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No sex talk please, we’re Japanese


Special To The Japan Times

The education ministry recently came under fire for supplementary materials it had distributed to high schools this summer. The materials were given out to help girls lead “healthier lives,” but a chart about pregnancy included in the literature was found to be misleading.

According to sociologist Natsuki Nagata in an Aug. 31 online posting at Synodos.jp, the chart purports to show how a woman’s ability to conceive and bear children changes over time, and implies that after the age of 22 it becomes more difficult. Nagata says it is “obvious” that the data used in the original chart was altered, since the survey cited can be checked online. The ministry said that the purpose of the chart was to “convey scientifically correct data” to students, but according to most research, a woman’s ability to conceive does not change significantly until about the age of 35, and even then such findings, according to Nagata, must be qualified “through the filter of cultural and individual circumstances.”

What the alteration seems to indicate is that the government wants young women to think that their chances of giving birth decrease after the age of 22, presumably because it wants them to have children as soon as possible. But regardless of the dishonesty of this tactic, the tactic itself represents a staggering lack of imagination. If young women really believe their chances of having a child lessens after their early 20s, they could very well give up having children altogether if they haven’t found a suitable partner by that age.

This ignorance of how normal people live is typical of the authorities’ attempts to boost the birth rate, which disregard social realities for the sake of connubial ideals. But even those ideals are unrealistic because the government doesn’t provide young people with information that will help them make healthy choices about sex. All it cares about is marriage and babies.

The government’s squeamishness about sex education is at the heart of the problem. In 2002, the education ministry instructed elementary and junior high school health class teachers to “not discuss the process that leads to conception,” meaning: Don’t talk about sexual intercourse. According to Asuka Someya, the head of a nongovernment organization called Pilcon that is trying to get more sex education in schools, this directive has two outcomes: Adolescents are not prepared for the pitfalls of sexual relationships, and they are afraid to ask about sex.

An article in the Sept. 14 Asahi Shimbun described a lecture that Someya gave to students of a correspondence high school in Tokyo. Her talk went beyond intercourse, since it was assumed these students already knew the mechanics. She covered sexually transmitted diseases (STD), the economic burden of having and raising a child, various forms of contraception and their relative benefits and drawbacks, abortion and adoption. She told the boys not to believe what they saw in pornographic videos, because the athleticism on display had nothing to do with reality. Everybody laughed, but if the example was meant to put the kids at ease, it also illustrated a serious point: The image of sex in the media is distorted and incomplete.

But since government policy creates a vacuum of useful information about sex, the media is young people’s only source of information. The government’s official position has been articulated by Liberal Democratic Party member Eriko Yamatani, who has made it her mission to oppose sex education in schools. In a famous Diet debate during the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, she blasted educational materials that mentioned male and female genitalia, calling the methodology “radical.” Koizumi agreed they were inappropriate and added wryly they were also unnecessary, since “you tend to learn about these things naturally.” In 2013, Yamatani told a reporter from Chukyo TV that schools can teach children about “life” through things like “butteflies, insects and flowers.” When the reporter asked if children didn’t need to understand the “details,” she answered, “They can learn that when they get married.”

By then it’s too late, which is the message of another NGO, Inochi Jigyo, made up of mothers who also offer lectures about sex to elementary and junior high schools, mainly in the Chubu region. The same Chukyo TV documentary that interviewed Yamatani profiled the group, which presents children with graphic (albeit cute) representations of the sexual act and adolescents with a frank explication of their future lives as sexual beings. One of the reasons Yamatani opposes such explicitness is that she believes it “destroys families” because youngsters will be disgusted to know their parents engage in sex, but children in the documentary reacted to Inochi’s lectures with wonder and appreciation.

Inochi’s aim is to help young people avoid unwanted pregnancies, STDs and, most importantly, an unrealistic notion of what sexual relations entail. If the government wants people to marry as soon as possible and have babies, they should realize that those who marry very young usually don’t remain married because they are not emotionally or sexually prepared. Such unions are reportedly more likely to lead to domestic violence and child abuse.

