Sex in Singapore

  Singapore has a reputation for being a prim and proper place. Oral sex might still be considered taboo, but for the first time the island nation has allowed a sex industry convention. SPIEGEL ONLINE visited with US sexpert Dr. Judy.
November 25, 2005
By Jürgen Kremb

IN what could be the first step towards shaking off its well-deserved prudish reputation, Singapore has just had its very first sex trade fair -- Sexpo 2005. Even Judy Kuriansky, a famous US sex therapist, was there to encourage the citizens of the Southeast Asia country to loosen up a bit.

"You've made history! Yeah, aren't you fantastic," says Dr. Judy, as she is known to millions of households across the United States. The clinical psychologist, certified sex therapist and radio talk-show host is talking to Kenny Goh, the 35-year-old organizer of the ground-breaking convention. "How did it start Kenny?" she asks.

Goh, with his waxy face and reedy voice, certainly doesn't look the part of sex industry mogul. But his motivation tells volumes about this city -- where much of populous seems constantly concerned with how they can make more money. That's because Kenny Goh is first and foremost a businessman.

"I'm an accountant by training, definitely not a sex guru," he relates with a sigh. For years, he has sold HIV tests. It became quickly apparent to him, that many people hadn't the faintest idea how they'd contracted the disease. And then it occurred to him with all the logic of an accountant: "You have to be able to make money from that."

No naughty bits!

But when Goh applied to the government to put on a sex fair, he met with raised eyebrows and skeptical faces. Southeast Asia's leading convention town is still stuck in the 1950s when it comes to erotic matters. Selling Playboy is still against the law, and even the TV series Sex and the City hasn't made it past official censors.

The fact that Goh can now stand in Convention Hall D and marvel at a condom with a built-in vibrator (invented in Taiwan) is as odd as Dr Judy's presence in Singapore. But the reason for both is the same: The population of the island has languished around four million for years. In particular the stressed-out Chinese, who make up 70 percent of the population, have not been having kids. Dr Judy advised bureaucrats in the government's Office of Social Development last week on how to boost, in particular, the sex drives of young academics. What insight did she glean from the workshop? "The government would also like to ease restrictions in the private sphere," she says.

Still, the police are not entirely on board. The list of rules Goh had to obey for his exhibition was very, very long. It was against the law, for example, to show anything that "bears a resemblance to any genitalia." Also banned were "obscene acts," or pictures of them, and "advertising" for the city's three big no-nos, which are: oral sex, anal sex, and even more adventurous practices considered sodomy that usually involve some sort of leather items.

Goh behaved himself. Which wasn't quite good business for a sex exhibition. But the police came one more time early on Saturday morning, as a precaution -- one hour before the fair opened -- and banned items from the showcase that the famous Chinese sex researcher Liu Dalian had been showing for a long time in his Shanghai Sex Museum. For example, "Representations of the Sex Act in the Tang Dynasty" or "Courtesans at Play."

More risqué next year?

But that hasn't deterred the visitors. Apparently Dr Judy has determined it's not just Singapore that is "undersexed", but also other countries in the region. The first visitor, who waited eagerly to be let in on Saturday morning, was from Malaysia. The Muslim Sharia laws that apply in the neighboring country lay down strict rules for its citizens, even stricter than those of the Singapore government. On Sunday, even large tour groups from Indonesia arrived.

Most of the visitors enthusiastically watch the go-go-dancers who, wearing a respectable bikini, danced for a condom manufacturer. Especially the older sex-fans, with their noses pointed upwards so as to see clearly through their spectacles, crowded around the glass cabinets displaying little figures engaged in old Chinese sex acts. After all, there's got be a reason why the supposedly prude Chinese are so numerous.

The slightly more youthful among the visitors were immediately drawn towards the three "health boutiques" that sold sexy lingerie and colorful dildos. And judging by the stampede at the checkouts one can surmise that there's a major shortage of such items on offer in Singapore and the surrounding region.

The same goes for more daring activities such as Ronne Pang's "fantasy gallery". With pictures of fairly chastely clad porno stars he advertised for trips to the United States. In exchange for a sizeable fee clients can watch the filming of films that are still illegal back at home. "A great business" he sums up, just as two young women -- seemingly quite proper little office girls -- giggle nervously while signing up for the next trip.

That all has made Kenny Goh confident. "This year we are still testing the situation," he says. "But next year it's going to get a whole lot more risqué." Even his 70-year-old mother has encouraged him. She was one of the first visitors.

For Dr Judy that's a postive omen. "A very good sign indeed," she says, while explaining how her mother's elderly lover occasionally calls in to her talk show and asks for advice.