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story | Pertina Seah, Contributing Reporter
photo | The G Spot
With the Queer Open Mic on Oct. 21, Sexuality and Gender (SG) Month has officially come to an end. The month has been filled with a myriad of different events, talks, and dialogs pertaining to gender and sexuality—a topic still considered a taboo subject in Singapore. SG Month has pushed boundaries by raising awareness about sexual and gender diversity and, most novel of all, generating discourse regarding female sexuality and issues.
In a conservative society like Singapore’s, sexuality is a topic that is often avoided and there is thus little to no discourse on female sexuality. Many of the values that Singaporeans grew up with are traditional Asian values that emphasize the need for females to act in a modest and respectful manner. Since these notions of femininity have been entrenched in the previous and current generation, speaking up about female sexuality has become frowned upon.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Education’s Sexuality Education tends to instil in students a sense of fear towards sex. Sexuality Education classes usually involve a teacher going through the symptoms and problems of various Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), before handing out a booklet that is filled with grotesque photographs of genitals affected by STIs.
This has led to a culture of young adults who are sex negative, resulting in a society that is unaccepting towards not just female sexuality, but sexuality in general.
“An acquaintance of mine judged me when I told her I was going for the HIV testing. She then expressed her disgust with the fact that I have had sex before” said Pearly Seah, a third-year student in National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS).
This culture of sex negativity can result in detrimental effects like the stigmatization of female sexuality. Consequently, discourse on female sexuality is limited because admitting to an active sexual lifestyle tends to result in shame and judgment.
It is thus commendable that SG Month has decided to include events aimed at discussing female sexuality and issues faced by women today. These events mark the first step in pushing boundaries to achieve a more sex positive culture where female sexuality can be embraced without being devalued. Two such events include Feeling Myself: Closed-Door Dialogue on Women’s Sexuality and The Hidden Cut: Dialogue on Female Genital Circumcision.
Feeling Myself, a closed-door dialogue open to anyone identifying as a woman, marks an important first step in challenging the stigma of female sexuality by providing a safe space for women to openly discuss their experience with sex and masturbation. One of the organizers of the dialogue, Lishani Ramanayake ’18, said: “I thought that the conversation went really well. Women could come together to talk about everything related to sexuality, from masturbation to watching porn to the way religion and culture intersect with how we perceive sexuality.”
SG Month also saw a similar event aimed at raising awareness about the often-unheard practice of female genital circumcision in Singapore. The Hidden Cut was a focus group discussion about the common but rather invisible practice of female circumcision in the Malay community.
Saza Faradilla ’18, the organizer of the dialog, said it was a “starting platform that would hopefully branch off to more discussions about [female genital circumcision].”
“I think that this issue is important as it is quite a common practice in the Malay community yet it is not talked about at all,” she added.
One of the attendees, Muhammad Farhansyah, a first year student from NUS FASS, described his experience. “Coming from a Malay-Muslim community, I was aware of the practice but was never certain of the reasons why it is carried out. Through the dialog, I was able to hear Muslim women share their thoughts and opinions on the practice and how it affected them,” he said.
However, while SG Month has helped to destigmatize sexual diversity and raise awareness about female sexuality and issues, there are concerns that the events seem to be limited in their outreach. Generally speaking, SG Month events would most likely appeal to those within the LGBTQ+ community or those who are interested in knowing more about these issues. Hence, it seems likely that the events served to reinforce knowledge that participants already have and open up discussions that they have already been engaged in previously.
In terms of reaching out to the wider community of students who may not be as interested, the events seem to have been unsuccessful. Paul Jerusalem ’19, one of the organizers of SG Month, said “some people might think that SG month events are akin to speaking into an echo chamber,” since events regarding specific issues would “likely be attended by people who are interested in discussing these issues in the first place.”
Still, Jerusalem added that “speaking into an echo chamber is better than not speaking at all, and we are definitely looking into ways that we can reach out to as wide and diverse an audience as possible”.
SG Month has been an important month of embracing diversity in sexuality and generating discourse about taboo topics like female sexuality and genital circumcision. There is always more that can be done to push the boundaries on the sexuality and gender discourse not just within NUS, but throughout Singapore as well.
The views expressed here are the author’s own. The Octant welcomes all voices in the community. Email submissions to: firstname.lastname@example.org