Journal Club: Sexual orientation in Japan

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This month, the ace journal club discussed

“Understanding Sexual Orientation Identity, Sexual/Romantic Attraction, and Sexual Behavior beyond Western Societies: The Case of Japan” by Daiki Hiramori & Saori Kamano (2020) (preprint, freely available)

The journal club meets once a month on Discord, using text or voice as club members prefer. We discuss a variety of academic works in ace studies, ranging from gender studies to psychology. Don’t worry about journal access, we can provide access. If you’re interested, please e-mail me at for an invite.

Our discussion notes are below the fold.

This paper uses a survey of Osaka, Japan to look at sexual orientation identity, sexual attraction, romantic attraction, and sexual behavior. They explore the intersection of these dimensions, and how Japan may differ from western cultures.

Asexual results
– They reported 1.6% of respondents with neither romantic nor sexual attraction, and 1.3% with romantic but not sexual attraction. This measure is fairly similar to Bogaert 2004, but the result seems to be 3 times higher.
– Asexual identity is less common, around 0.6%.
– The above groups all had 2-3 times more people who were assigned female than male. This seems in alignment with Bogaert, although not as imbalanced as the Ace Community Survey.
– The sample size is fairly small, with N=126 not experiencing sexual attraction.

The three dimensions of orientation
– The three dimensions of attraction, behavior, and identity, may have different relevance depending on the subject of research, and they don’t always line up perfectly.
– These three dimensions have often been discussed in the literature, and in ace literature they appear in Poston & Baumle 2010–although that paper suffers from having poor proxy measures.
– Note that in the literature, it’s often described as identity vs behavior vs desire, where attraction is considered a subset of desire. This paper initially describes it that way too.

LGBT in Japan
– In the intro, the authors frame the relevance of their study in terms of studying labor market outcomes, which is certainly different.
– Japan has a long history of same-sex relationships being accepted in the past. In the pre-Meiji era, these were pederastic practices associated with monks and samurai. At the beginning of the Meiji era, Japan briefly had its only anti-sodomy law, which supposedly was a response to gangs of youths who would engage in same-sex behavior.
– So, m/m sexualities have been more accepted, but often in a secretive sort of way.
– On the other hand, lesbians have been largely invisible. Scholars argue that there’s a blurring of the boundary between lesbians and FtM, and that some lesbians are pressured to identify as FtM transgender instead. (We noted the similarity to TERF talking points, but we can’t evaluate the validity of the idea in Japan.)
– In any case, there’s a higher ratio of FtM to MtF trans people, compared to western countries.

Observations about the questions
– In some Japanese communities there is a distinction between nonsexual and asexual, where nonsexual means romantic asexual and asexual means aromantic asexual. Other communities follow the English convention of calling them both asexual. The survey follows the latter convention, not having any nonsexual identity option.
– The paper distinguished between aromantic and romantic asexual not based on identity, but rather based on the presence of romantic attraction.
– While the identity question had options for “don’t want to decide, haven’t decided” and “I do not understand the question”, we noted the lack of similar options for the attraction questions, which would leave out any sort of demi/gray experience. At one point they even use “the asexual spectrum” to refer to romantic and aromantic men and women, which says something about which dimensions of diversity they think about.
– Checking on the original wording, the romantic attraction question translates to “Who do you have feelings of love for?” and the sexual attraction question translates to “Who are you sexually attracted to?”
– Trans respondents were excluded from analyses of same-sex sexuality, apparently because they didn’t want to deal with the complication of classifying their sexuality–although it didn’t seem to us that it should be so difficult.
– On the other hand, asexual respondents were separated by assigned gender instead of gender, which was a strange choice.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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