Japan is experiencing a phenomenon known as celibacy syndrome, but it isn’t the only country where people are preferring sex with a screen over real relationships.
Mature written content warning, reader discretion advised.
I recently read an article on Fight The New Drug about how Japan’s death rate has surpassed the birth rate by quite a margin. As someone who loves Japanese culture and has been to 14ish cities in the Land of the Rising Sun, I was curious to read more. Multiple studies have confirmed that the youth of Japan have grown disinterested in romantic relationships with the opposite sex, and many sources are pointing to one reason above all others for this phenomenon – obsession with pornography. It’s simply easier to click or tap on your device than it is to develop something with a real person, and so, many young men and women simply aren’t pursuing relationships. Of course, there are other factors, such as the rise of the working woman, competing priorities, and excessive work hours, but this finding is consistent in enough studies to be worth giving some attention to. One research group even suggested that 40% of the population will be over 65 by 2050.
It got me thinking if this is a trend that only exists in Japan, or if it exists elsewhere.
I was talking with some people at the office recently about TV shows. There were a bunch of new seasons for things coming up, and one that a few people were talking excitedly about was Orange Is The New Black. I had never seen the show myself, just seen it advertised on Netflix on my SmartTV, and thought I’d have a look what it was about since it was getting some high praise. If you’ve seen the show or done any research on the show, you would know it’s about a group of female prisoners and focuses around their sexual escapades with each other.
What was more interesting when researching the show (even just using the front page of Google search results) was that a number of porn sites were crediting the show as being solely responsible for a measured shift in their search results regarding female prisoners. It, like a number of other high profile TV shows such as Game of Thrones, Spartacus, and Vikings to name a few, proudly and prominently feature graphic sex and sexual violence as key components of its episodes, feature porn stars as actors for the more graphic scenes, and have helped to normalise what used to be taboo for TV. It also goes to show you that what you watch shapes your sexual identity rather than reveals it.
It’s clear to say then that we are more able to watch sexual intimacy unfold before our eyes than was possible at any other point in history.
So, why does this matter?
The more people I talk to, the more I have heard talk about how this ease of access to once illicit material shapes their lives. I have known of many people to proudly brag that they’re spending their weekend on their PC with a box of tissues and their favourite site or show (you can fill in the rest). I have known many people who have felt inferior or trampled over by a partner who has preferred external stimulus to physical or emotional intimacy with their own spouse. There’s ample research out there showing that men develop performance issues such as PIED (porn induced erectile dysfunction) because no woman can compete with a fantasy, and they are unable to become stimulated by reality unless they have a video of someone else playing to get them going. I’ve spoken with enough women to know they have similar results becoming driven by men of fantasy rather than men in reality – the shadow of 50 Shades of Grey and other erotic material still loom large.
No matter the context or the surrounding storylines involved, mirror neurons in the brain cause viewers to feel the same feelings as the people they watch, regardless if its explicitly defined as pornography or if it’s just the latest Home Box Office show out there. And so, why does one need to engage in conversation and relationship development with a real person to the point where sexual intimacy is at its peak… when you can get your sexual fix online?
Because it isn’t real. And your screen can never love you back.
But if you have a look at user forums, social media comments (just look at the comments under any meme of your show of choice), or just talk to people face to face, you quickly find out why people prefer their screens over developing relationships with people.
It’s because your screen can’t reject you. You can easily and quickly find sexual scenarios that don’t say no, that are up for anything, and that are always available to you.
I’m writing about sex, but in truth, it’s more than sex, isn’t it? Sex is merely the peak physical expression of intimacy. And perhaps more than the visual stimulus that helps people get off and abate their needs for release, is the reality that we are trying to address a deep emotional need for connection with another person.
Japan may have the most extreme statistics to this end, but all around the world, we see the number of relationships on the decline. Casual relationships and hookup apps have replaced what was once the domain of the search of those for long term intimacy. We see a great number of people who have replaced human interactions with pseudo connectivity via shallow social media relationships with people they have no active relationship with.
