My husband emerged from the bedroom, woken by the beeps at the end of the washing-machine cycle.
‘Morning . . . Sorry I overslept. Shall I take over?’
The weekend laundry was his job, but since he’d had to work late at the bank and came home on the last train, I decided I’d do it that day. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ I said. ‘Oh, I washed your green shirt. Hope you don’t mind.’
‘Not at all. Thanks.’
While I was hanging the washing out on the balcony, he used the bathroom and got dressed. Then he put bread into the toaster, wiped the table and sat down to breakfast.
Living with my husband is like living with an exceedingly clean, smart owl. It’s good to have a tidy animal around the house. We’ve been married three years and that hasn’t changed. A friend who married for love around the same time tells me she’s developed a visceral aversion to her husband, but that’s not at all the case with me. My husband has orderly table manners, and the toilet and bath are never left with evidence of his bodily fluids and excretions. I sometimes wonder whether we shouldn’t have put him in charge of cleaning when we divided up the household chores.
After finishing with the laundry, I mentioned this to him and he laughed. ‘So you’re saying I’m like a Roomba?’ Actually, that wasn’t so far off the mark.
‘On the other hand,’ he said, ‘you, Mizuki, are more like a rabbit, or a squirrel. Quiet, sensitive to noise, and you never jump on me or lose your temper.’
‘Don’t squirrels ever lose their temper?’
‘I don’t think so. You and me, we’re both clean animals and don’t get in each other’s way. Which is a good thing, right?’
It really is. Of course there are little things that bother me about him, like his putting in a new roll of toilet paper before the old one has run out, or stacking the dirty dishes by shape rather than by how greasy they are, the way I like it. But they don’t stress me out, and that’s probably because of the judicious distance between us.
We met through a matchmaking website. As I’d read through the various listings by guys of their ‘ideal marriage’ – ‘I want to raise a loving family’ or ‘I want to have lots of children’ – I’d come across: ‘Seeking a clean marriage.’ When I looked at this man’s profile, this is what it said: ‘I’m seeking an amicable daily routine with someone I get along well with, like brother and sister, without being a slave to sex.’
I was intrigued. We exchanged messages, and eventually decided to meet. His silver-rimmed glasses made him look nervous, and I wondered if a ‘clean marriage’ actually meant an ‘obsession with cleanliness’. When we started talking, though, I learned that ‘clean’ was on another plane altogether.
‘I want my family life to be a calm space, the kind you have hanging out with a room-mate you get on really well with or with your favourite younger sister while the parents are away.’
‘I see. I can identify with that.’
‘The fact is, I feel uncomfortable with the idea of family as an extension of romantic attachment. A family should not have anything to do with feelings of love between man and woman – it should be a simple partnership.’
‘I agree,’ I said. ‘I’ve lived with several men, but there’s always a point where it falls apart. We’re supposed to be family, but they expect me to be both a woman and an understanding friend, which is a contradiction, isn’t it? I’m supposed to be wife, friend and mother . . . I would much rather live as brother and sister.’
‘That’s precisely what I mean. But nobody understands – not even that matchmaking site. They have these questions about the man’s income and what the woman likes cooking – but that’s not what a family is about to me. I want a partner, not all that man-woman stuff.’
He had become quite worked up from this outburst, and took out a blue-striped handkerchief to wipe his forehead. Then he gulped down a glass of water and sighed. ‘I’m happy you understand how I feel. But it may be a bit idealistic . . .’
‘Not at all. We’ll never know unless we try it.’
‘Huh?’ He gulped, pushing his glasses back up his nose.
I looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘How about it? Will you enter into a sexless marriage with me?’
‘Isn’t it about time we went to the clinic?’ asked my husband, looking up from the newspaper he was reading while he ate his toast.
‘Ah, the clinic . . .’
‘You’re already thirty-three, Mizuki. It’s about time you had an egg fertilized.’
‘That’s true.’ I nodded, staring at the slice of lemon floating in my tea. I’d been thinking more or less the same thing. ‘Now that things are settling down at work, I suppose the time is right.’
‘Shall I make an appointment for next week?’
‘Hang on a minute. I’m still taking the pill. Even if I stop taking it tomorrow, it’ll take time for my body to prepare for ovulation.’
