Little Details

A Fact-Checking Community for Writers

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
How much would an aristocratic Japanese girl know about sex?
Scribbling
cataglottisme wrote in little_details

Hello there!

I need your help! How much would an aristocratic Japanese girl know about sex?
 
Settings : Alternate Universe, a cross between feudal (no sex-ed, no high school life) and modern day Japan (loads of books, mags available, advanced body understanding), and the main character is a girl of 19, from a very old, aristocratic family.

She's the eldest daughter and kinda has the "princess" status. She's supposed to inherit the clan's name, and everyone in the clan/family shows her a great deal of respect (adding -sama after her name,  the elders treating her as a porcelain doll...).

The girl in question is a bit old fashioned, she has received a very proper education, she dresses traditionally.

She's very sweet and gentle, she has male friends, but she's not the kind to openly talk about sex. I'd go as far as to say it might be a bit taboo for her.

She lost her mother when she was young, so while she can't ask her 'tricky' questions, and members of her family tend to shelter her a lot.

She's been in love with a boy for a looooong time, but it has always been a very platonic, one-sided romance.

What would be her  sex -related knowledge? Am I right to assume she'd know next to nothing? She was very busy during her youth, so I don't think she had much time to think/read about sex, and she'd rather die than ask "shameful" questions.

I'm asking you guys, because it's not easy to find stuff about Japanese aristocratic families sex-ed on google. Typing the wrong terms can even lead to some disturbing porn :S

ETA : Thank you!


The way I understand it, feudal Japan was very open about sex, and it was considered a basic duty of women to provide it for men. There was a lot of rape going on, in that a man could show up in a woman's bedroom at night and "no" meant "yes" and her only option was not to reply to his love poem the next day and hope he got the point. Parents would sometimes make these arrangements without telling their daughters--would say to some man, sure, go and visit my daughter tonight, and if she successfully fought him off she would get told off for it. This was the acceptable form of courtship, pretty much.

Depending on the style of architecture you're using in your AU, she might have learned a lot of stuff simply from hearing it going on in neighboring rooms through the paper walls.

I would think she might also have learned a fair bit from female friends and relatives, including those close to her own age.

If she got her hands on a "Pillow Book" or two she would be educated about the mechanics. The illustrations are explicit, especially regarding various positions.

what time period are you talking about? I'm guessing Edo/Tokugawa since you use the term feudal. My area of specialization is a good six hundred years earlier, but I'll try to help!

In Tokugawa Japan, there was a flourishing pornography industry, so there's one reference she might be able to look at. Of course, the erotic prints weren't necessarily very accurate. As one of my professors said, it must have been difficult for the guys to walk, given how well-endowed they were.

On the other hand, Tokugawa Japan was a low point for women. Much like in feudal Europe, women were chattel. If you're really interested in knowing more, try searching Project Muse (projectmuse.org) for something like women, gender, tokugawa japan. You can also search the index of the Monumenta Nipponica, which is the oldest and most respected historical journal of Japanese history: http://monumenta.cc.sophia.ac.jp/chrono.html. If you have access to Jstor, or if you can somehow get access through a local university/college (at my old school you can just walk into the library and start using the computers, which all have access to Jstor and other academic databases. You don't have to be a student) you can also access all the articles from the Monumenta Nipponica.

Oh WOW, thank you for that link!!

I'm glad to spread the Monumenta Nipponica love! ^_^ It has so many amazing articles on obscure topics, it made researching for my thesis really hard. I kept getting distracted by stuff that looked cool, but wasn't related to my topic.

If it's a cross with modern day Japan, and there are loads of books-- she could look up information in a library?

One thing I'd watch is not conflating outward prudery with a real lack of sex ed.

Reputation was paramount for a woman, etc., sure, but the basis of an aristocracy is producing a next generation to carry on the line. A girl/woman of marriageable age would need to know at least the basic facts of life to be sure (barring medical issues) of having that heir.

I was actually under the impression that Japanese culture, like many other cultures, was a lot less sexually repressed before extensive contact with the West.

~S

This is absolutely correct, but in the case of aristocratic women and girls, they were very much removed from the world, their environment heavily controlled, meaning that it will really depend on who is around her and what she can see.

I'm going to go against the grain and say that for the purposes of your story, if you want this girl to be ignorant of "the facts of life," you could totally make it work. If she doesn't have a mother or other close older woman, and she's too shy to ask anyway, you could set up a plausible scenario.

