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Wed, Dec 05, 2001 - Page 24 News List

Sex activities go limp with economy

DOWN TIME An American analyst is out to uncover a link between the performance of a nation's economy and the level productivity achieved in the bedroom

By William Pesek Jr.  /  BLOOMBERG , TOKYO

A young couple moves down an escalator in front of a giant picture of a sperm whale as they enter Tokyo's Roppongi Subway Station. Analysts say that the sluggish economy in Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan is having an impact on sex-related activities.

PHOTO: AFP

No sex please, we're Japanese.

That, at least, is what the folks who make Durex condoms would have us believe many here are saying. According to Durex SSL International's annual poll of 18,500 people in 28 countries, Japanese are the world's least prolific lovers. Folks here apparently average 36 sexual encounters a year.

What's all this sex talk got to do with economics? Nothing, until you take a deeper look at which countries supposedly have the least sex and trends in their GDP. Only then, after admittedly unscientific analysis, does one begin to ponder a link between sex and economics.

Take the three places in which people supposedly are least sexually active: Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The survey found the Taiwanese average 65 sexual encounters a year -- nearly double that of Japanese -- while Hong Kongers have 63. What these Asian economies also have in common is that they're among the region's most vulnerable to the global slowdown.

Japan's woes need little explanation. Its economy shrank 0.7 percent in the second quarter, and analysts see little hope of revival. Hong Kong eked out 0.4 percent growth, but plunging exports mean recession is a risk there, too. Taiwan's economy fell a more drastic 4.2 percent from a year earlier, the second straight drop.

Taken together, the outlooks for Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong constitute a major blow to the international economy. Countries such as Indonesia are in worse shape, but officials in Taipei aren't steering clear of the global slowdown as they did during Asia's 1997-1998 economic crisis. Hong Kong may revisit its 1998 recession as export demand evaporates. Japan, meanwhile, is on the verge of a full-blown banking crisis.

"Signs suggest sexual desires have dropped while the economy continued to lose momentum," C. Jay Jeng, president of the Taiwan Association for Sexuality Education, told Agence France-Presse when asked about the survey.

One can't help but wonder just how honest and accurate Durex expects people to be about their sex lives, especially when sharing life's most intimate details with complete strangers. Yet take a look at the flipside of the Durex survey: The countries that purportedly have the most sex are the US, Greece and Croatia.

Let's look at the latter two first. Greece, the latest member to the join Europe's monetary union, is growing 4.9 percent; Croatia, 4.7 percent. New Zealand -- with a 3.4 percent growth rate -- ranked fifth in the hanky panky department, besting even the Italians and French.

The US, where people supposedly make whoopee 124 times a year, would seem a glaring exception to the more-sex-equals-more- economic-growth theory. After all, analysts at the National Bureau of Economic Research believe the world's largest economy slid into recession in March.

Yet there are a couple of special considerations we should allow the US. One is its relative resilience following the popping of its asset bubble 18 months ago. Another is the likelihood the US will recover well ahead of Japan and most Asian economies.

The Federal Reserve has cut interest rates with rare enthusiasm and the Dow Jones industrial average is near the 10,000 mark. That's even after terrorists toppled New York's twin towers, perhaps the most famous symbol of global capitalism. So while it won't be pretty, the US economy's journey from the abyss to sustainable growth is well underway. One can hardly say that about Americans' less promiscuous counterparts in Asia.

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