(CREDIT: Nicole Xu/The New York Times)

I often imagine a future in which sex doesn’t exist. Many people seem to think this is weird, but for me it’s a world that feels wonderfully nostalgic.

When I was still a child, before I came across the word “sex” (which in Japanese is written in the jagged katakana script, and often indicates sexual intercourse between different sexes), the concept didn’t exist in my world. Every day I was amazed by my own body. When I was about 3, I remember exploring inside myself. When I explored certain places, the water inside me felt like it had turned into soda and fizzed, and then abruptly evaporated from all over me. This had a profound impact on me. I called my strange and wonderful discovery “eppi,” a made-up word that sounded cute and mysterious to me. It had an electronic ring to it that I thought somehow suited the feeling.

When I started elementary school, there was a column in a manga magazine soliciting letters about readers’ inventions. I wondered whether I should write in about my “eppi” invention, but then I reconsidered — maybe I shouldn’t let grown-ups know about this incredible discovery that existed in my body (and maybe in everybody, although so far I had only tested it on myself) just yet. It probably wouldn’t occur to anyone even in their wildest dreams that the water in their body could turn to soda, so I didn’t think anyone would believe me. When I grew up I could be a researcher and let the whole world know about this amazing discovery, I thought.

Parts of sex dolls waiting to be checked at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, China. The factory produces around 2,000 dolls a month, including dozens of different body shapes and more than 260 different faces. (CREDIT: Aly Song/Reuters)

At the time, I believed that the area inside and outside my skin was the same, with no limits. The infinite world inside my body was as mysterious as the ends of the universe. I dreamed of the day when everyone would run around together, exploring the world inside our bodies.

When I was about 10, that dream of mine was destroyed. I happened to read a column in an adult magazine calling for readers to send in their erotic experiences. In it, there was an account by a boy who had caught sight of a girl classmate masturbating. This came as a shock in several ways to me. For one thing, “eppi” had already been given a strange name. And the junior high school girl the boy wrote about was treated not with respect for doing something incredibly moving, but as a dirty, lewd exhibition piece. I suddenly felt ashamed of it all — and more than anything, sad.

After that, I was educated by the world in various ways about the word and the act of sex. The adventure of seeking a formless treasure inside me came to an end, and I stopped believing that the area inside and outside my skin was the same. I felt that the nature of sex had already been decided millennia ago. I started hearing a big invisible command to follow suit and treat sex as everyone else did. My childhood self had another fervent dream that met a similar fate. I dreamed of loving a fictitious being that lived within a story, and of establishing a sexual relationship with them. I believed that someday science would make that dream come true. However, when I was in college, I remember people mocking a porn video about a girl who had sex with boy characters from anime films. Everyone was laughing at the girl. That wasn’t love, they said, it was just abject masturbation and was creepy, cringeworthy and ludicrous.

I couldn’t defy the big invisible command. I was hearing it continually. Stop your daydreaming and have sex properly with a living person! Behave like an innocent virgin whom boys delight in! Behave like a nice girl who shows her lewd side only to The One! And procreate!

My thought processes might have shut down, but the protagonists of the stories I was writing kept taking up strange challenges. They had sex with the Earth, or got married on the promise of never having sex together, or ultimately created a world in which there was no sex and began living there.

“Sayaka, you’re young, that’s why you’re writing this stuff. Once you experience true ecstasy, we’re sure you’ll stop writing this kind of story. You’re still young and ignorant,” a couple of Japanese women said to me in exasperation. Both of them were in their late 50s.

“It’s appalling. You’re writing this kind of story, but what will you do if sex really does disappear from this world?” This was from a man.

I’ve also had people say to me: “You’re writing these things because you’re bitter about the world, aren’t you?” Or, “Did something happen to you when you were little?”

That’s when I understood. Many people, in many ways, were scared. They wanted to be reassured, and so insisted on having stories they could understand about things that were impossible to understand. Behind the invisible command that had been tormenting me all this time stood anxious people fearful of change and unable to think, just like me.

The moment I realized that the pressure I felt was not from God, the word “sex” came lumbering out of its prison as if it had been biding its time. It began to have a different meaning, to resonate with me. Just as had been the case with “eppi,” which, as far as I was concerned, was mine and meant something only to me.

I realized that my childhood dream had, in a strange way, come true. I was already standing in the mysterious world I had once dreamed of, in which discoveries continue forever. I had been there from the beginning, but was distracted by illusory information and others’ preconceptions.

In a hundred years, or a thousand years, people may not even be coupling. Or maybe the word “sex” will disappear and we will once again explore ourselves in a realm unburdened by language. People are strange creatures, and we have no idea how we will change in the future — to me that is beautiful. But I also believe we will keep rediscovering that strange miracle inside us, beyond the other world inside our bodies, which spreads without limits within our skin.

© 2019 Sayaka Murata. Distributed by The New York Times Licensing Group

This essay was translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori from the Japanese

A novelist and the author of “Convenience Store Woman,” which won Japan’s most prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa Prize