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.