed on the economy during the “Lost Decades”: the collapse of the nation’s asset price bubble leading to growth slump and stagnation. Yoko Itamoto, a matchmaking expert, told the AFP that the economic slowdown has meant Japanese males have struggled to find jobs and stable careers.
“Many men seem to have lost confidence as they’ve lost their economic muscle,” she said, describing the “economic emasculation” of recent times. “The situation for Japanese men has been very tough and competitive.”
Yet for Shingo Sakatsume it’s not just the economy, stupid. He runs the non-profit group, White Hands, which helps disabled people meet their sexual needs. Despite sexualised imagery proliferating Japan’s city streets, an actual, genuine conversation about sex and relationships is missing from most households.
“In today’s Japan, we have no place to learn about sex or how to form a romantic relationship,” he said.
Back in May 2012, Sakatsume attempted a new concept: a three-day sex “boot camp” involving lectures as well as intercourse lessons to help individuals lose their virginity within a matter of days.
However, as with a lot of Sakatsume’s work, it was attacked online and in the media, and he was even visited by police officers angry at his potential sex camp. Eventually, Sakatsume halted the project.
Sakai is now part of the Virgin Academia program and goes to life drawing classes, sketching naked women as he begins to understand the female body and what he could aim for in the future.
“The first time I did this, in autumn last year, oh . . . I was so amazed. Their bodies are incredibly beautiful.
“There is no need to be so pessimistic,” he said. “After all, being a virgin isn’t fatal.”