Japanese women and men having sex - or rather not having sex - are the subject of a brilliant new documentary by BBC's Anita Rani - No Sex Please, We're Japanese.

Due to air on 24 October, it coincides with a thought-provoking article in The Observer, where writer Abigail Haworth reported on the 'celibacy syndrome' that is sweeping the country.

Don't be fooled by the jokey title of the show - the problem is very serious, with the Japanese government viewing it as a major catastrophe. "Japan's under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships," writes Haworth. "Millions aren't even dating, and increasing numbers can't be bothered with sex... Japan already has one of the world's lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million, which has been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to plunge a further one-third by 2060."

japanese woman

The situation is complex - people don't just decide to not have sex anymore. What is comes down to, says Anita Rani, is that in a society which is still quite conservative and traditional, women who have children only have one option: to quit their jobs and not return to the workforce.

Japanese women may have been content to do that in the past, but they certainly aren't anymore. "Children are one of the many reasons they aren’t having sex or forming relationships," she says. "Only 2% of couples in Japan have kids out of wedlock – in Britain, that figure is nearly 50%.

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"We forget that it’s an Asian country so they are conservative even though it’s really modern. You’re completely blown away at how high tech it is when you arrive there. But when you scratch beneath the surface, it is traditional and women are expected to be housewives and bring up the kids. There is no place in the workforce for them after they have children and that is a big problem. This generation now has opted out of having sex – it’s a strange thing that can only happen in Japan."

The key problem is that women and men are growing into two very different types of human beings. The women that Anita met, she says, "are massively assertive" and are outperforming men. But while they are forging ahead, the men are retreating into themselves and aren't taking the reins. "They're emasculated," adds Anita, "but that's their own doing."

anita rani

While she was out there, Anita met two Otaku men- which refers to a group of people obsessed with Manga and video games. Both had virtual girlfriends and one of the men is actually married to a proper human being. These two are in their late 30s, and Anita says, have completely rebelled against the traditional image of a Japanese salary-man who'd work all hours for the company.

"The traditional work ethic is what re-built Japan post-war, but now its biting the country on its arse. It has now been economically stagnant for 20 years – this generation has seen their parents work so hard and have thought: that’s not the life for me. These two Otaku guys were deadly serious – when I asked the married guy who he would pick the wife or the virtual girlfriend – he actually paused to think."

So what does she advise for the future? "Immigration is an issue they won't discuss," she says, "and there are going to be serious consequences if they don't change the way their workforce is structured. At the moment, women who do have children don't want to return because they are worried about inconveniencing their colleagues - can you imagine that? They don't want to make their colleagues pick up the slack when they have to look after their children.

"But something must be done. The elderly are not dying and they won't have any young people to look after them soon, and there will be even fewer people who have jobs who will be paying taxes."

No Sex Please, We're Japanese airs on 24 October, BBC2 at 9pm.

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  • Helps You Sleep

    A little pleasure may go a long way towards a good night's rest. A recent survey of 1,800 women found that over 30 percent of them used sexual release as a natural sedative.

  • Keeps Your Blood Flowing

    According to Dr. Jennifer Berman, co-founder of the Female Sexual Medicine Center at UCLA, orgasms increase your circulation, keeping the blood flowing to your genital area. This in turn keeps your tissue healthy!

  • It's A Form Of Cardio

    Although it can't be considered an alternative to daily exercise, having an orgasm is a cardiovascular activity. "Your heart rate increases, blood pressure increases [and your] respiratory rate increases," says Berman. And because it's akin to running in many physiological respects, your body also releases endorphins. Sounds like a pretty fun way to work your heart out.

  • Lifts Your Mood

    Feeling down in the dumps? An orgasm might be just what you need to pick yourself up. In addition to endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin are also released during orgasm. All three of these hormones have what Berman terms "mood-enhancing effects." In fact, dopamine is the same hormone that's released when individuals use drugs such as cocaine -- or eat something really delicious.

  • Keeps Your Brain Healthy

    Having an orgasm not only works out your heart, but also your head. Barry Komisaruk, Ph.D. <a href="http://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/tips-moves/orgasm-news" target="_hplink">told <em>Cosmopolitan</em></a> that orgasms actually nourish the brain with oxygen. "Functional MRI images show that women's brains utilize much more oxygen during orgasm than usual," Komisaruk says.

  • It's A Natural Painkiller

    One thing that Victorian practitioners may have been onto is that orgasms can work to soothe certain aches and pains -- namely migraines and menstrual cramps. (So now you know what to do next time you have a headache if you don't feel like popping an Excedrin.) According to Berman, the contractions that make up an orgasm can actually work to evacuate blood clots during your period, providing some temporary relief.

  • It Relieves Stress

    Most of our lives are so hectic that it's hard to even imagine being relaxed. However, it turns out that <em>sexual</em> release can double as <em>stress</em> relief. Not only do the hormones help with this task, Berman says that being sexual also gives our minds a break: "When we're stressed out and overextending ourselves, [we're] not being in the moment. Being sexual requires us to focus on one thing only."

  • Gives You A Healthy Glow

    There actually might be something to the idea that we "glow" after sex. The hormone DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), which shows <a href="http://www.ivillage.com/secret-health-benefits-sex/4-a-283856" target="_hplink">increased levels during sexual excitement</a>, can actually make your skin healthier.

  • Aids Your Emotional Health

    Last but not least, when you know what it takes to make yourself orgasm, you may increase your emotional confidence and intelligence. "When you understand how your body works and ... [that it] is capable of pleasure on its own, regardless of your partner status, you make much better decisions in relationships," says Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., a sexologist and certified sexuality educator. "You don't look to someone else to legitimize that you're a sexual being."