Shut Up and Listen!

One Man's Quest for Absolute Silence

Is Sex Dead?

Online arousal is taking the place of human seduction and intercourse

Is sex dead?

Or, at best, obsolete?

You wouldn't think so, seeing how many sitcoms (How I met your mother, Sex and the City, etc.) and reality shows (Teen Mom, Jersey Shore, etc. etc.) revolve around adult dating, heavy breathing and doing the dirty together.

You wouldn't think so, given how much porn there is on the internet and how much time we as a society spend online. According to a variety of news and research sources (as reported in toptenreviews) 28,258 internet users are viewing pornography every second of every day. And every 39 minutes a new pornographic video is produced in the U.S.

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But the fact that so much sex happens on the screen is telling. Because it seems people are starting to replace old-fashioned sex, that is, actual physical intercourse between two human beings (you know, what they showed you diagrams of in sex ed.), with screen titillation--and, presumably, the auto-erotic hi-jinx that go with it.

It's also significant that the problem is being recognized first and foremost in Japan, the country that leads the world in the production of video games with widely adored on-screen personalities.

According to a recent article by author Roland Kelts in Britain's Guardian newspaper, the Japanese are seriously concerned over the number of people--especially men--who have lost interest in living, breathing members of the other sex.

The male version is called hikikomori ("socially withdrawn boys") and soshoku danshi ("herbivore men, uninterested in meat [or] fleshly sex"), and they are not some figment of blogger or journalistic imagination. A recent government study shows the percentage of unmarried men in Japan rose by 9.2 points from five years ago. Not only that: 61 percent of the unwed men said they had no girlfriend, and 45 percent claimed they didn't want one.

One prevalent view is that, as Japanese women have gained power in society, the men have retreated into virtual worlds to the point where they prefer such worlds to reality. "I don't like real women," one man interviewed by Japan's 2channel said, "They're too picky nowadays. I'd much rather have a virtual girlfriend."

And virtual girlfriends are readily available. In 2009, a Japanese man officially "married" a video-game babe named Nene Anegasaki. And last summer, according to the Guardian, a Japanese game-maker came out with the second generation of Love Plus, a game that supplies you with the cyber-babe you were always lusting for. (Nene was a Love Plus character.) When the game-maker called for clients to bring their virtual girlfriends on a real-world holiday weekend in a coastal resort, the event was mobbed.

In Japan, men who spend time with digital lovers are known as otaku. There are female otaku as well. One woman interviewed by the Guardian suggests otaku are "more advanced human beings," adding, "maybe we have learned to service ourselves."

And maybe they have learned how to love a screen date as well as get off on her, or his, pixilated image. According to New York Magazine, scientists theorize that the dopamine-oxytocin mix released in the brain during orgasm allows people, like ducklings, to bond with whatever object of desire is first available. "When you watch porn, you're bonding with it," behavioral therapist Andrea Kuszewski told New York. "And those chemicals make you want to keep coming back to have that feeling." In other words, it's possible to date porn.

The arrival on the dating scene of otaku, of either gender, raises another interesting question.

Old-fashioned sex, at its most basic, is necessary for procreation. But modern medical technology now allows procreation without sex. Sperm banks, artifical insemination and in-vitro fertilization enable women to get pregnant without the messy, embarrassing requirement of taking their clothes off and climbing into bed with a man. Cloning, even parthenogenesis are technically feasible, if currently unrealistic, options.

Now virtual reality games and haptic suits (as described, incidentally, in a bunch of futuristic novels I once wrote) already offer the potential for immersion and physical stimulation whenever you want, however you want it, without having to find a partner, buy a pricey dinner, figure out if you both like techno, etc. etc.

Could it be that otaku truly are the next generation of humans? I don't happen to think so: the reasons why this could be a bad idea are outlined in an earlier post.

Still...

(Don't bother undressing, honey. I'm about to log onto Love Plus.)

George Michelsen Foy, a novelist and journalist, teaches creative writing at NYU. His latest book, Zero Decibels: The Quest for Silence, is published by Scribner.

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