Today’s article stems from an advertising campaign I saw in Singapore. Its learning, however, is applicable globally.
If you have been in Singapore over the last few months, you would have seen across MRT stations, on TV, radio and on pop up stands around the city a campaign from I Love Children (@ilovechildrensg, www.ilovechildren.sg).
This is an advertising campaign inviting Singaporeans to have more babies. Its focus is medical, and primarily centred on fertility.
When it first came out it created mixed reactions, with some Singaporeans labelling the campaign as “offensive and distasteful” (http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/despite-backlash/2487408.html?cid=twtcna).
Why is Singapore investing into this fertility campaign so overtly? Because of the Replacement Birth Rate.
This is the birth rate necessary to sustain population levels. The well-known rate of 2.1 is currently a far target for Singapore, which has hovered around 1.2 – 1.3 for the last few years.
So, in a nutshell, if Singaporeans do not start making more babies, they will be forced to import more and more foreign talent to sustain its economic growth. In a small country of 5.5m, where about 1.9m people are already foreigners, this creates important social and political challenges.
There have been many attempts to raise birth rates in Singapore over the years. But nothing seems to work.
The main reasons why births aren't rising, are often cited as:
Cost of living is too high
Childcare is beyond many people's reach
Long working hours
Lack of flexibility in the workplace
Focus on career
...and more economic reasons
While these reasons are genuine and valid, they may not tell the whole story.
In my experience of talking to people on the ground, two other factors emerge:
Lack of information and
I remember working with a young woman in her early 20s who was having trouble reaching orgasm with her partner.
I naively assumed that because she was from the Internet generation, she would be deeply knowledgeable of the foundations of sex. I was wrong.
She knew very little of her body, she had never masturbated in her life, she could not list or draw the component parts of a vulva, and operated by a very specific belief, “why would I want to learn all this things? It’s not up to me after all, it is up to my boyfriend to know what to do with me!”
This is probably an extreme case, but I have spoken to other men and women who demonstrated a similar lack of information and misplaced expectations about their intimacy and sexual relationships.
Attempts to invite Singaporeans to spend more time in the bedroom were part of the measures the Government put in place (see this video), but unfortunately the birth rate is barely moving.
Living in Singapore, I know that certain economic challenges can be difficult to address as the family expands.
The Government is doing a lot to address these challenges, and will need to continue to do so. The balance between economic growth and individual productivity is a delicate one, and being a small country, Singapore needs its sons and daughters to continue striving for excellence.
There is a side of the story, however, which I believe is being overlooked: the role of intimacy, sex and relationships in today's life.
I can understand that speaking about sex and relationships beyond the biology and the physiology can be uncomfortable. But a healthy debate on sex, is a first step to a healthy experience of it.
For more babies to be born, more sex needs to be had. And to have more sex, one has to feel connected to his or her sexuality naturally, positively, without shame, guilt or fear of judgment.
Opening up the debate on sex may feel uncomfortable, but without this openness the sexual energy will remain dormant and babies will continue to fly high with the storks looking for a place to land that is not Singapore.
Thank you for reading my article.
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