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In non-hentai anime, nudity and ecchi scenes are everywhere—dramatically more than American broadcast TV and even more than non-porn American movies and cable TV. Yet, at the same time, sex is almost nonexistent and nearly all non-adult anime characters (and many unmarried adults) are virgins—dramatically more than in American movies and broadcast TV (and cable all the more so).

How is this discrepancy—that anime is so perverted and yet so prudish—to be explained?

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    If you look at the entirety of anime and manga, ecchi isn't particularly more common than in American media. But a lot of what we fans see is late-night anime aimed at a young, male audience who's into that sort of thing. It's as if someone from Japan watched only shows from HBO and concluded that all American TV is full of boobies and dismemberment. – Torisuda Jun 7 '15 at 3:59
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    As Torisuda notes, anime contains all manner of genres, but only a small subset of these are exported based on the make-up of the overseas demographics, which has historically been adult males. There is plenty of shoujo anime, children's anime, nichijo series, series focusing on traditional games and arts (such as go, shogi, mahjong, karuta, Japanese calligraphy), the classic World Masterpiece Theatre series, etc. which do not contain any ecchi content. – seijitsu Jun 7 '15 at 4:17
  • I guess so. I am (or at least was) a big watcher of fansubbed anime, but I guess my perspective could be skewed because I primarily watch non-shoujo teen or adult drama, comedy, daily life, and sometimes romance, which tend to have significant overlap with ecchi. – Justin Olbrantz Jun 7 '15 at 4:51
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    Which anime series have been fansubbed has also largely been chosen by fansubbers based on the English-speaking fan demographics, so even though it is a wider selection of all the anime that's been produced than the series which have been licensed, it is still skewed toward those demographics. Not as many fansubbers have been interested in translating anime from the 60s and 70s, series aimed at children, or 4-koma gag manga-adapted series. – seijitsu Jun 7 '15 at 6:26
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Currently, nearly 50% of Japanese adults are not sexually active. This has been reported in international news such as the Washington Post, the Telegraph, the Guardian, the Daily Mail, and Japan's own English-language news source, the Japan Times. Anime characters are a reflection of the real situation. Not all of the adults who are not currently sexually active are virgins: some are, while others are people who do not plan to become sexually active again.

Japan is a don't-ask,-don't-tell society: what you want to do in the privacy of your own bedroom (watch hentai, use body pillow dolls, any matter of fetishes, etc.) is not considered any big deal, and mentioning that you felt up a stranger's breast in a hostess club can be done in front of your colleagues without anyone raising an eyebrow, so it is not a "prudish" society at all. However, the Japanese overwhelmingly want you to keep your sexuality and sexual activities to yourself: do whatever you like and that will generally be respected, but PDA (public display of affection) or coming out and sharing about it to others is not socially respected (i.e. don't bother other people with it). Many young Japanese believe, likely as an influence from the Western nations, that it makes sense to test-drive a potential spouse before marrying (sleep together and/or live together), but it is simply the case that not as many Japanese are even dating and getting married.

Another cultural factor that may contribute, which you can see in quite a lot of manga and anime, is that a major format of Japanese romance is to like someone who you are not friends with for a long time, and finally "confess" your feelings in a sudden love letter, on St. Valentine's Day, or on graduation day, in which the recipient must abruptly decide whether or not he/she has romantic interest in the other person -- who might not have been on the recipient's radar whatsoever. This can result in either being turned down on the spot ("I don't even know you"), a willingness to try to go on a couple dates ("Maybe I could get interested in you"), or the first-choice being the recipient is overjoyed ("I secretly pined away for you for years too!"). A lot of romantic feelings and sexual desire are never confessed, but some that are get rejected due to the format in which the potential couple does not get to know each other through friendship or casual dating before a major DTR (defining the relationship) event takes place, or reciprocal feelings are confessed right after the graduation ceremony and the respective parties part ways to go to different schools for high school or university, so the mutual interest doesn't lead anywhere.

Ecchi content in anime is responding to a market that may not have an outlet for sexual release in a real-life relationship; on the flip side, characters who are virgins are easy for certain demographics to relate to, so if the virginal character ended up getting laid, the viewer wouldn't feel like a kindred spirit. In terms of storytelling, delaying steps toward the culmination of a relationship keeps viewers coming back for more episodes, such as rationing out the hand-holding, kissing, etc. (although this is perhaps not as often done regarding sex between characters in mainstream Western TV shows for adults, a good example is Sheldon and Amy in The Big Bang Theory). While delayed gratification is a normal plot device, in modern Japan, another type of love triangle has emerged in bishoujo harem and bishounen reverse harem anime: a lot of love interests are available to the protagonist, but he or she ends up not choosing between them and doesn't end up with anyone. This purportedly allows the view to favor any one of the potential suitors and imagine the post-episode happily-ever-after that they prefer without their favorite ship getting rejected in canon.

