All aboard the 'Love Boat'

February 5, 2003

By Royston Chan

Singapore plays matchmaker, hoping to boost its birth rate AWSJ

NIGHT of romance on the high seas, away from the stresses and strains of modern life. It may sound like a recipe for love.

In Singapore, it's a matter of survival.

Alarmed by a drop in the island-state's fertility rates, Dr Wei Siang Yu has launched a program of fertility seminars accompanied by a boat cruise and a night at a holiday resort -- all designed to put couples in the mood.

Wei, founder of health promotion company Meggpower, calls it his "Love Boat" package.

"What we want to do is to alleviate stress."

But it doesn't come cheap. Couples must fork out S$1000 (US$580 dollars) for the fertility program.

"Massages, nutrition, aphrodisiacs, we are talking about music, we are talking about aromatherapy, and we're talking about health education programs," the self-styled sex guru said.

Singapore's birth rates have tumbled in recent years. In 1990, Singaporean women, on average, gave birth to 1.87 babies in a lifetime. That fell to 1.42 by 2001 -- far below the 2.1 rate needed for a population to replace itself.

A 2002 poll commissioned by condom manufacturer Durex ranked Singapore last in a global list of the most sexually active nations. Too stressed from their jobs, they have little drive to make love at the end of the day.

The result is that Singaporeans below the age of 40 have sex six times a month, far lower than many other societies, said Professor Victor Goh, from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the National University of Singapore.

The university study, which followed the sex lives of 460 men and women in the city state of four million, also found the older Singaporeans get, the less sex they have.


Concern is growing in Singapore's strait-laced government, which bans pornography and homosexuality, censors racy scenes from movies and even prohibits the sale of Playboy and Cosmopolitan magazines.

It has come up with various schemes to boost declining birth rates among a wealthy population obsessed with chasing careers, condominiums and cash. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong announced two years ago making babies was now a national priority.

Wei, 33, said his "Love Boat" fertility boosting program gives couples a break from heavy workloads and the stresses of life in the recession-hit island to get away and make babies.

"The boat will allow exclusivity and also privacy and also this whole experience of getting away...getting closer to nature, away from the city life," he said.

Tiny Singapore's people are its only real resource.

Wei's program has the backing of the Singapore Planned Parenthood Association that provides sex education in schools and offers sexual counseling.

The government is also trying to coax couples to reproduce with a "Baby Bonus Scheme" of tax rebates for those who have two or more children.

Even telephone operator Singapore Telecommunications Ltd has got into the act, offering a service called MyCupid that allows mobile phone users to key in personal details and preferences to a database in the hope of finding a match.

Aside from the "Love Boat," Wei also hosts a radio show called Sex in The Air -- a name that carries a hint of irony in Singapore, where the popular US television program Sex and the City is banned.

Listeners can phone in and discuss their sexual problems with a panel of international health experts.

On one recent show, one weary caller asked why sex had to be so tiring.