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Silence and pleasure in Japan

by Antón Castellanos Usigli, August 5, 2015

Masayoshi Yanagida is a Member of the Youth Initiative Committee at the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS). He began his career as a sexual and reproductive health activist when he was 19 years old, and he is a former Secretary of the Youth Committee at the Japan Family Planning Association. He currently has an Internet radio show where he talks about sexuality and he recently opened a sexual health drop in center for young people in Tokyo.

Masayoshi Yanagida providing sex education in Tokyo

Masayoshi Yanagida providing sex education in Tokyo

Masayoshi thinks that many adults in Japan don’t want young people to pay attention to sexual health issues and that it is not possible to talk about sexual pleasure with every youth: “To talk about sexuality or sexual health is not difficult, but to talk about those topics seriously is very difficult”.

The most common concerns that Japanese youths have are related to pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and although Masayoshi acknowledges that masturbation is not a big concern for them, for him as a professional it is, because some ways of masturbation lead to future difficulties for men to explore themselves sexually.
While unwanted pregnancies and STIs are the biggest concerns for heterosexual youth, in Japan, LGBT youth “worry about their existence”: “Japanese society doesn’t correctly understand LGBT people, so rates of suicide among LGBT youth are far higher, compared to heterosexual youth”. Masayoshi knows that young gay people are fighting to become more acknowledged and visible in Japan: “I recently saw a gay couple holding hands together. How did they feel? Pleasure”.

Masayoshi speaking in Tokyo

Masayoshi speaking in Tokyo

Apart from questions related to pregnancies and STIs, these are other questions that Masayoshi has been asked: “How to use a sex toy safely? How to have comfortable or excellent sex? How to find attractive pornography in the Internet?” In regard to this last question, Masayoshi explained that a lot of porn movies in Japan are censored, and young people want to see movies without censorship. He also added that many ask about how to avoid being in a sexless relationship.

Japanese media continues to be very conservative when it comes to sexuality “The newspapers and the TV media seldom broadcast sexual topics. On the other side, tabloids introduce pornographic novels everyday, but there are few sources for young people to get informed about sexual pleasure”. In Japanese schools, there are also few opportunities to learn about sexuality. There is a health care subject in schools, and that’s where sex education is included: “What happens is that the teacher who teaches health care is the physical exercise teacher as well; the health care module has many topics, other than sex education, such as smoking and traffic accidents. As for sex education, we only learn how to prevent STIs or pregnancies. We seldom hear about pleasure. Not only about sexual pleasure, but life pleasure.”

Masayoshi thinks that a good approach to talk about pleasure with other youths is creating an atmosphere to talk safely, by establishing rules of respect and avoiding stigmatization: “I would start to talk about three aspects of human sexuality: Reproduction, pleasure and solidarity. When talking about pleasure, I would not only talk about the dimension related to sexual intercourse, but about the pleasure we experience when we feel happy about other things, such as seeing a cute girl or boy we like”.

Whenever information is needed, young people in Japan go to the Internet, but sometimes they might get the wrong picture: “Honestly speaking, to feel sexual pleasure in Japan is taboo, and particularly when it is through sexual practices that do not lead to reproduction, such as oral or anal sex”, Masayoshi concluded.