‘I see, yes, I suppose next week would be premature,’ he said, looking uncharacteristically embarrassed. ‘But then, I don’t think they actually carry out the fertilization on the first visit. You probably have to go through some tests, too, so how about an appointment once you’ve had a bleed?’
I usually had a withdrawal bleed a couple of days after I stopped taking the pill. It would be much lighter than a normal period, and it’d be over within two or three days. I explained this to my husband, and we decided to make an appointment for a Saturday two weeks later.
A marriage that was far removed from sex was more comfortable than I’d ever imagined. I earned a salary of ¥4 million, my husband ¥5 million. We each paid ¥150,000 into the household account every month, and the rest we managed in bank books under our own names. This ¥300,000 covered our living expenses, while the rest went into savings. We decided against owning a home or any other assets jointly.
Since we were contributing equally to the finances, we also decided to split the housework. Unlike money, housework cannot be split in half precisely, but since my husband was good at cooking, he took care of that while I took care of the laundry and cleaning. On weekdays we both worked late, so we took care of our own evening meals. This meant that I had the heavier burden, and to compensate we agreed that he should do the laundry on weekends.
This much was simple. Sexual matters were trickier.
My husband wanted to ban all sex from our home. That was fine by me.
‘As far as I’m concerned, sex is an act you indulge in alone in your own room, or deal with outside. In some homes the partners come home tired from work and have sex together, but I am completely averse to this,’ he said.
‘So am I,’ I said. ‘Sex is fine during the early stages of a love affair, but as time goes on and you’re living together, it’s horrible when your partner feels you up when you’re asleep, or he suddenly comes on to you when you’re relaxing. I want to be able to turn my sexual desires on and off when I please, and to keep the switch off at home.’
‘That’s precisely what I think. I’m relieved to know I’m not the only one who’s abnormal.’
And so from the start ours was a completely sexless and sex-free marriage, but somewhat inconveniently we both wanted children.
Before we married, we had searched the Internet and discovered a clinic that specialized in the needs of sexual minorities: homosexuals wanting children, asexuals seeking to conceive, people unable to afford artificial insemination or to find a doctor sympathetic to their situation.
‘If you decide that you do want children,’ the woman on the phone had said, ‘please do come to see us. We will be happy to work with you.’
‘Um, but we are an asexual couple . . .’
‘Not a problem. We treat many such people here. We have couples coming to us with all kinds of unusual circumstances and tastes. Our service provides sex as a medical treatment for people like this.’
We didn’t have a clue what ‘sex as a medical treatment’ meant, but felt reassured that there were options open to us.
Having finished his toast, my husband started playing a video game. I watched his progress as I dialled the clinic’s number to make an appointment for a consultation.
The clinic was in a well-appointed white building in the exclusive Aoyama area.
The place oozed wealth. The waiting room was lined with plush, pale beige chairs, with relaxing music playing in the background. Besides ourselves there was a woman sitting alone, who eventually received some medication from the receptionist and left.
‘Mr and Mrs Takahashi, please come through,’ the receptionist then announced, and we were ushered in to meet a female doctor with short hair.
‘You’ve made an appointment for our Clean Breeder, I see.’
‘Our Clean Breeder. As the name suggests, it is a means to facilitate, in the purest sense of the word, reproduction. The aim of sex as a medical treatment is not to provide pleasure.’
The doctor glanced over our medical questionnaire and nodded several times. ‘Yes, yes. I see. “Frequency of sex since marriage: zero.” “Reason for interest in the Clean Breeder: we want a child.” So that’s your purpose for coming today, is that correct?’
‘Well, we haven’t decided . . . I mean, we don’t know what the Clean Breeder is, or what it involves, so we’d like you to explain it to us, please,’ my husband said.
The doctor nodded, crossing her legs. ‘Well, if you look at our home page you’ll find it’s pretty well covered there, but I’ll run through it again for you.
‘These days, an increasing number of people experience psychological issues that prevent them from having sex with their partner. The person who suits your sexual orientation is not always the best partner to have a family with, and quite often the reverse is true. Not everyone is sexually aroused by the person with whom the usual conditions are right for them to start a family.
