Leaked Letter Shows Singapore Schools’ Promotion of ‘Heterosexual Marriages’ in Sex Ed

The national program also “promotes abstinence before marriage” and teaches the “consequences of casual sex.”
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In a controversial letter, Singapore schools are promoting “heterosexual marriages” and “stable nuclear family units” through sex education. Photo for illustrative purposes only. Photo: Feliphe Schiarolli, Unsplash

Making its rounds on Singaporean social media at the moment is a school letter that many say highlights the city-state’s regressive views on sex and sexuality. 

A father remembers balking at one section in particular, after his 13-year-old daughter presented him with a consent form, dated Feb. 3, for her public school’s upcoming sex education program organized by the Ministry of Education (MOE). 

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“[Sexuality Education] is premised on the importance of the family as the basic unit of society. This means encouraging healthy, heterosexual marriages and stable nuclear family units with extended family support,” the letter reads.  

“We’re not a nuclear family ourselves and have close friends and family from the LGBTQ community, so this really hit a sore spot for us,” the father, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, told VICE World News.

“It’s pretty upsetting to see that on an official Ministry of Education document.”

They sent the school letter to Sayoni, a non-governmental organization that advocates for queer women. The group posted the document on its Instagram page and it quickly went viral, with many taken aback by its rigid and non-inclusive approach to sex education.

Sayoni co-founder Jean Chong told VICE World News that she received the same letter from several other concerned parents and students. 

“[Parents] just sent it to us and said that… there’s no need to emphasize heterosexual family,” said Chong. “Imagine the LGBT kids. They have to bring the letter home and they’ll read it for sure. And it’s discrimination outright.”

“You [are telling] LGBT children that there’s something wrong with them, that they don’t belong, and that there’s no future in Singapore because of how they emphasize a heterosexual [nuclear] family.”

The contents of the viral letter also appear on the websites of several public schools in Singapore, as seen by VICE World News, across primary, secondary, and junior college levels.

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The MOE did not respond immediately to VICE World News’ requests for comment via email and phone call. 

It’s unclear how long this particular letter has been circulating, though a similar document was shared on Reddit in 2019. At the time, Singaporeans had raised similar concerns about the line promoting “heterosexual marriages” and “stable nuclear family units.”

But three years later, parents around the country continue to receive the same message, seeking their consent for their children to undergo the same sex ed programs.

“There is, obviously, nothing objectionable about ‘healthy, heterosexual marriages and stable nuclear family units with extended family support.’ Any person who wants such a situation should absolutely feel empowered to seek it out for themselves,” said Shailey Hingorani, who heads research and advocacy at the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), a local gender equality advocacy group.

“There is, on the other hand, a fundamental fallacy in suggesting that heterosexuality, or any other sexual orientation, can be ‘encouraged,’” she said.

“It’s both scientifically inaccurate to imply that, and harmful on a psychosocial level, as LGBTQ students may blame themselves for not being able to change who they are.”

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The Singaporean government is notoriously reticent about LGBTQ rights. In the city-state, gay sex is still criminalized under a controversial colonial law that has, over the years, faced increasing resistance from Singaporeans. Despite assuring citizens that the anti-gay law will not be enforced, authorities have remained reluctant to repeal it, claiming that Singapore is a largely conservative society.

On its website, the MOE said that topics about homosexuality are covered in its sexuality education program. However, it did not specify its approach towards teaching LGBTQ-related issues in its sex ed curriculum.

Like many others, a 42-year-old queer woman who received a similar school letter was offended by its exclusion of queer students and those from non-nuclear families. She is the guardian of her niece, who is in primary school. 

“The need for sexual education is very important,” said the woman, who wishes to remain anonymous as she is not out to her family. “But the purpose can be fulfilled even if there is no emphasis on heterosexual, nuclear units… we can all be inclusive without having to make judgements.”

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Meanwhile, other Singaporeans are concerned about the sex ed program’s promotion of abstinence, which is another prominent (and increasingly contentious) feature of the state-run curriculum. 

The MOE’s sexuality education program is taught by selected teachers who have been trained by the government body. The program, which “promotes abstinence before marriage” and teaches the “consequences of casual sex,” is “taught in the context of mainstream national values,” the MOE website reads.

Martin Piper, a parent with a primary school daughter, reached out to the MOE in 2019 after concerns about schools’ abstinence-focused approach to sex education. He said that subsequent replies from the ministry thanked him for sharing his thoughts but did not directly address his concerns.

“As a parent, I can see that MOE really [is] failing to provide quality education on this topic,” Piper told VICE World News, adding that insisting on “unrealistic abstinence” does not prepare students for real life, but instead exposes them to health risks.

“MOE’s job is to educate, not to avoid education,” he said.

Organizations like AWARE are calling for a more inclusive and updated framework for Singapore schools, such as the UNESCO Guidance on sexuality education.

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“A comprehensive sexuality education programme should cover consent, respect, bodily autonomy, healthy sexual relationships, contraception, as well as gender myths and stereotypes so as to actively debunk them,” said Hingorani, the AWARE spokesperson.

UNESCO research has found that abstinence-only sex ed programs tend to be ineffective in getting youths to have sex at a later age or reduce their number of sexual partners. Programs that focus on delaying sexual activity while simultaneously teaching contraceptive use, on the other hand, have been effective in achieving these goals. 

In a 2021 AWARE report on sexuality education in Singapore, interviewees told the organization that sex ed programs in their schools commonly feature narratives of victim-blaming and sex-negativity, which are often perpetuated by teachers who taught these classes.

In the same report, students shared that they’re usually unengaged in sex ed classes due to their “overly basic information” and repetitive emphasis on abstinence. Students are often compelled to learn more about sex through their own research, such as from the internet or their friends. 

This was the case for Tipan Kalaichelvan, a 19-year-old student in Singapore who identifies as bisexual. 

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“Having already known my sexuality prior to sitting through sexuality education in school, it was something that wasn’t, for the most part, educational for me,” they said, adding that they and other queer students had to seek information from other sources since they couldn’t learn about sex in sex ed classes.

For Amelia Amari, 31, the recent viral letter only proved that things haven’t really changed since her time in school more than a decade ago. “It’s quite in line with how it’s always been,” she said, recalling how abstinence was a major focus of sex education when she was a student.

“As long as we treat it as a taboo topic, we will keep nurturing kids who grow up into adults who don’t know how to have healthy conversations around sex.” 

Meanwhile, Netraa Dinesh, a 21-year-old student, remembers how her sex ed classes in school had teachers who discouraged masturbation, claimed that bisexual people were more likely to cheat, and said that they would not accept their children if they were gay.

“My experience with sex ed in Singapore was not the best. The fact [is] that it could be all boiled down to abstinence, outdated ideas on gender roles, and limited and prejudiced views on LGBTQ,” Dinesh said. “These should be spaces for children to talk about sexual health openly, considering a lot of them come from homes where sex is a taboo.”

Singapore is notoriously touchy about sex and LGBTQ issues, and its mainstream media is explicitly banned from promoting queer lifestyles. 

“Everything I learned about sex, I learned outside of school,” said Joshua Simon, a local DJ and host of LGBTQ podcast The SG Boys. “The truth has always been that LGBTQ+ people exist. We matter.”

“Running away from the responsibility of helping each other better understand our bodies has detrimental effects on the community as a whole, regardless of sexuality.”

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