FAQs on sexuality evoke strong reaction

SINGAPORE - A section on sexuality on the website of the Health Promotion Board (HPB) has created a buzz online.

The webpage, titled FAQs On Sexuality, defines homosexuality, provides information for parents with homosexual children, and addresses the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

HPB worked with professional counsellors in developing the list of frequently asked questions (FAQs), which was published without fanfare in November. The last few days have seen its content circulated widely online after a netizen posted it on Facebook.

It has ignited strong feelings from both sides of the fence.

Pastor Lawrence Khong of Faith Community Baptist Church, known for his strong stance against homosexuality, said the tone of the article "gives the impression that HPB condones same-sex relationships and promotes the homosexual practice as something normal".

He even penned a seven-page response to the FAQs, taking issue with several points made, including how HPB had directed readers to only one group, Oogachaga, which he said is "pro-LGBT". The group provides counselling for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning) individuals.

"It is odd that the FAQs represent only the pro-LGBT view while they silence the pro-family view of the Government, the law, and the majority of Singaporeans," wrote Mr Khong, who is chairman of church network LoveSingapore.

As of press time, HPB had edited parts of the article. The question "Where can my child find support?", which directed readers to Oogachaga, was deleted. HPB said it is reviewing its list of counsellors and would update the site in due time.

Responding to media queries, an HPB spokesman said visitors have "generally found the information useful and educational" from a public health perspective.

She reiterated that the family "remains the basic building block of society".

Mr Khong also took issue with the comparisons between heterosexual and same-sex relationships, the use of "politically charged language and one-sided terms", and an assertion that homosexuals can have long-lasting relationships.

Conversely, some groups have called for even more progressive measures.

Ms Jean Chong, co-founder of lesbian group Sayoni, hailed the article as "a step in the right direction" and the answers to the 28 FAQs as "accurate and life-saving".

Ms Jolene Tan, programmes and communications senior manager at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), which champions equality, said yesterday morning the move to include the FAQs was "wholly in line with HPB's mission of promoting health".

"People need access to accurate and non-judgmentally explained facts which reflect the reality of human diversity," she said. "The focus on educating parents about how to support their (LGBTQ) children is particularly helpful...family rejection has a significant damaging impact on their mental health."

Singapore's view towards homosexuality remains largely conservative.

Just last week, an Institute of Policy Studies survey found that almost 80 per cent of the 4,000 respondents said that sexual relations between two adults of the same sex were wrong.

But the FAQs had obvious uses. "It serves as a one-stop resource to provide factual information on sexuality and sexually transmitted infections/HIV prevention from a public health perspective," said the HPB spokesman.

At the same time, the family remained the building block of society, she added. "This means encouraging heterosexual married couples to have healthy relationships and to build stable nuclear and extended family units."

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FAQs on sexuality from the Health Promotion Board's website:

What is homosexuality/bisexuality?

Homosexuality is the emotional, romantic and sexual attraction to someone of the same sex. 'Gay' is commonly used to describe men who are attracted to men, and 'lesbian' for women who are attracted to women. Bisexuality is the attraction to both sexes.

Many people think that homosexuality and heterosexuality are on opposite ends of the sexuality spectrum, with bisexuality in the middle. In reality, human sexuality is much more complex. For example, some guys might consider themselves as heterosexual but have homosexual attraction towards men. And bisexuals might find themselves attracted to guys and girls at different times. For more information, check out the Kinsey Scale1.

* The Kinsey Scale was first published in 1948 in Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male by Alfred Kinsey to defi ne human sexuality. It uses "0" as exclusively heterosexual to "6" as exclusively homosexual and "1" to "5" as varying response of bisexual.

The Kinsey Scale is to be used with discretion. Most sexologists will explain that Kinsey Scale only covers sexual orientations but not biological sex and gender identities which are two other important aspects in human sexuality. The Kinsey scale also does not provide enough information as sexual orientations may evolve for some people through their lifetime.

What is gender identity and sexual orientation?

Gender identity refers to how one sees oneself as being male or female. Often, this identi cation is associated with cultural and social norms. For example, men are expected to behave more masculine than women.