I have personally spoken with probably hundreds of people who have talked about having “no interest in dating” or “not actively looking for anything” or “I’m not ready for a relationship“, but at the same time, they often have some form of major sexual addiction under the hood. I’m not saying sexual addiction is the exclusive domain of the single, but it’s usually the reason why people are able to be “okay with not having anyone in my life and not doing anything about it”. I think the heightened level at which we consume sexual content is proof that we’re actually not okay with that being how it is.
Preferring sex with a screen is just a byproduct of preferring intimacy at the easiest cost possible. And given all that people have gone through in the domain of relationships, it can be easy to see why. In fact, some of the most honest people online write about why they partake in so much pornography. It’s to deal with, or avoid, the potential or heartbreak of real intimacy. They list the same reasons why people hate their “real friends” and have turned to the surface level interactions via technology for friendship and community. Every day I see at least 5 memes of people complaining about how isolated, alone, and unsupported they are in life – it’s a chord that resonates loudly with a lot of people.
I don’t hate technology or think that it only ever produces surface level relationships. Quite the contrary – I think it enables deeper connection than ever possible, depending on how you use it. But you have to use it to that end. You have to use it to enhance and deepen. You have to use it to stay in touch, to celebrate people’s big occasions, to share in positive and life-building moments and interactions together. You have to be real, authentic, friendly, a builder of people’s lives.
Tragically, many people are using technology to hide from reality. Looking at the phone during conversation to dismiss an awkward silence or a failure in interaction. Checking out those girls on Instagram at 3am instead of building a meaningful friendship that may lead to the intimacy and closeness you desire. Seeing how many guys you can entice with that post on Snapchat to feel like you’re loved and valued instead of having a real, authentic conversation with one of them. Scrolling through the feed and liking things instead of booking in some face to face time or meaningful and honest conversation with friends and community. Sexless marriages becoming the norm because you’re getting your sexual or emotional fixes independent of the one you said you’d commit to doing it with. As Doctor Kevin Leman recently said in his podcast, “If you’re not having a passionate love affair with your [spouse], someone else probably will”.
We trade in what’s real for what’s fake. We trade in what’s a decent amount of work for what’s easy. We trade in lasting fulfillment for something fleeting and momentary. We use our devices as a security blanket, a distraction, a failsafe to prevent us from feeling the truth about the state of our love lives.
But we weren’t meant to be preferring sex with a screen to intimacy with a real and committed lover. No amount of online content could ever compete with the rewarding and lasting connection possible in the arms of the person you love.
And what a tragedy it would be to continue to consume sexual content on your screen over making choices and taking steps towards intimacy. You won’t marry someone in a few days, and perhaps you can’t close all the distance you’ve put between yourself and your spouse overnight, but you can certainly make steps towards closeness and getting to know people. I’ve found for a lot of people that even starting that journey of connectivity has been enough for them to be free of the need or desire to look at porn or watch shows that scratch that sexual itch, because it is intimacy and connection they are actually looking for.
And when you have it, when you foster it, when you keep it sacred and protected and a priority, why would you ever need to get it from somewhere cheap, easy, and fake?
I think one of the reasons people are so extremely sexually frustrated is because they make decisions away from meaningful relationship. We cut people off, we dismiss this area of our lives for far too long, we cling to our insecurities and unforgiveness at the expense of building community and lasting love. I believe only in the context of a lasting committed relationship can you find fulfillment in that area of your life.
My heart in writing this is that you and any person I know really would get to know the fullness of life. To not be held back in their ability to freely connect and enjoy intimacy in all its facets. To not trade in or sabotage your chances for the real thing because a cheap knock off is right there.
We all have a choice. What’s real, or what’s fake. What’s lasting, or what’s temporary. What’s fulfilling, or what’s fleeting. The choice is up to you.