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FAQs on Sexuality
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 define 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 identication 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 find 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 will I know if I'm gay or 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.
Am I normal? Is being gay or bisexual a mental illness? Do I need to 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 thoughts of being gay or bisexual a passing phase? Will I 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 am I more attracted to guys than girls?
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.
Am I gay if I become physically intimate with another man? 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 affirm their sexual orientation.
Where can I find help 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 it my 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.
Can homosexuals have long lasting relationships?
Yes, homosexuals can certainly have long-lasting relationships. A homosexual relationship, like any other relationship, is based on values like trust, love, commitment and support.
How different are same-sex relationships and heterosexual relationships? A same-sex relationship is not too different from a heterosexual relationship. Both take the commitment of two people. It’s also a connection of two families, cultures and sometimes racial backgrounds and values.
However, two people in a same-sex relationship may also have different comfort levels regarding their sexuality. A partner who is still coming out slowly may find it stressful if his partner insists on him meeting his parents. He may not be willing to attend a social gathering where he will be introduced as a gay partner. These issues are unique to same-sex relationships but can be resolved with openness, honesty and trust.
Will I let my parents down if I am gay or bisexual? Am I not being filial?
This is a common concern of many gays and bisexuals. In any society that values filial piety, “coming out” can cause a lot of stress. After learning about their child’s sexuality, it’s not uncommon for parents to be shocked, regardless of their expectations. Some common initial reactions that parents experience are denial, rejection and anger. Other parents become worried about their child’s future and fear that their child will be discriminated or treated unfairly.
Remember that your initial reactions might not reflect your true feelings. And keep in mind that a person’s sexual orientation does not change who he or she is. It doesn’t stop them from expressing affection and filial piety in many ways.
Will people ostracize and discriminate against me? There are many people who are misinformed about homosexuality and bisexuality. Some people are even biased towards gays and lesbians. Because of their lack of understanding and fears, these people may ostracise or discriminate against homosexuals and bisexuals.
If your child is being subjected to discriminatory acts like bullying, do not hesitate to seek support and contact an authority.
Can people tell if I'm gay or bisexual?
Homophobia is the irrational fear, disgust, or hatred of homosexuals, or of homosexual feelings in oneself. Similarly, biphobia is the fear and disgust of bisexuals and bisexual feelings in oneself. Both refer to the discomfort one feels with any behaviour, belief, or attitude (in self or others) that does not conform to traditional sexual roles and stereotypes. A person who is homophobic fears knowing, befriending or associating with homosexuals.
Homophobic people are prejudiced - and will sometimes reject and bully homosexuals. This creates an environment of fear in which homosexuals and bisexuals feel the need to hide or deny their sexual orientation.
Some people may intentionally pass hurtful homophobic or biphobic remarks. Others may influence groups of friends to isolate or intimidate a person who is struggling with his or her sexual orientation. Or, they may even intentionally expose a person’s sexual orientation on social media such as Facebook.
How should I react if my friends or parents notice my sexual orientation? Contrary to common belief, you cannot tell if a person is gay or bisexual. Gay or bisexual people have a wide range of mannerisms, appearances and lifestyles, just like heterosexual people. There are also some heterosexual (straight) individuals who may behave in a manner that is considered stereotypically gay or bisexual.
Are there parent-friendly resources in Singapore?
It’s never easy to be confronted with a situation where you are asked about your child’s sexual orientation. Therefore, it’s helpful for you to have some support. You can consider learning more facts about sexuality and plan suitable responses. You can also consider testing how your friends or relatives feel about gay and bisexual people. This may give you an idea about how accepting they will be. If you feel safe and assured enough that they are going to hear you out, plan ahead. Pick a good time and place, prepare answers to all the possible questions for the conversation.
You’ll need to consider that they may not receive the news well. In those situations, avoid letting the situation escalate or get too emotional. Rather, give them time to reflect on their thoughts and feelings. Do not take the offensive comments to heart.
We understand that as much as your child is struggling with their sexuality, you may also need help coming to terms with the news. Some parents may need support in learning, understanding and accepting the newfound sexual orientation of their child. Sometimes, parents find it easier to talk to other parents, especially parents of gay children.
At the moment, there are only a few parent-friendly resources in Singapore. One of them is Counselling and Care Centre (www.counsel.org.sg) whose counsellors have experience working with parents of gay children.
What are sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and how common are STIs among youths? An STI is an infection passed from person to person through sexual contact, either through infected body fluids or direct contact. Anyone who is sexually active may be at risk of contracting STIs. Most of the time, people do not experience any symptoms and can unknowingly pass the infection on to others. STIs are caused either by bacteria or viruses. Those caused by bacteria are curable if treated early. Those caused by viruses, however, are treatable but not curable. This means that the person will experience recurrence of the infection throughout his or her life.
Some of the common STIs in Singapore are Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Genital Herpes, Genital Warts, Syphilis, Hepatitis B and HIV. Most, if not all, of these STIs do not manifest any noticeable symptoms at an early stage. That's why they often remain untreated and can easily spread. Some of the common signs of infection include pain while urinating, unusual discharge from the genitals or growths at the genitals. Early testing and treatment is important in the management of STIs. (For more information about STIs please refer to www.dsc-clinic.sg)
In 2011, 602 cases of STIs were recorded by Department of STI Control (DSC) occurred among people aged 15 to 19. Among youths in this age group, a record number of 794 cases of STIs occurred in 2007. Youths should always adopt protective behaviours and never take their health for granted.
What is HIV/AIDS and how do I get infected with it?