The media’s blinkered attitude toward sex education was best demonstrated in 2003 when Kaoru Higurashi, a teacher at a school for developmentally disabled children in Tokyo, described to her charges the sex act using anatomically correct dolls. The Tokyo assembly cut the program and punished the school’s principal, neglecting the fact that parents had requested the class because their children had started showing an interest in sex. Given their disabilities, the students couldn’t readily process verbal information, so they needed visual aids to understand the consequences of sex. The media labeled Higurashi a deviant, but when the school later won its suit against the assembly, they didn’t cover it at all. Apparently, it wasn’t sexy enough.

  • GBR48

    I’m a little disappointed that the Japanese education ministry don’t have two anatomically correct yuru-kyara mascots for this sort of thing.

    Areas like this are amongst the stand-out cases where right-wingers cheerfully broadcast their ignorance of reality, society and the human condition. Always good for a few laughs, but unfortunately these loons sometimes get into positions of power and authority where they can inflict damage on substantial numbers of lives.

    Kids have always learned about this sort of thing in what we would now call a ‘crowd-sourced’ manner, equipped with nothing but a plucky sense of adventure and a box of Kleenex. They will have to continue to do so with such a Victorian attitude prevalent at LDP HQ. At least now the internet can readily supply them with so much more ‘research material’, supplementing the remarkably well endowed denizens of anime flicks and the mangaverse.

    If anyone wants to try to force the hand of the LDP’s Anti-S*x League, they could write a manga filled with *misinformation* on how babies are conceived. Something funny enough to go viral to the point where youngsters are seeing it and starting to believe it in large numbers. Parents and teachers might at that point have to wade in and explain what really happens. In short, get everybody talking about it, which is the best way to beat censorship.

    It is astonishing that developed countries are still so shy and, well, undeveloped, about teaching the basics here, but it is only through relatively recent events that certain specific adult activities have made it into the mainstream of open public discourse, courtesy of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, ’50 Shades of Grey’, and David Cameron’s youthful alleged interest in our porcine friends. Thus humanity crawls towards enlightenment.

  • Luna Maria Robles

    There has to be a balance between health education and sex education. We NEVER were taught sex education in school. We were taught health education. We learned about the human body, our reproductive systems and the various stages of growth and development we would go through. There was never any talk about intercourse or penetration. Teachers discussed the health aspect of the human body. The potential diseases that could arise from sex. (AIDS was rampant at the time) In my era, we were separated from the boys for heath education from 4-6 grades. Girls were then able to feel more comfortable discussing their bodies and the changes to expect. NO girl at that age wants to talk about menstruation with boys around.
    As we got older our district didn’t even consider sex ed. ed a subject. We had health counselors on hand and if a girl or boy were becoming sexual and it was obvious to peers, etc. They were brought in for health ed talks and guidance. But we NEVER had group sex ed classes and I’m glad for that. Today, you should see the perverted stuff taught to kids in schools. It’s really beyond disgusting and has nothing to do with respecting the body or the mind or spirit of the human. It’s raunchy stuff and most parents I know will NOT let their children sit in on this class. I am not a fan of co-ed sex ed classes. There is no reason for it except to promote promiscuity and sex acts outside the norm. Girls and boys should have totally different classes when it comes to discussing their bodies and sexuality. Each should be taught to respect the human body and to respect their future partner. It’s gotten to be way out of control the stuff being taught in sex ed class rooms today.

  • Philosopher

    Information is neither positive nor negative, it’s neutral. So, giving Japanese children more information on sex should be seen as a good thing. Suppressing education, and in particular sex education, would be hard to depict as anything other than negative. Lying to children about sex and reproduction seems to be a recipe for disaster.

  • Yosemite_Steve

    Very interesting. I had no idea that politicians and the education ministry were opposed to clearly teaching the facts of life to kids who are about to start becoming sexually active. Very foolish. However, at least as far as pregnancy goes, my understanding is that it is available and not stigmatized in Japan. Can they ‘get away with’ leaving kids uneducated because it’s not very hard to abort school girl pregnancy?

  • jcbinok

    “But since government policy creates a vacuum of useful information about sex, the media is young people’s only source of information.”

    ??? The govt and media control 100% of information about sex? That’s pretty reductive thinking. How about parents, trusted old siblings/friends or looking up a fact-based article at the local library?

    That said, misrepresenting medical information to anyone is unconscionable and frankly criminal.