Source: mits | © PIXTA

[Mythbusters] Japanese Virgin Sturgeons

by Earl Kinmonth, for JAPAN Forward

The spring and summer months of 2019 have seen a spate of articles about the allegedly high rates of “virginity” among Japanese, especially 40-year-old Japanese males. These reports were essentially a replay of similar articles in 2016 about the allegedly “sexless” Japanese.

There has been nothing new reported. This year’s articles were based on a report published in BMC Public Health under the title “Trends in heterosexual inexperience among young adults in Japan: analysis of national surveys, 1987–2015.” This “research” basically reworked the numbers in the National Fertility Survey of Japan for the years 1987–2015, shifting the emphasis from “sexless” to “virginity.”

It was the 2015 edition of this survey that gave rise to the 2016 articles about “sexless Japanese.”

Examining the 2018 “Trends” publication and the journalistic coverage of it shows serious failings on the part of both academics and journalists.

Bogus Headlines and Content

Some of the best known English language news media published stories about the report under bogus headlines and with completely bogus content. The general pattern is illustrated by CNN that trumpeted, “About 1 in 4 Japanese adults in their 20s and 30s is a virgin, study says,” blithely ignoring the fact that the “research” concerned only unmarried Japanese adults, not all Japanese adults.

In the context of poor reporting of a questionable study, the award for the most idiotic headline must surely go to the U.K. online newspaper The Independent for “One in 10 Japanese men are 40-year-old virgins, study shows.” No matter how parsed, this headline makes no sense. One in 10 Japanese men are not 40 years old. The claim is impossible in terms of real-life demography.

Males aged 40-49 are about 27% of all males aged 20-64 in Japan. This means that males aged 40 are under 3% of all working-age males, and an even smaller percentage of males over 20 (the current age of adulthood in Japan). Even if all Japanese males aged 40 were “virgins” they would constitute 2% or 3% of the adult male population at most.

Old News

Although articles based on the “Trends” report generally noted that the data was from 2015, none asked why an analysis of this data was only coming out now and why it should be news.

The same data had been the basis for a flurry of news stories in 2016 with numerous reports, including one in the Japan Times, in tabloid style, claiming that “70 percent of unmarried men and 60 percent of unmarried women are not in a relationship. Moreover, many of them have never got close and cuddly. Around 42 percent of the men and 44.2 percent of the women admitted they were virgins.”

The article went on to say, “The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has talked up boosting the birth rate through support for child care, but until the nation bones up on bedroom gymnastics there’ll be no medals to hand out.” Similar articles appeared in the Washington Post and other high-profile news venues.

The question of why journalists would recycle this story has a simple answer. Stories about sex generate clicks. Stories about Japan generate clicks. Combine sex with Japan and you get even more clicks.

Why academics would massage data from 2015 and tout their ultimately banal results is a more interesting question with a somewhat complex answer.


By - Ben K.