‘For starters, the traditional way of thinking that a couple would have sex to conceive a child is outdated. It is not at all in tune with the times. Sex for pleasure and sex for pregnancy are two completely different concerns, and it’s absurd to lump them together. It’s out of sync with how people live their lives these days.’ With this, the doctor handed each of us a pamphlet bearing the title ‘The Clean Breeder and the New Family Image’.
‘Sexual orientation is becoming much more diverse,’ she went on. ‘Is a man attracted to young girls going to get an erection with his thirty-five-year-old wife? Can a woman who only gets aroused by two-dimensional men have sex with a living three-dimensional man without pain? Nowadays, your partner is not necessarily a sex object – this is a wonderful advancement. It means you can choose to have a family by rational means, thinking with your head, not with your loins. Couples who come to us can avail themselves of our experts and leave their superior genes to posterity by means of the Clean Breeder, our pure facilitator of reproduction . . .’
As the doctor droned on, I leafed through the pamphlet. It contained an endless array of phrases like ‘couples for the new age’ and ‘a graceful, non-erotic experience with our state-of-the-art technology’.
‘According to the questionnaire here, you made the decision to keep sex and marriage separate even before tying the knot. That’s wonderful. It’s precisely what we mean by a state-of-the-art marriage.’
‘Oh, it’s not all that special.’ I really didn’t like women like her, I thought uncomfortably, and glanced at my husband. He looked bored and was focusing on the ballpoint pen the doctor was twirling in her fingers.
‘Our Clean Breeder advanced medical treatment is exactly right for couples like you. It is not covered by national insurance, however, and the fee is 9,500 yen per treatment. Mrs Takahashi, we will ask you to track your basal body temperature, and we’ll carry out the treatment during ovulation. If after several tries you fail to conceive, we suggest infertility counselling. You are still young, and I’m sure that if you keep trying the Clean Breeder you can expect to conceive without infertility treatment. But if you’d like, you can undergo a fertility test before starting.’
‘That’s pretty damn expensive!’ blurted out my husband under his breath.
The doctor beamed at him. ‘We’re using cutting-edge treatment, Mr Takahashi. Even in Japan very few hospitals have it available, and it’s difficult for us to keep up with demand. Just yesterday a couple who came all the way from Tottori told me how so very impressed they were by it. When would you like to make your first appointment? You can try it out now, if you like – in which case you can choose the music you’d like to have playing during the procedure. The normal practice is to make an appointment when your body temperature indicates ovulation, but conception is also possible on other days –’
‘We’re here just for the consultation today,’ I interjected before things could go any further. ‘I’ll talk it over with my husband.’
The doctor nodded, smiling. ‘Of course, please take your time to discuss things. But please bear in mind that the Clean Breeder is extremely popular and an appointment may not be available on your day of ovulation. Things are relatively quiet now, so I suggest you make your decision sooner rather than later.’
‘I understand. We’ll talk it over and call back.’
My husband stood up, irritation on his face. I quickly followed him out of the consulting room.
We were unfamiliar with the Aoyama area, so upon leaving the clinic we walked towards Omotesandō and went into the first cafe we came across.
‘What do you want to do?’ I asked my husband as he drank his café au lait.
‘There’s something fishy about the whole affair, isn’t there?’ he replied, frowning. ‘The Clean Breeder treatment – it can’t be artificial insemination, and that must mean we do it ourselves?’
‘I guess so,’ I sighed, stroking my teacup with my index finger. ‘So, what shall we do?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Our child . . . Shall we do it ourselves? The two of us, at home?’ Even before I’d finished talking, a wave of revulsion washed over me. Without raising my head, I leaned back in my chair to put more distance between us.
‘I . . . er . . . I don’t . . .’
Apparently my husband felt the same way, and as I looked down, I saw his feet hurriedly pulled back under the table and out of view.
Reassured by this evidence of shared revulsion, I looked up and saw him scowling.
‘Artificial insemination would be harder,’ he said, ‘but perhaps we should try it. Asexual couples use it, so there must be some understanding doctors out there. If we’re talking about 9,500 yen anyway, we should consider this option.’
‘I suppose so.’
