Why Do Men in Singapore Engage in Unprotected Sex with Sex Workers

In October, a group of SMU Social Science students paired up with Project X to conduct research on attitudes towards condom use amongst Singaporean men who engage the services of sex workers. They interviewed a total of 65 clients via online surveys as well as in person at Geylang, Little India, and Orchard Towers. Of these 65 respondents, 92.3% are Singaporeans. Here are some of their findings and recommendations.

Key Findings:

  • 95 % of clients indicated the need to wear condoms when performing vaginal sexual intercourse with sex workers. However, only 47 % of clients indicated the need to wear condoms when engaging in oral sexual intercourse with sex workers.
  • 97% of clients indicated that they used condoms for their most recent vaginal sex encounter with sex workers, compared to only 72% of clients who indicated that they used condoms for their most recent oral sex encounter with a sex worker.
  • 20% of the 65 clients that were interviewed indicated that doubling up condoms provided greater protection from contracting STDs.
  • 7% indicated that anal sexual intercourse was a safer option than vaginal sex.

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When a client refuses to use condoms, though the sex worker can refuse service, if the client is adamant or turns violent, it is the sex worker’s boss who deals and decides on the issue. It is uncertain which side the boss might take. Sex workers are essentially rendered powerless in these situations.

From our findings, we discovered that there were misconceptions in terms of what people perceived safe sex to be. There were a surprising number of respondents who had incorrect interpretations of safe sex, such as the belief that anal sex was an option for having safe sex. Additionally, there were also poor knowledge in safe sex practices which was evident in the distinctions between different methods of sex. Respondents attached different perceptions of risk to different methods of sexual intercourse, with some methods such as anal and oral sex putting them at less risk of contracting HIV/STDs than vaginal sex. Furthermore, the prominence in the belief that doubling up condoms provided a safer option for sex in both clients and sex workers, indicated the lack of knowledge in proper and accurate sexual health practices.

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Recommendations:

It is clear that men in Singapore engage in unprotected sex because they wrongly believe it is safe.

Sexual education in Singapore is prevalent among the population but its scope of coverage needs to be more in-depth. We recommend that sex education in Singapore needs to shift its focus from being a values-based curriculum that only imparts a superficial understanding of safe sex to one that addresses the intricacies of safer sex practices. Sex should not be taught to mean vaginal sex per se, but instead be differentiated into its various types.

We must not let what is taboo affect our judgement about what constitutes an effective syllabi of sex education. Sex and sexual health issues need to be discussed in a more open platform so as to create a dialogue within the population. Through this dialogue, accurate information regarding sexual health and practices can be disseminated. An overhaul is clearly needed, now more than ever.

More importantly, sex workers are tired of having to educate men in Singapore about the importance of condom use. It is time for the State to shoulder some of the responsibilities that sex workers have been carrying.

Full report available here.

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