HIV stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. AIDS or 'Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome' occurs in the later stages of HIV infection. A person infected with HIV can take up to 10 years to develop AIDS. However, if detected early, people with HIV can lead fulfilling lives with the help of medication and the support of loved ones.
HIV can be transmitted through the following ways:
- Having unprotected sexual activities such as anal, vaginal and oral sex.
- Receiving contaminated blood or human organs.
- During pregnancy and breastfeeding through mother to child transmission.
- Sharing of needles for intravenous drug use.
HIV CANNOT be transmitted through the following ways:
- Sharing of food and drink with a person living with HIV/AIDS.
- Regular non-sexual body contact such as shaking of hands or hugging.
- Insect bites such as mosquitoes.
- Swimming in the same pool.
- Sharing of toilet.
- Using condoms consistently and correctly can reduce the transmission of HIV signicantly. But remember, it is never 100% safe.
Who gets infected with HIV/AIDS?
Any sexually active individual, whether homosexual or heterosexual, can contract HIV. Previously, the majority of infected males contracted HIV through heterosexual sex. However, in 2011, there were more cases of HIV attributed to homosexual sex than there were cases reported to have occurred from heterosexual sex. There could be a number of reasons for this change. More homosexual men may be engaging in unprotected anal sex, or more homosexuals may be getting tested for HIV.
Are homosexual and bisexual men more likely to get STIs/HIV?
Anyone who indulges in high-risk sexual behaviour (e.g. unprotected sex with multiple partners) is at high risk of being infected with a STI, including HIV. Anal sex is associated with a higher risk of STIs/HIV transmission compared to vaginal or oral sex. As a result, anyone who engages in anal sex, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is at a higher risk of infection. Correct and consistent use of condoms during any form of sex is the most effective way of preventing STIs/HIV transmission. (For more information about STIs please refer to www.dsc-clinic.sg)
If I'm practising risky sexual behavior, how do I find out if I have STIs/HIV? They can go to the Department of STI Control (DSC), any polyclinic or almost any private clinic. There are also anonymous HIV testing facilities available in Singapore. At these anonymous testing facilities, your child will not need to present an identity card during registration. And your child’s identity will remain anonymous even if the test comes back positive. Check out the list of anonymous HIV testing facilities at HPB’s website
How does HIV testing work?
The HIV test looks for the presence of antibodies that a body produces in reaction to the virus. Traditional HIV tests are performed on blood samples collected from a person’s vein. Blood samples are sent to a laboratory and results come back in about one week. In the laboratory, testing is done in two steps. Any tests that are reactive in the first step will be confirmed by a second test.
In Singapore, some clinics offer rapid HIV testing which involves the collection of either oral fluid or blood from a finger prick. Doctors will be able to perform the test at the clinic and results will be available within 20 mins. If your test is reactive, you will need to provide a full blood sample to confirm the results in a laboratory.
Anonymous test sites use rapid test kits that you can take without showing your ID. Check out the list of clinics that have attended MOH’s training workshop.
For most people, the HIV antibodies take about 3 weeks to 3 months to develop. This period is known as the “window period”. That’s why you must perform the HIV test after the window period for it to be accurate. So for example, you should get tested only 3 weeks to 3 months after engaging in unprotected sexual activity. Most testing facilities will want you to be tested again after 3 months as a confirmation.
How will my life be affected if I'm HIV positive?
It’s important to dispel the stigma of HIV and to build an embracing society where people who are HIV positive can lead a fulfilling life. The first step to achieving this goal is to learn and share the facts:
People who are HIV positive can:
- Live a healthy and balanced life with proper treatment.
- Participate and contribute to society.
- Play an active role in HIV awareness and education.
- Be responsible by always using protection during sex.
How can I protect myself from STIs/HIV?
There are a few healthy habits you can practice to help protect yourself.
Just remember the ABCD’s:
- Abstinence: Not engaging in any form of sexual activity.
- Be faithful: If they are in a relationship and are sexually active, advise them to keep to one sexual partner and continue to use protection even if they are in a stable relationship. Using condoms with their partner indicates that they care for each other’s well being. A commitment to sexual safety can also help to strengthen their relationship.
- Condom: The correct and consistent use of condoms has been proven to be the most effective way to prevent the transmission of STIs/HIV—although it is still not 100% effective. Advise them to make sure their condoms are not expired, damaged or punctured. And one should only use water-based lubricants because oil-based lubricants such as massage oil, Vaseline or baby oil will damage latex condoms. Do not keep condoms in wallets and bag compartments where they may be damaged by sharp objects like keys. Also, keeping condoms out of direct sunlight help to prevent damage.
- Detection: Early detection of STIs/HIV will help doctors better assess the condition and recommend appropriate treatment. Although there is no cure for HIV infection, the condition can be treated. Other STIs, such as gonorrhoea and syphilis, can be treated and cured through medication. Another reason to get tested is because symptoms of an STI may not appear right away. A person with an STI/HIV may not know he or she has an infection and spread it unknowingly. Getting tested is the only way to find out whether a person has been infected by HIV or other STIs. It’s also advisable to go for Hepatitis B screening for early detection or get vaccinated against it.
Where can i go for more information about STIs/HIV?
For more information about STIs/HIV, you should visit following websites:
Health Promotion Board (www.hpb.gov.sg)
Department of STI Control (DSC) Clinic (www.dsc-clinic.sg)
- International medical authorities' position statements on homosexuality
- International medical authorities' position statements on same-sex parenting
This article was written by Roy Tan.