In the last year headlines about how celibacy is trending in Japan have gained attention around the world: “No sex please, we’re Japanese,” reports the BBC. But, wait a minute. This is a country where an estimated two trillion yen ($19.3 billion) are spent each year on the legal sex industry. And now it looks like the land of the rising sun is also the land of rising adultery. Ashley Madison—the international web site for married people who want to fool around—is taking Japan by storm.
“Life is short. Have an affair,” the site advises its clients, and when it launched in Japan on June 24 of last year it signed up over 120, 000 members in just ten days. As of March 27 of this year, that membership had grown to 1,074,075 people.
Out of all the markets Ashley Madison has penetrated, Japan was the fastest to reach one million members. If the numbers continue to grow at the current pace, by the end of the year one per cent of the entire Japanese population will have joined. Those numbers do not immediately negate Japan’s sexless marriage problem, but they do suggest that there are over a million people trying to get some action, and the problem may not be so much that married couples don’t want to have sex as that they don’t want to have sex with each other.
The ratio of women to men on the site is about two to one, which shows that many of Japan’s desperate housewives are determined to be desperate no more.
“There’s no doubt in an intelligent Japanese woman’s mind that her husband, who probably isn’t making love to her all that often, is somehow partaking in sexual encounters somewhere out there,” said Noel Biderman, the founder and CEO of Ashley Madison. “And to her, in what is becoming a more equitable society, that seems like BS,” he told The Daily Beast. “She doesn’t want a life of celibacy—that’s not how she’s engineered either.”
In a survey to be released on April 2, which targeted 75,000 users around the world (3, 500 in Japan), there are some interesting statistics.
First of all, Japanese women lead the world in their rush to have affairs, and, yes, 55 percent of Japanese women have an affair because they’re not having enough sex with their husband. This matches the results of a national survey of 14,000 people by condom-maker Sagami, which found that 55 percent of married couples considered their relationship sexless. By comparison, the women surveyed in other parts of the world cited lack of sex as the reason for an affair only 40 percent of the time.
It seems that Japanese people also don’t feel much guilt about their affairs: 8 percent of women and 19 percent of men throughout the world said in the survey that they felt bad about their adultery. (Remember, the people surveyed have already signed up for a fling.) But in Japan, hey, the guilt quotient is only 8 percent for men and for women just 2 percent, or about a quarter of the world average.
And not only are people in Japan not guilty about their affairs, they’re also proud of them.
“In America lots of women use Ashley Madison, but I don’t think they tell their friends about it. I think they’re telling their friends about it here. I think there’s some ‘virality’ going on. Not only are they unashamed, they are, in a sense, proud,” said Biderman.
Japanese people, who typically follow Shinto and Buddhist religions, don’t have as strong a sense of guilt over sex as people in the West, who follow Judeo-Christian traditions, with their strong concept of sin.
The Kojiki, one of the classics of the Shinto religion, contains a remarkably bawdy interlude: The sun goddess is lured out of her cave another goddess performs an impromptu striptease before the other assembled deities and concludes by masturbating on stage. The hoots and hollers and all the commotion bring the sun goddess out from the darkness, probably because she’s missing out on the fun. Even Buddhist priests have sung the praises of both legitimate and illicit intercourse.
In other words, Japanese people aren’t as concerned about being sent to hell for having sex with someone else’s husband or wife.
In the survey, 84 percent of Japanese women and 61 percent of Japanese men answered that having a fling has a good effect on their marriage.
“When people jump into an affair, they alleviate a lot of psychological stress on themselves, because they were pretty unhappy and lonely before, and now they have some attention being paid to them,” said Biderman (who is known as “the King of Infidelity”). “They’re less agitated about their children and their partner. I even get anecdotal e-mails from women, in particular, who say that.”
Ashley Madison had figured that frustrated Japanese women would be a lucrative market. There are plenty of hostess clubs, “soaplands,” and other services for men who are seeking something else outside of their marriage. Not so for their wives. But in some respects targeting women has proved difficult. The company has not been able to get a single female-focused TV channel to agree to run any of its ads. “Japan is a very enlightened sexual culture but refuses to acknowledge it,” said Biderman.
Paradoxically, the experience of online arranged adultery may have gained wider acceptance because of the long tradition of family- arranged marriages known as o-miai. In practice these are arranged dates between a man and a woman who share common goals, looking to settle down, marry and have children. The Ashley Madison paradigm also depends to a great extent on shared goals: both partners are looking to not get married, not upend their family life, and not settle down. They want to stir things up in the bedroom, not the courts.
So Ashley Madison expects continued high growth in the Japanese market. Currently, the country is ranked fifth in overall members, behind Brazil and the United States, but Biderman thinks Japan will move up the ranks.
Notwithstanding the carefully guarded anonymity of Ashley Madison’s users, the trend is likely to be very well documented. Japan leads the world in selfie porn: 84 percent of women and 89 percent of men love to take footage of themselves in the act. That’s far ahead of everyone else: in the rest of the world only 52 percent of women and 60 percent of men take photographs of themselves having sex.
So, now maybe we know why Japanese tourists love carrying around their cameras so much. But here’s another curiosity: while fellatio, frottage, and just about every conceivable sexual service besides actual vaginal penetration can be purchased legally in Japan, pornography is still censored. The scenes of penetration are obscured with masking or blurring. This may account for Japanese fascination of taking taboo “non-edited” porn on their own initiative. “Oh, that’s what it looks like,” may be the reaction for many home directors.
So, while it’s hard to deny statistics showing Japan has a low sexual frequency rate, the focus on sex within marriage may be misleading. According to the Sagami survey cited previously, in cases where the married man or woman was having an affair, the number of sexual encounters per month more than doubled.