Japan may be about to find out.

As you might imagine, the “don’t want to have sex” crowd in Japan doesn’t include all the young people, not by a long shot. But it’s a worrisome percentage, especially considering that this is an age group where the blood usually runs hot. As you also might imagine, the phenomenon involves more women than men, although the number of guys is not insignificant:

A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all. (There are no figures for same-sex relationships.) Although there has long been a pragmatic separation of love and sex in Japan – a country mostly free of religious morals – sex fares no better. 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”. More than a quarter of men felt the same way.

A sex and relationship counselor in Japan has this to say:

“Both men and women say to me they don’t see the point of love. They don’t believe it can lead anywhere,” says Aoyama. “Relationships have become too hard.”

I very much doubt they’re actually any harder than they used to be. But their rewards are a great deal less, especially in Japan, so the cost-benefit analysis is quite different.

The article goes on to describe the reasons: women in the workforce whose promotion chances end at marriage and who often quit after having children because Japanese firms demand such unusually long hours of its employees, hosts of young people living with parents, ease of single living, and immersion in the world of computers rather than entering the messy fray of human contact.

There are other possible reasons that the article doesn’t mention. I merely list the factors that come to mind; one could easily write a book on the subject:

(1) In a society with less differentiation between the sexes, where the roles and demeanor of men and women become more alike, some of the “otherness” that enhances and feeds sexual passion wanes.

(2) Marriage has been stripped of most of its usual purposes. We used to need it economically, and to have children or acceptance as a productive and full member of society. Now marriage has been cut loose from those moorings. No wonder young people are confused as to why they should do it at all. And since sex can lead to one or other of the members of the couple pushing marriage, it’s unsurprising that people would be less inclined to engage in sex as well. Best not to start down that particular slippery slope.

(3) When nearly all is permitted (sexually, that is), the prospect of sex loses its forbidden fruit aspect and becomes more ho-hum. Same for the postponement of sex that used to come when premarital sex was more frowned upon: it acted as an aphrodisiac.

(4) Computer sex is not only ubiquitous and easy, it’s habit-forming. One of the physiological truths about sex is that the things we get used to when young—the fantasies, the turn-on triggers—can become very difficult to change. If people grow up using computers for sex and find it satisfying and simple, why would they stop?

(5) The problem is merely a subset of a host of problems caused by changing mores regarding men and women, and of society as a whole and loss of purpose in life. Some of this is obviously related to the societal changes that come from feminism, but some may be related to the decline of religion (although I’m not at all sure that has too much of an effect in Japan) and of nationalism. More Japanese used to feel they had a special national destiny, and although that idea led to some very bad stuff—World War II comes to mind—it also helped give the society a cohesiveness and purpose. The idea of having sex and children for the good of the country and society would be laughed at by today’s youth, but it was a not-unimportant motivator in the past.

No wonder the result is more widespread ennui.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]