SINGAPORE July/August 2001

Love, Singaporean Style

Faced with a graying population, a notoriously staid government has sanctioned an "All-Out Make-Out" campaign

During a visit two years ago to Singapore, the famously straightlaced city-state I used to consider the most uptight place in Asia, I spent an evening at a beachfront bar called Sunset Bay. I was astonished at the scene I encountered. Hip young Singaporeans in leather pants swayed, individually and in pairs, to the music of a live reggae band. Baby-faced dot-commers with two mobile phones clipped to their belts tossed down pitchers of sangria. Newly acquainted couples nuzzled and later ambled amorously out into the night. From all appearances, Singaporeans had loosened up to the point of lust in the streets. Or maybe not. When I passed through Singapore last summer, the city was abuzz with talk about the latest fertility statistics. The country's birth rate had dropped from an average of 1.96 children per woman in 1988 to below 1.5 in 1999. The phenomenon seemed to have causes beyond the use of contraception: according to the local press, many couples were finding themselves too tired after the long Singaporean workday to have sex. Alarmed by the statistic, Singapore's government decided to act. On August 20 Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong took up the matter in a speech broadcast on radio and TV in honor of National Day, commemorating Singapore's emergence as an independent nation in 1965. "We must at least try to arrest the problem." Goh said. "Family adds warmth and meaning to our lives. Friends are important, but a family is indispensable." Goh announced that women would be given eight weeks of paid maternity leave after the birth of their third child (previously they were given paid leave only for their first and second children). He outlined a "baby bonus" plan, whereby the government would pay families up to the equivalent of about $5,000 in U.S. currency over six years for a second child and up to twice that for a third. The money would be earmarked for the children's educational needs. Singapore's government—a conservative, semi-authoritarian entity dominated since independence by the People's Action Party—has a long history of mounting enormous social-engineering campaigns. Previous crusades have included efforts to make Singaporeans flush public toilets, speak better English, and stop chewing gum. Some have had a decidedly puritanical bent: legislation over the years has eliminated the red-light district, banned most pornography, and made oral sex in certain circumstances a crime punishable by incarceration. Traditionally, after government leaders announce a campaign, the press—which has close ties to and is strongly infuenced by the state—trumpets the policy. So I wasn't surprised when, shortly after National Day, I picked up the country's normally stodgy flagship newspaper, The Straits Times, and came across a twelve-page special section on making babies.

The section was titled "Yes, Prime Minister! An All-Out Make-Out Guide." On one page was an article headlined "GET LUCKY SPOTS," which included tips on the best places in Singapore to have sex in a car (many married couples live with parents in cramped apartments where there is little privacy). On the opposite page a columnist exhorted Singaporean men to "rise to the occasion and do your country proud," and gave instructions on how to use newspaper and tape to cover car windows during automobile trysts. Another piece itemized the essential components of a "Make-out Kit": among other things, K-Y Jelly; Wet Ones, to "clean up, freshen up and mop up"; "favourite romantic/sexy CDs"; and "cushions, for extra padding, comfort and lift." (On the back of the insert was a full-page feature on Frankie Ong, an adult-toy salesman whose stock includes metal-studded underwear, French ticklers, and rubber "replicas of private parts.")

Presented by

Joshua Kurlantzick is fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. He blogs at “Asia Unbound.”

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