Relieved, he finally raised his eyes from his coffee and looked out the window. There was a woman walking her dog, harried office workers checking their watches and youngsters fiddling with their mobiles. How many of them, I wondered idly, were the result of sperm ejaculated during sex between people who loved each other? Had they been conceived spontaneously, without any thought of ovulation days? Or by artificial insemination? Or even rape? Whatever the circumstances of their conception, the sperm had reached the egg, and the fertilized egg swelled into a human form.
I looked under the table again. My husband’s feet were still out of sight.
I was in the ladies’ room at work, brushing my teeth after lunch, when my mobile rang.
The call was from a number I didn’t know. I hesitated for a moment, then answered.
‘Are you Mizuki Takahashi?’ It was a woman’s voice.
‘Who is this?’ I asked, a bit irritated by her forthright manner.
‘I’m a friend of Nobuhiro’s,’ she answered.
‘Ah. You’re his lover, aren’t you?’ I said stupidly.
My husband and I kept sex out of our marriage, but that didn’t mean we didn’t feel sexual desire. We were free to enjoy sex elsewhere. We were like an adolescent brother and sister, having secret sex partners while behaving like we didn’t understand the meaning of the word. To outsiders, our sexual relationships might seem like infidelity, but from our point of view it was perfectly natural. Until two months ago I too had had a lover, someone I’d met on Facebook, but we’d grown tired of each other and split up.
It turned out that my husband had used the prospect of us having a baby to break up with this woman. I first thought he was being overly serious, given that I was simply the owner of the egg to be fertilized and he could spread his seed as much as he liked, but when the woman became hysterical on the phone, I realized he might be using me as an excuse to get away from her.
‘Are you going to sue me?’ the woman screeched. ‘Go ahead – you’ll be the laughing stock, not me.’
‘No, I’m not going to sue you. I’m not going to leave him either. Listen, can’t you talk it over with him directly? Your relationship has got nothing to do with me.’
The more unconcerned I sounded, the angrier she became.
‘You don’t have sex together, right? What kind of a woman are you? I always satisfy him, and we love each other.’
‘Of course you do – you’re his lover, after all. We’re family, so we don’t have sex. Look, my lunch break is over, I can’t talk.’
‘It’s because you can’t give him the type of sex he wants. He can’t get it up with you!’
‘That’s right. That’s why we’re family.’
I hung up and blocked her number.
‘Mizuki, what’s up?’ As my husband came out of the bath, he found me sitting on the sofa, mobile in hand. ‘You’re always checking that phone lately.’
‘Mmm, I’ve been getting a lot of spam. Maybe I should change my email address.’
‘You can adjust your settings, you know, and stop things like that. You really are hopeless when it comes to anything technical.’
The emails were from my husband’s lover. She must have found my address on his phone and she was sending me daily emails. At first I thought of blocking her email address too, but then, surprisingly, I’d found myself intrigued. She was sending me photos of them having sex.
It felt a bit like walking in on my little brother masturbating. The photos were embarrassingly graphic. It seemed my husband was into age play – acting the baby and sucking at her breast or having his nappy changed. He was apparently so turned on that his erection was plainly evident even beneath his nappy. It was the first time I’d seen even that much of his penis.
The photos were accompanied by messages such as ‘Only I can be his mama’, or ‘He fondles my butthole and begs me to do the same to him’, or ‘You are such a loser of a woman’ – all of which made me think that her brain was addled by lust and love.
The pictures of my husband on hands and knees with a dummy in his mouth and wearing a drool bib were fascinating. But I was seriously glad I wasn’t his sex partner.
‘Umm . . . ’ I started.
My husband was towelling his hair and watching TV, but turned to look at me. ‘Um what?’
‘I’ve been thinking about things. Shall we give it a try?’
‘Give what a try?’
‘That clinic. After all, artificial insemination will probably be even more expensive, and it won’t be easy to find a doctor who understands our situation. With the clinic we won’t have to worry about that at least, and we won’t have to pay for a medical exam either. Also, it seems that the process is close to natural sex, which will be easier on my body.’
‘Really? Well, I don’t know anything about the physical burden for a woman, so I’ll take your word for it.’ He looked rather uncomfortable, but apparently hadn’t taken so great a dislike to the female doctor as to dismiss my proposal out of hand.