Legally, what is considered porn or not porn differs by country. I once turned on a Japanese TV during prime time (while kids are awake) and found myself looking at a topless woman in a live-action TV drama series. In manga and anime, non-pornographic depictions of nudity should not include the details of female nipples or any genitalia (and they usually do not include any body hair), so the bodies look Barbie doll-ish or the genital area is censored with a white spot (nothing is drawn there).

Not all nudity in manga and anime is considered sensual or sexual. Just as the Japanese public baths (onsen and sento) do not innately bear any association of nudity with sex among the general population, nudity can be included in illustrations that are not intending to have any sexual connotations. Historically, the Japanese were surprised by the foreigners who arrived on their shores and balked at the public baths, since the Japanese didn't view them as related to sexual interest. In fact, nudity can in some contexts connote purity, as in the final episode of Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon, in which the protagonist fights her final battle in the nude, her pure heart able to

reach and connect to the villain's and set her free from being possessed by evil.

Neither the villain, nor any of the onlooking supporting characters, particularly pay attention to her nudity during and after the battle; even when she is subsequently hugged by her boyfriend, there is no sensuality present in the depiction.

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    Though even with the discouragement of PDA, why would anime designed for private consumption, as you mention, not include sex even where it would make sense? – Justin Olbrantz Jun 7 '15 at 2:36
  • Additionally, most of what I refer to (ecchi) is clearly sexual in nature. – Justin Olbrantz Jun 7 '15 at 3:30
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    @JustinOlbrantz What seijitsu is basically saying (assuming I understood the answer correctly) is that the ecchi part is for titillating the viewer, but the lack of explicit sex is a reflection of reality. Essentially, the character being a virgin helps the viewer put him- or herself in the character's shoes, while experiencing a fantasy of being in a sexual situation. – Torisuda Jun 7 '15 at 3:55
  • @Torisuda, excellent answer! Justin Olbrantz, I've added a paragraph to hopefully explain more carefully. – seijitsu Jun 7 '15 at 4:08
  • I suppose that is rather Japanese - working hard to make the main character's life resemble the viewers'. Like the dating sims and old-style JRPGs. – Justin Olbrantz Jun 7 '15 at 4:27
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I think that this is not really that anime-specific, It can be seen in lots of American shows also. I can't say that I see much of a difference myself, perhaps there are particular genres (either american or japanese) that do, but for the most part I think it's about equal. Perhaps barring more recent shows as I believe american TV has become more open about sex.

In the context of a story, usually traits are added if they're essential to the plot. Because of this, we usually have two polar opposites - Pure Virgin & Promiscuous. Some stories need some conflict with exes, and there's usually an episode of intimacy included here - just like with American TV. Most of the time however, one's experience isn't really mentioned and it's assumed by the viewer that they are virgins from their appearance/demeanour.

In ecchi shows, being a virgin is often an appeal point - viewers like innocent females moreso than promiscuous ones. This is seen in Western culture too - see Slut-Shaming and the porn industry's value on virginity videos. For an example in Eastern culture, see the many idol groups who prohibit relationships in order to keep their appeal to their fans.

Another point to mention is that anime generally has a younger cast than western shows. Many western shows are based around an adult cast at work, wheras the majority of anime shows are focused on school-life. Obviously adult characters would have had more time to experience intimate relationships than school characters (especially as they could be in single-sex schools)

Along with a school setting, comes teenage angst, fluctuating hormones and an increased interest in the opposite sex. Because of this, a common character is one who has found their first love / wants to experiment with the opposite sex. This is a theme that resonates strongly with the male teenage target audience which is an important majority of anime fans.

That being said, my exposure to American shows is limited. But coming from a background with much exposure to British media - I think it's not too indifferent from the shows here. Maybe it's America who are the odd ones out?

  • Torisuda did have a point: America is extremely prudish in regards to nudity, given that TV can get away with at least fragments of sex scenes. I have to wonder whether the latter is a matter of working around the censors, as opposed to the more formal former prohibition. Interestingly, while I don't know much in that regard, I have heard of British culture being very prudish. – Justin Olbrantz Jun 7 '15 at 6:50
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    But as far as slut-shaming, many of the girls in ecchi series (the ones that pursue to protagonist in a sexually-aggressive way) would be classified as sluts in America even though they're virgins. – Justin Olbrantz Jun 7 '15 at 6:51
  • I dunno about overall prudishness in american tv - I've seen some Game of Thrones and Spartacus and everything is flopping around. – Toshinou Kyouko Jun 7 '15 at 7:14
  • Those are the exceptions that prove the rule, really :P I haven't seen Spartacus but GoT is by FAR the American show with the most sex and nudity I've ever seen. It's actually been criticized by the more traditional people in America for its gratuitous sex and violence. – Justin Olbrantz Jun 7 '15 at 7:28
  • You might say GoT is the American live-action equivalent of an ecchi adventure anime. – Justin Olbrantz Jun 7 '15 at 7:34

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