From December of 2012 to March of 2013 this blog ran a series of increasingly gloomy reports about male anatomy, male testosterone and changes in the behavior of boys and men. Summing this, the December blog reported evidence for possible and significant decreases in penis size, and major decreases in sperm count. Both were presumed to reflect downward changes in testosterone levels. A January blog zeroed in on changes in male behavior, noting that according to a recent writer “Women now earn 60% of Master’s degrees, about half of all law and medical degrees and 42% of all M.B.A.s.* Most important, women earn almost 60% of all bachelor’s degrees. In a New York Times piece, Nicholas Kristof noted that as of 2010, boys were behind in reading in every single state in each levels of public school, and the grade point average for boys was 2.86 and was 3.09 for girls. Adding to all this, Rosen noted that preference for sons was was decreasing in the United States, completely disappearing in South Korea, and falling in China and India.
A February 2013 blog focused on more widespread reports on dropping sperm counts and on reports of decreasing testosterone levels in varied parts of the world. It then explored the research on agents in the animal and human environment that can act as “environmental disruptors.” These include pesticides, plasticizers (compounds added to plastics of all kinds to promote flexibility) and estrogen-like compounds of many kinds. Changes in both behavior and reproductive functions are documented clearly for some aquatic animals in nature and others in laboratory research, There are also reports of effects on human behavior, though these are much more limited.
A March, 2013 blog noted that together with the reports on declining sperm counts there is strong factual evidence that human fertility rates have been dropping in many parts of the world, including most of Europe, where rates are well below what is needed for stable population replacement. Rates in the US are higher, but mostly because of immigrant populations at present. This blog then speculated that masculinity itself has been greatly discredited in the last half-century, at least in the Western world. It has been linked to aggression, violence, war and other lesser psychological diseases of the Western world. A quote from an article in Psychology Today, entitled The Testosterone Curse: Part II sums up this view emphatically, saying “Complementing the tendency to imprudent, rash or even reckless behavior are a variety of research findings indicating that high-testosterone males are more likely to be impulsive, impatient, unreliable…single-minded to the point of obsessiveness. By nature leaning-competitively or confrontationally–toward raucous or tugged physical activities, they frequently don’t perform well academically, and (no surprise) in school one of their problems is that they may not deal very well with intellectural complexities.” ** In this blog, I concluded that the male “brand” has taken a serious beating–one that may not be beneficial to men or women.
In my final blog in this series ( also in March of 2013) I summed up my conclusions by suggesting that both biological forces and cultural attitudes were combining to disrespect, undermine, and in some quarters actively oppose the existence of masculinity.
That series came to an end last March, so what is new? More really scary news! In October of 2013, the Observer, a magazine of the British Guardian, published the following article: Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?*** According to the author, “Japan’s under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren’t even dating, and increasing numbers can’t be bothered with with sex. For their government, “celibacy syndrome” is part of a looming national catastrophy.” As I have noted, the plummeting birth rates in many parts of the world are reaching toward a point where recovery might literally not be possible. One estimate is that the population of Japan, at its present rate, will drop one-third of its 126,000,000 by 2060. Perhaps bringing this home really graphically is the comment in this article that “This (2012} was also the year, as the number of elderly people shoots up, that adult incontinence pants outsold nappies in Japan for the first time.”
Statistics in the article are taken from various recent surveys and studies in that nation. Simply quoting the article we find “a survey taken in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship…Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all.” Finally, “A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA found that 45% of women aged 16-24 were not interested in or despised sexual contact” and “More than a quarter of men felt the same way.” It is the opinion of one sex therapist, quoted in the article, that all of this represents “a flight from human intimacy.”
Looking at the practical situation for Japanese couples, there are other more mundane explanations given for the loss of marriage and children. In particular there is the fact that although Japanese culture welcomes women in the working world, moderately, corporations do not welcome women with children, so that nearly 70% of women who are working leave their jobs after the first child is born because of very long, inflexible hours that make it impossible to combine work and motherhood. One single working woman commented that”a woman’s chances of promotion in Japan stop dead as soon as she marries. “”The bosses assume that you will get pregnant.”” Japanese men, on the other hand, also face economic problems. The long, seemingly unending recession leaves many men feeling like the obligations of family are just too much, and dating leads to hopes for marriage that they do not want to face. So there are career and economic issues for both sexes.
But still, something more seems to emerge from this article. Many young people interviewed both find the single life–jobs, clothes, digital toys, etc. stimulating, and simultanously report that relationships are too much trouble, too complicated, unnecessary to a good life. Some part of this can also be seen as a part of the widespread availability of online porn of all kinds, highly developed online virtual worlds, and online social communication of all sorts. All are attractive substitutes if live human beings are seen as less and less desirable.
But still, again we have long assumed that sexuality is one of the greatest forces in human nature. Would you not expect other aspects of culture, to make way for it? An article in the online magazine slate is entitled No Japanese People Haven’t Given Up on Sex. ****However the article does not seem to say that the statistics are wrong on Japan–rather that they are much more widespread in the Western world than we have acknowledged. The author says “Japan is just facing a more acute version of a trend the rest of the world is also experiencing.” Somehow, I don’t find that comforting.
Looking at this problem in yet another way, there are some Japanese behaviors that might point to differences in Japanese temperament relating to intimacy in general. First of all, it is quite well accepted that greater introversion is the norm there, both in cultural expectations and behavior. That shouldn’t affect the ability to be intimate, but probably would make the process of dating and mating more anxiety producing. Second, the Japanese have a greater aversion to foreign immigration than is true in most of the world, to the point where it is almost non-existent. This might also speak to some difference in including or reaching out to what is not-you. Finally, the same male business culture that created the “long, inflexible hours” that make it so hard for women to have both career and motherhood, also served to limit the hours that husbands and wives spent together. The corporate model for many many years was one in which employees (basically male) were carefully chosen and then given a position that would generally extend for life. Tremendous loyalty to the company was expected in return. Not only were hours extraordinarily long, but loyalty extended to the expectation of spending after-hours in socializing–eating, drinking, geisha entertainment, weekend golf. Wives, meanwhile, stayed at home. The point of this is that little time was left for marital partners to spend together. The question then is–on some level was this found to be desirable?
I tend to think that cultures arrange themselves to fit the needs and temperaments of their dominant members, rather than creating those needs and temperaments. Thus I would suggest that some difficulty with interpersonal intimacy may have favored this work-life model from the beginning. Japan may be leading this trend away from close emotional and sexual closeness, for reasons that are somewhat unique to Japan.
But still, one more time, why is this happening in varying degrees in much of the world-and especially, the developed world. My thinking returns to dropping testosterone, environmental estrogens, and the psychobiological effects of widespread disrespect for traditional masculine qualities. I continue to think that red flags are dropping all over the field, with little public concern.
*Rosin, Hanna (2012). The End of Men and the Rise of Women. New York: Riverhead Books.
** Seltzer Leon The Testosterone Curse (Part 2) (Published on Psychology Today at http://www.psychologytoday.com)
***Haworth, Abigail (2013). Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex? (found online at http://www.the guardian.com/world/2013/oct/20/
Keating, Joshua (2013) No Japanese People Haven’t Given up on Sex. (found online at http://slate.com/blogs/the_world_/2013/10/23/
Prior Blogs in this series, in Chronological Order
Shrinking penises, dropping sperm counts and bigger heads: What’s going on here?
Temperament, Testosterone and 21st Century Culture: More on “What’s going on Here”?
Sperm, testosterone and penises: Male reproductive health in crisis.
Temperament, Final sperm comments and the Declining Male Brand.
Boys and Men in Crisis. Biology? Culture? Both!