‘Actually, since that consultation I’ve been tracking my temperature. Shall we make an appointment for my next ovulation day? Just to see how things go.’
‘All right. If I can get the day off, let’s go,’ he said, nodding distractedly and turning back to the TV. Playing on the screen were scenes of some distant foreign country, accompanied by the strains of a violin.
My next ovulation day was luckily on a Saturday. We headed to the clinic together.
‘We’d like to undergo the treatment,’ I said, bowing to the nurse who came out to greet us. My husband hastily followed suit.
‘Please take off your clothes and change into these,’ the nurse said, handing each of us a white gown. ‘Remove all your underwear. You can put your valuables in the locker. Once you’re ready, please let me know.’
We went into our separate cubicles, pulled the curtains and got changed. The women’s gown, with long sleeves and a long skirt, left surprisingly little uncovered. I actually thought the gown would get in the way, but I didn’t say anything.
‘Well, then, Mr Takahashi, please come this way,’ a nurse was saying.
When I opened the curtain, I saw my husband wearing a gown similar to mine. He seemed uncomfortable with the skirt and evidently found it hard to relax, and as we followed the nurse into the room, he protected his private parts with his hands. The room was windowless and white, furnished only with two large white reclining chairs, larger than dentist chairs, that faced each other. Two nurses wearing surgical masks were standing beside them. The scent of lavender oil choked the air as classical music played in the background.
‘Please lie down on this chair.’
My husband was guided to the chair farther away. The backrest was almost horizontal, so that he looked as though he was lying on a bed.
‘Mrs Takahashi, over here, please.’
I sat down on the white chair facing my husband, as indicated. It felt soft, and was a little higher than his chair.
‘Place your legs here.’
As instructed, I placed my legs on the rests on either side of the chair, which forced them wide apart as if for a gynaecological examination. Thanks to the long gown, I felt no embarrassment.
‘Now, Mr Takahashi will produce the sperm.’
At some point the nurse who brought us to the room had also put on a surgical mask. All three nurses slipped on thin surgical gloves as if they were about to start an operation, and, nodding, they reached under my husband’s long gown. They appeared to be touching his penis in time with the music.
‘Is it OK like this, Mr Takahashi? Please do your best.’
My husband had taken off his glasses and his eyes were tightly shut as he submitted to the nurses, his face ashen. Eventually one nurse proclaimed solemnly, ‘The life flow has entered your husband’s body.’
I had just realized what that meant when she came over to me and said, ‘Now, Mrs Takahashi, we shall apply this.’
The nurse’s gloved hand came under my gown and up between my spreadeagled legs, and she applied some kind of jelly that smelled of herbs around my vagina. I flinched at the cold, but it didn’t feel any different from a gynaecological examination and it wasn’t unpleasant.
‘Now we shall prepare to connect the life flow with the egg,’ the nurse announced, and produced a silver tube with what looked to be an electric cord attached to one end. From a brief glance, the tube appeared to contain a jelly-like substance, and I assumed it was something like a masturbation device.
With the practised moves of a medical operation, the nurse lifted my husband’s gown and slipped his penis into the device.
‘Mr Takahashi, please tell us when life is issuing. Raise your hand! Do you understand?’
My husband nodded wordlessly. He was tightly gripping the hem of his gown, his face growing paler.
‘Mr Takahashi, your life flow is being facilitated by electromagnetic waves. Do you understand?’ the nurse explained, although from what I could see of her hand movements, it was she who was doing the facilitating, moving the silver tube over his penis up and down. Nevertheless, the tube appeared to be well made, and upon closer inspection I could make out CLEAN BREEDER engraved on it. The cord swung about as the nurse carried on, absorbed in her work. Some of the cold jelly-like substance in it flew out and landed on my leg.
‘It’s the latest model, Mr Takahashi. I’m afraid it’s a bit cold, but please put up with it. You’re almost there!’
My husband was sweating profusely and letting out the occasional groan as if his sperm was being sucked out of him by force.
‘Mr Takahashi, give it all you’ve got!’
‘It’ll be any moment now! The life flow is welling up!’
‘Mrs Takahashi, a little closer, please. Hold his hand, yes, like that.’
