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Japan's lost libido and America's asexual future
A Japanese government study that should have shaken the psychology profession to its shoelaces went through the news media with a mild degree of titillation last month. Almost a third of Japanese boys aged 16-20 and three-fifths of girls say that they have no interest in sex. That is daunting, for all the world's cultures have believed that women enjoy sex more than men, as the Greek seer Tiresias told the gods according to Ovid.
The hormones of late adolescence evidently rage in vain against some cultural barrier that makes young Japanese "despise" sexual relations, according to the Japan Family Planning Association's report . The whole edifice of liberal social policy should have tumbled upon the news, which refutes Freud's premise that libido is the driving force in human character. For 60 years, the sexual revolution insisted that repressed desire is the root of all evil. It turns out that the ultimate victim of sexual revolution is sex itself.
What makes the Japanese hate sex? The same things that make a growing proportion of Americans hate sex. Joan Sewell's 2007 book I'd Rather Eat Chocolate became the manifesto of American women who don't like sex, hailed at the as "the next wild turn in the female sexual revolution" by Sandra Tsing Loh in The Atlantic Monthly .
Pharmaceutical companies are racing to market a pill to revive fading female libido, to no avail: women do not want to be sex objects, and a culture that objectifies women will make them hate sex, as I wrote in this space five years ago . But the problem has gotten worse than I imagined it would.
Japan is a step ahead of the United States, as the first industrial country to bring sadism and pedophilia into the mainstream. Mere possession of certain Japanese manga is a criminal offense in other countries.
"In recent cases in the United States and Sweden, authorities have made arrests over manga books imported from Japan depicting sexual abuse of children," the New York Times reported Feb. 10, 2010 .
A streak of cruelty pervades Japanese culture, for example, the emphasis on the aesthetic in suicide, a concept alien to the Judeo-Christian West. But the West has begun to embrace cruelty in sexual relations on a scale comparable to Japan, and the consequences most likely will be identical.
For example:Fifty Shades of Grey, the adult version of the Twilight vampire-and-werewolf series, has become a soccer-mom bestseller. Now we know what the original, adolescent version was about, namely sadism and submission. What is it that makes adolescent girls crave sexual control and degradation? Evidently, it is the same thing that prompts their mothers to buy heavy-breathing pulp versions of the same thing in more explicit form.
After half a century of sexual revolution - otherwise known as objectification - women suffer en masse from the sexual equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome, identification with their tormentors, as a number of popular commentators observe. After a quarter-million e-book downloads, Viking Press has just paid a seven-figure advance to one EL James, an Englishwoman who initially posted the manuscript as bondage porn on a Twilight fan fiction site under the screen-name "SnowqueensIcedragon" . In the original, still available online, little Bella of the Twilight books is deflowered not by her vampire boyfriend, but by a billionaire sadist instead, and becomes his adoring sex slave. In the commercial version "Bella" becomes Anastasia, presumably to avoid copyright infringement.
"The trilogy has its detractors," wrote the New York Times March 10. "Commentators have shredded the books for their explicit violence and antiquated treatment of women, made especially clear in the character of Anastasia, an awkward naif who consents to being stalked, slapped and whipped with a leather riding crop."
That seems petulant; the Times adulated the Austrian novelist Elfriede Jelinek , who got the 2004 Nobel Prize in literature for explicit portrayals of sexual violence, but with literary pretensions. Jelinek, though, is an Austrian communist who politicizes domination. As she told the Times, "I describe the relationship between man and woman as a Hegelian relationship between master and slave." Jelinek's S&M porn, unlike Ms James', presumably has redeeming social importance.
Why are so many American women fascinated by sexual cruelty? The answer is that the prevailing regime of sexual objectification already carries with it the experience of cruelty. For adolescent girls, the replacement of courtship by "hooking up" with "friends with benefits" is a cruel prospect.
Even though only three out of ten American teenagers aged 13 to 16 are sexually active , the options available to adolescent girls are narrowly defined. Adolescent boys are monsters, as anyone who has been one, or known one, can attest, and to require adolescent girls to engage in sexual activity of any kind with such creatures is horrifying. The considerate and courteous young vampire of the Twilight books is a cavalier by comparison.
Freud's question, "What do women want?," showed what an ideologically-driven fanatic he was. Women want what every human being wants, which is to be unique, and to be loved for their uniqueness. With rare exceptions, human beings become unique by bearing and raising children: a child can have only one mother. Women are unique as mothers, and men are lifted above their animal instincts by their attachment to the mother of their children.
The moment we separate sexuality from child-bearing, we turn women into generic sexual objects, which makes it impossible for them to obtain what they want, because sexual objects are generic. The one thing you know with 100% certainty about any woman you see, supermodels included, is that some man, somewhere, is tired of sleeping with her. If women cannot control men by bearing their children, what other means to they have to control them? We find the answer in the sudden popularity of dominant-submissive fantasies.
