The start of my art school education was an interesting one.
Nothing had prepared me for the first day of drawing when a middle-aged woman who I mistook for the teacher began stripping off her clothes one article at a time. It happened class after class with men and women of all shapes and sizes.
For many it was a big adjustment. Our frontal lobes were still developing and the impulse to laugh—not at the person, but out of nervousness of being around them—was hard to control. We had yet to become comfortable with our own bodies, let alone extensively familiar with another.
But as we relaxed our minds and began focusing on the smaller details of their form, it became less awkward, we became more comfortable and the end result of our artistic renderings gradually improved.
Now one school in Japan is capitalizing on figure drawing’s other possible benefits.
Virgin Academia is offering monthly figure drawing classes to help a growing number of middle-aged men who find it increasingly difficult to interact with women and ultimately lose their virginity.
“In today’s Japan, we have no place to learn about sex or how to form a romantic relationship,” Shingo Sakatsume, who runs the nonprofit group White Hands, which helps severely handicapped people find an outlet for their sexuality, told AFP.
Those enrolled from all over the country write in monthly reports of their progress. “And people who are not sexually mature tend to get timid socially.”
According to a 2010 survey by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, one in four unmarried Japanese men over 30 are still virgins.
Though images of sex are freely available, the act is not actively discussed and some are often persecuted for starting a dialogue.
Which is why Sakatsume founded White Hands, which runs Virgin Academia, in 2008 and has since opened the program to able-bodied members.
Through it, he offers drawing courses, as well as lectures on how to find a partner and how to form stable relationships.
“I’ve never had a girlfriend. It’s never happened,” 41-year-old Takashi Sakai, one of Virgin Academia’s students, told AFP. “It’s not like I’m not interested. I admire women. But I just cannot get on the right track.”
“Sadly, one of the problems as to why this exists is gender segregation,” Dr. Chris Donaghue, an L.A.-based sex therapist and author of Sex Outside the Lines: Authentic Sexuality in a Sexually Dysfunctional Culture, told The Daily Beast of why so many men, even in America, have sexual anxiety. “We separate boys and girls from birth and that creates a lack of awareness of this false, socially constructed ‘other.’” In this case the ‘other’ is the female.
“Most men have a fear of the unknown,” Dr. Donaghue added. “I work with a decent amount of guys that are virgins or have had some sort of sexuality and eroticism, but still have a virgin-based mentality around what the female body looks like and how to engage it sexually.”
The Japanese course is a year long and comes with its very own 100-page textbook, Virgin Breaker!.
Students study subjects like the history and modernization of chastity, the human sex anatomy, and what to expect during intercourse.
Then, they apply what they’ve learned to real-world situations—speed dating, online dating, or braving a local bar—and send in their monthly updates to their counselor, who reviews their actions and gives feedbacks for improvement.
“This lack of experience causes them to develop a variety of delusional, fantastical notions about women,” Sakatsume wrote for Ignition. “They eventually come to fear the opposite sex… We organize the drawing sessions to allow participants to overcome their mental block by observing and sketching the naked female form in a safe, healthy environment.”
For Sakai, being enrolled in Virgin Academia’s drawing class is the closest he’s ever been to a fully nude woman. With the exposure he feels more confident speaking about his sexuality and sex in general, realizing that his “situation is not something that I must change, but I must recognize,” he said.
“Anything we can do as a society—and even as a government—to just acknowledge that we are sexual beings and this is something worth devoting time and resources to is great,” sex therapist Venessa Marin told The Daily Beast. “It’s already everywhere but we as a society just don’t talk about it in honest ways.”
Dr. Donaghue agrees. He believes the silence on sex is not just a problem in Japan, but also a universal issue, even in Western society.
“The crazy thing about our culture is that we understand the need do skill building and experience in terms of every other topic,” he said. “Writing, you better write a lot; cooking, you better go cook a lot; football, you better get on the field. But sex, nope. That’s why the live drawing is awesome because it wants its students to understand anatomy and learn all the ways that our bodies can be sexual.”