Bewildered, I leaned forward and gripped the hand my husband held out feebly.
‘One last little push, Mr Takahashi!’ cried the nurse, pumping his penis with the machine.
‘You’re almost there, love!’ I said, adding my voice to the chorus, at which moment he raised his left hand shakily.
‘The life flow is being ejected!’ the nurse shouted, and suddenly the backrest on my chair slammed down and the chair began to move.
I was left looking at the ceiling and couldn’t see what was going on. It was all happening so fast. I felt cut off from reality, almost as if I were in a video. I gathered that I was being propelled toward my husband, my legs still splayed apart. When the chair came to a stop, something was inserted into my vagina, as if being plugged in. I had a vague sense that it was my husband’s penis entering me, still cold from the jelly, but it felt more like a machine transmitting his sperm.
‘Ejection has occurred!’ A faint warm feeling spread through my loins. My husband had apparently managed to ejaculate.
‘Well done, Mr Takahashi!’
‘Congratulations, Mrs Takahashi.’
The nurses wiped us down with warm damp flannel cloths as we lay staring at the ceiling.
‘Please use this,’ said the nurse, handing me a sanitary towel. I slipped on my knickers and put the towel in place. The other nurses were congratulating my husband and wiping the sweat from his forehead. It really was just as if he had given birth, and I had accepted his progeny.
‘Just in case, please be sure to wear a sanitary towel and avoid washing your genitals. If you must wash, please wait until you get home to take a short shower. That’s all for today, Mrs Takahashi.’
I nodded, feeling it had all been pretty anticlimactic. It had evidently been tougher on my husband, who was breathing heavily and looked exhausted after having been forced to ejaculate despite his utter lack of arousal.
‘Nine thousand five hundred yen for that! What a rip-off,’ fumed my husband on the way home.
I suppressed a giggle. ‘It really was awful, wasn’t it? I didn’t have to do anything sexual, though . . . Was it OK?’
‘I’ve never in my whole life felt so violated! They did offer me Viagra – I should have taken them up on it.’ Getting more and more agitated, he muttered, ‘I couldn’t tell any difference between entering you or entering that weird machine, and I still don’t know if I came in that machine or in you.’
‘But that’s good, isn’t it? That way, we managed to keep our marriage sexless.’
‘Well, yeah, but . . .’
We stopped by a small park.
‘Do you mind if I go to the toilet? I want to change the sanitary towel.’
‘Uh, sure,’ he said, nodding, and gave me an odd look, as if uncomfortable about the fact that it was his spunk seeping out of me.
I went into the public toilet in the park and took down my knickers to find my husband’s semen all over the sanitary towel. It was like having a white period. I changed it for a fresh one, and went back outside. He was sitting on a bench, waiting.
‘Hope I wasn’t too long.’
‘No, no. Everything OK?’
I sat down next to him, and said, ‘I’m fine. A bit tired, though. Shall we have a little rest before going home?’
We sat for a while gazing at the park, which was full of children.
‘Oh well, maybe it wasn’t such a bad experience.’
‘What? You were furious a moment ago.’
‘Yeah, well, it’s good that I haven’t had any form of sexual contact with you. Because we haven’t brought sex into our relationship,’ he said softly, watching a little girl playing in the sandpit.
‘If we manage to have a child, which would you rather have, a boy or girl?’
‘A girl, I think. A boy would be fine too, but I can imagine really doting on a girl.’
His eyes half closed, he watched as the girl in the sandpit stood up and ran off.
‘Mama!’ the girl called out, and a young mother stood up, smiling.
He watched the mother stroke her daughter’s head affectionately, and the little girl smiled and hugged her mother back. As he stared at them, beads of sweat appeared on his forehead and a look of sheer panic crossed his face.
He didn’t answer. Suddenly he clamped his hand over his mouth and squatted, retching. He hadn’t eaten anything since morning, and was bringing up only gastric fluid. I gazed down at him as he crouched, riding out the nausea. It struck me this was just like morning sickness.
Mama, Mama-a-a! The little girl’s innocent voice echoed around the park.
My husband’s nausea welled up again, and his back started trembling. I reached out a hand to comfort him. At that very moment, I felt his semen gush from my vagina.
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