Also, several of the commenters seem to be talking about Heian-era social relations, which actually changed a lot over time and were no longer in place by the "feudal" era.

THANK YOU!
*hearts*
I was actually starting to doubt myself @.@
I'm glad you answered!

I'd be careful with the historical accuracy of her having close male friends as an unmarried woman. Women and men were very segregated in feudal Japan; they didn't have much interaction socially. Aristocratic women were tended to by women for the most part. They lived in separate women's wings of their hourses, they were carried around in paladins that were heavily covered and hidden from the world. It would be hard for her to interact with young men her own age at all.

Wow. I need to dial back on the RPG;)

Generally speaking, Japanese do not consider the body (or bodily functions) shameful. They are much more open/factual about sex than western cultures. Women specifically tend to have a practical view of sex as a natural, acceptable aspect of life.

Since several commenters have mentioned feudal Japan, I will say that in modern Japan, the aristocracy are crazily well-educated. They can afford to give their children the very best educations money can buy and they do. Being educated is a very high compliment in Japan; it's an incredibly important concept to them. On the other hand, many Japanese have very precise data memory without practical application.

I don't think I have much to add than what others have said here, but.......

Aoi from the anime Ai Yori Aoshi sounds very much like the kind of girl you're describing. She's sweet, shy, enthusiastic, she dresses traditionally, and she comes from a wealthy family (maybe not aristocratic, per say, but I believe they own a large silk clothing/kimono conglomerate or something? Been awhile since I watched).

Anyway, it's really probably not the best source for your question, as it is fiction, and also, it's a bit more PG-13 - focusing on romance more than sex, definitely. But, like I said, the character you described reminded me a lot of her, so I thought I'd throw it out there anyway.

The notion that sheltered well-bred gels ought not to know anything about sex, and that it was a "shameful" subject only discussed in whispers (if at all), is specific to 19th-century English-speaking culture (i.e. what is generally referred to vaguely as "Victorian"). Anthropologically speaking it is wildly atypical, and should not be taken as a guide.

In all patriarchal aristocratic cultures female chastity and virginity are by definition desperately important, and such cultures keep their womenfolk closely guarded from unsupervised contact with men, to the extent of keeping them completely shut up in zenanas and harems. But they do not normally keep them ignorant of what is going to be one of their main functions in life - usually quite the reverse; the daughters of aristocratic Ancient Roman, Indian and Persian families grew up perfectly familiar with bedroom lore. It was one of the things they were expected to know about.

If this girl has grown up in anything like a feudal aristocratic household, she may never have spoken to a man alone but ever since she was a baby she has heard her mother, her father's concubines (if any), her aunts, their female friends and the female servants discussing sex.

Just a few additional things relating to modern Japan:
1. Does your world have television/video/cell phones/internet? This will make a *huge* difference. There is a lot of casual sexuality in even children's TV programming, and of course advertising. Just searching 'teenaged girls' and 'sex ed' turned up some wild stuff @.@
2. A good friend of mine comes from a very well-to-do family, and she was always embarrassed by her grandmother, who liked to have frank discussions of bodily functions at mealtimes. At home, in the family setting, there's no shame in this at all (and I discussed my father-in-law's sperm with him when he was having cancer treatments... but he's from the inaka, ne).
3. Communal bathing is very, very common here. She would be used to bathing with other women in her family, and with friends. While I've never talked with anyone about sex whilst at an onsen or sento, everyone is very open talking about bodies (breasts, body hair, whether fat or thin, etc.). In a school dormitory bath, however, the girls are much more frank and do talk about boys *g*
4. And while modern Japan is not feudal, it is still extremely segregated: there are only six men I regularly speak with, my husband, his father, my bosses, and my son's teacher. All my friends are female, and most of them are in the same situation. (A friend's daughter was afraid of men, because until around age 3 or 4 she never knew any except Dad). When I was at university in 1990, the women's dorms all had strict curfews, and no visitors were allowed outside of the downstairs meeting room.

I don't know if this will help, but I remember when I was about seven or eight, and my sister was about six, her telling me she'd found 'another hole'. Until that point, I'd never noticed that we had those, either.

Just a bit of anecdata. Your girl might be surprised by her own body as she grows up too, although that probably won't be too relevant depending on where in her life you start the story from, and how you choose to interpret the other information given with regards to your story.