Sexual orientation on the other hand, describes a person's emotional, romantic and sexual attraction to others. Homosexual orientation describes someone who is attracted to the same sex. Heterosexual orientation refers to people attracted to the opposite sex. Sexual orientation is not always correlated to gender identity. A feminine guy or masculine women can be heterosexual.

What does it mean to be gay or bisexual?

A gay person is emotionally and/or physically attracted to a person of the same sex. Bisexuals can fi nd themselves attracted to both guys and girls - sometimes at different points in their lives. No one can label a person as gay/bisexual unless the person choose to come out of the closet (meaning reveal their sexual orientation to people he/she knows).

Unfortunately, gay and bisexual stereotypes do exist. For example, some people think it's necessary to have a partner if they are gay. Others think that gays and bisexuals should only socialise with other gays and bisexuals. These stereotypes are incorrect and damaging.

How and when do people know that they are gay/bisexual?

People realise their sexual orientation and gender identity at different points in their lives. While some are aware of their preferences from an early age, others come to understand their gender identity and sexual orientation later in life. It is important to note that nothing someone encounters in life can 'make' one gay, lesbian or bisexual. Although events in life can help clarify gender identity and sexual orientation, sexual experience is not necessary to understand sexual orientation.

Is my child normal? Is being gay or bisexual a mental illness? Should they seek medical help?

Homosexuality and bisexuality are not mental illnesses. Studies show that sexual orientation has no bearing on mental health or emotional stability.

However, an individual who is questioning his or her sexual orientation may experience anxiety, uncertainty, confusion and lower self-esteem among many other emotions. When these emotions are not properly addressed, they can lead to depression. If you feel that your child may need help to handle these emotions, seek professional help from a doctor, a counsellor or a professional who understands Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, Questioning (LGBTQ) issues.

Are my child's thoughts of being gay or bisexual a passing phase? Will my child become 'normal' again?

Sexual identity develops over a period of time and usually starts during puberty. Eventually, people who are gay (or bisexual) will come to realise that they are attracted to members of the same sex (or both sexes) and that their attraction isn't going away. Others may realise that they are no longer attracted to the same sex, and identify themselves as 'straight'.

Why is my child more attracted to someone of the same sex than someone of the opposite sex?

Studies show that human sexuality is not a simple dichotomy of homosexual and heterosexual. It's a spectrum, ranging from homosexual to heterosexual, and through bisexuality. A person's sense of sexual orientation is influenced by environmental, biological and sociological factors.

Exploration of one's sexual orientation is also part of the adolescence phase and may continue to adulthood. And it's common for young people going through puberty to be confused about their sexual orientation. Give them time to explore their feelings. There is no rush to come to a conclusion quickly.

Is my child homosexual if he or she is physically intimate with someone of the same sex?

Being gay is about being attracted to someone of the same sex on many levels. This includes sexual, emotional, physical and intellectual attractions. However, there are a small number of men who seek only physical intimacy with other men. This can be considered as purely sexual behaviour and these men may not necessarily identify themselves as gay. Likewise, many gay people do not need to be physically intimate with another gay man to a rm their sexual orientation.

Where can my child find support in Singapore?

Talking about sexuality can be difficult and daunting. The key is to find someone who is respectful and knowledgeable about sexuality issues. And it's important to find someone your child is comfortable to be open with. A supportive therapist can help your child make sense of what he or she is going through. They shouldn't label or dismiss your child's feelings.

Is my child's attraction to someone of the same sex just admiration or a crush?

During adolescence it's normal to change physically, emotionally and socially. It can also be a confusing period. Exploration of sexual identity and orientation is a big part of this phase and often continues to adulthood.

Sometimes, young people may have feelings of attraction or adoration towards people of the same sex. They could be role models, idols or even a 'father or mother' figure. Give your child time to explore their feelings. There's no rush to come to a conclusion.

Encourage your child to share their feelings with someone whom you know is supportive, respectful and knowledgeable about sexuality.

Information taken from the Health Promotion Board's website at http://www.hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/health-article/HPB056342.