Singapore’s heteronormative sex education programme promotes abstinence as the best option

A letter to parents about the Ministry of Education’s The Growing Years Programme, a sexuality education programme in schools, dated 13th Feb 2019 was shared on r/singapore. The user who shared a photograph of the letter indicated that it was part of a sex ed consent form sent to parents of secondary school children.

The letter explained that the sex ed programme aims to ‘enable students to understand the physiological, social and emotional changes they experience as they mature, develop healthy and rewarding relationship including those with members of the opposite sex, and make wise, informed and responsible decisions on sexuality matters’.

Specifically, the letter noted that this would include ‘encouraging healthy heterosexual marriages and stable nuclear family units with extended family support’. As you can see, there is a focus on heterosexual couples, in line with the government’s stance that the social norm in Singapore consists of the ‘married heterosexual family unit’.

Image from reddit

Prior to 2009, the sex education programme in schools was conducted by gender advocacy group AWARE. But in 2009, the MOE received feedback and complaints about the programme they were conducting, “Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Basic Instructor Guide”.

MOE suspended the programme to conduct investigations on the content, asserting that the MOE and schools in Singapore do not promote ‘alternative’ lifestyles to students. They reiterated that the framework for sexuality education reflects the mainstream views and values of Singapore society – married heterosexual family units.

Upon concluding their investigations, MOE in a statement said:

“The Guide contains some positive aspects, like the accurate information provided on STIs/HIV and role-play practice for students to say no to sex. However, MOE’s assessment is that in some other aspects, the Guide does not conform to MOE’s guidelines. In particular, some suggested responses in the instructor guide are explicit and inappropriate, and convey messages which could promote homosexuality or suggest approval of pre-marital sex.”

Consequently, AWARE’s programmes in schools were suspended and subjected to the new vetting processes. AWARE was essentially dropped as sex ed program conductors in Singapore schools.

Later in 2012, AWARE raised concerns about the sex education programme being conducted, questioning whether it was emphasising abstinence over contraception.

In reply, MOE said that their Sexuality Education programme isn’t just about abstinence but is also focused on helping young people understand the physiological, social and emotional changes they experience as they mature.

They also noted that while the programme does promote abstinence as the ‘best option for teens’, they MOE also recognises that students need to be taught about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and teen pregnancies, as well as how to prevent them.

On this, the MOE said they “have worked very closely with the Health promotion Board since 2006 on the Breaking Down Barriers (BDB) programme. The BDB Programme, according to the Pioneer Junior College Website, teaches skills such as decision making, assertiveness and negotiation as well as the impact of STIs and HIV.

On reddit, several users shared their take on the sex education programme they had schools:




Singapore’s sex ed programme clearly places special emphasis on heterosexual couples, promoting what the government considers ‘societal norms’. Also, the concept of marriage being limited just the unity of a man and a woman is one based largely on religious teachings. So this raises the question, is this idea of the norm being only ‘heterosexual couples’ simply a sign of religion seeping into education?

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