The dominant "master of the universe" in EL James' story can be controlled by his own need to dominate, for the submissive female heroine has something that he needs in addition to generic sexuality. The stylized sexual games that EL James recounts become a creepy substitute for actual courtship. Like the romance novel hero, who must pay court to the female lead, the "master of the universe" must pay prolonged attention to the female lead in preparation for sexual acts. Romance fiction requires a suspension of disbelief that is increasingly precarious in a culture of sexual exploitation. The dominant-submissive fantasy is more credible.
The sudden popularly of Fifty Shades of Grey portends the death of America's libido. I cannot speak from personal experience, but the paradox of damnation as explained by comedian Jim Jeffries surely applies to the ritualistic cruelty described in this silly book and its sequels. After the initial frisson has passed, repetition of the same handcuffs-and-riding-crop routine must become unspeakably boring over time. One doubts that many dom-and-sub couples live happily ever after:
"Slave, get on your knees and put your wrists together!" "Sorry, honey. I have a headache."
And when perversion fails to titillate, nothing at all will. Like Japanese women, who encountered mainstream sexual violence and now eschew sex altogether, American women will have a great deal less sex and a great deal more chocolate.
All the signs are there. It was only recently that mainstream American corporations began to advertise electronic sex toys on prime-time television, indicating that the market had, well, peaked. American women will follow their Japanese sisters into asexuality, and if women become sufficiently disgusted with men, men will become disgusted with themselves.
There might be a simpler explanation for the disappearance of Japan's libido. "Between 1998 and 2003, sales of anti-depressants in Japan quintupled, according to IMS Health. GlaxoSmithKline alone saw its sales of Paxil increase from $108 million in 2001 to $298 million in 2003. According to the company, during one seven-month ad campaign it ran last year, 110,000 people in a population of 127 million consulted their doctors about depression," the New York Times reported in 2004 .
Back in 1998, Proffesor Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University warned that massive overuse of psycho-pharmacopoeia might lead to a gigantic decline in libido.
Prozac is well known to cause sexual dysfunction, along with general calming. Maybe the attack on depression and hyperactivity is affecting aggression, violence, crime, and many other antisocial behaviors. But creativity in all its formseconomic, scientific, artisticalso often first appears as antisocial behavior. Maybe America and other nations are prescribing themselves a gradual but gigantic and deadly loss of libido. An ironic end to the Freudian century.
Whether it is due to disgust at the misery of their circumstances, or the side-effect of drugs intended to dull the misery of their circumstances, women are abandoning sexuality.
When human beings cease to desire each other physically, it is because they have ceased to desire each other at all. The things that motivate human beings to unite in intimate and permanent union, procreating and acculturating another generation, give way to the pure exercise of ego. The typical American household no longer harbors a family but a person living alone. As Eric Klinenberg reports in his much-commented new book Going Solo, 28% of all American households now contain a single person, compared to just 9% in 1950.
Klinenberg, to be sure, thinks this is wonderful; his typical "Singleton" lives in Manhattan, hangs out at the local sushi bar and coffee shop, swims in a rich cultural current, and devotes himself to the grand diversion of the age, namely "self-realization", which is easier to pursue in the absence of another self that might make competing demands.
In another 20 years or so, though, the self-sufficient singles of American cities will emulate the kodokushi ("lonely death") victims of Japan, another much-commented 21st-century phenomenon. Time magazine reported in 2010 that kodokushi clean-up has become a minor industry:
In the 1990s, Taichi Yoshida, the owner of a small moving company in Osaka, Japan, began noticing that many of his jobs involved people who had just died. Families of the deceased were either too squeamish to pack up for their dead relatives, or there wasn't any family to call on. So Yoshida started a new business cleaning out the homes of the dead. Then he started noticing something else: thick, dark stains shaped like a human body, the residue of liquids excreted by a decomposing corpse. 
That is the end that enlightened secular culture has prefigured for us at the end of the Freudian century: to leave no trace of our mortal existence except for a grease-stain on the carpet.
Notes: 1. Government Says Young Japanese Losing Sex Drive, AFP, Jan 2011
2. She's Just Not That Into You, The Atlantic, March 2007
3. Why God lies and sex objects object to sex, Asia Times Online, March 20, 2007
4. In Tokyo, a Crackdown on Sexual Images of Minors, New York Times, February 9, 2011
5. See here
6. A Gloom of Her Own, New York Times, November 21, 2004
7. See here
8. Did Antidepressants Depress Japan?, New York Times, August 2004
9. Japan's 'Lonely Deaths': A Business Opportunity, Time, Apr. 06, 2010
Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman. His book How Civilizations Die (and why Islam is Dying, Too) was published by Regnery Press in September 2011. A volume of his essays on culture, religion and economics, It's Not the End of the World - It's Just the End of You, also appeared this fall, from Van Praag Press.
(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)
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"The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and stoic philosopher, 121-180 A.D.
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