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Doctor Love is trying to make Singapore sexy

Amid concern about the low fertility rate, an entrepreneur and sex guru is leading the way to adult entertainment.

November 23, 2006|John M. Glionna | Times Staff Writer

SINGAPORE — It's past 4 a.m. and the music is throbbing at the Attica nightclub as Wei Siang Yu works the still-surging singles crowd like a celebrity.

Drinks in hand, patrons lean in close, shouting into his ear over the booming bass. Most just want to say hello, but a few seek something else: sex tips.

The doctor is in the house.

From taxi drivers to tax accountants, residents in this conservative city-state seek out Wei for bedroom advice. With the self-styled sex guru who bills himself as Doctor Love, they know they'll get good counsel -- without any moral judgment.

"This city is still very repressed when it comes to open talk about sex," he said. "With me, they get a listening ear. I don't judge them. I just answer their questions.

"Sex problems are normal. I tell them, 'Go ahead, try it again.' "

A kind of Larry Flynt-meets-Dr. Ruth, the 37-year-old physician presides over an Eros empire that has so far included a late-night sex-advice TV show, holiday "love packages," sex-strategy books and a drop-in advice center known as the Playroom. Last month, he launched Singapore's first adult magazine.

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Sexual revolution

Wei embodies the lower-case sexual revolution now sweeping Singapore. In this tightly controlled island nation of more than 4 million people where Playboy magazine is still forbidden, the government is loosening long-standing restrictions on adult-themed entertainment to allow frank public talk about once taboo subjects.

The reason: Singaporeans aren't having enough babies.

With Asia's lowest fertility rate outside Hong Kong, in 2004 Singapore saw only 35,500 births, a number far below the 50,000 needed to replenish the population. It was the 28th straight year that the birthrate fell below the population's "replacement rate," experts say.

A recent survey of 22 nations by a condom maker put Singaporeans at the very bottom in terms of sex drive.

In a speech this summer, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sounded the alarm, warning that Singapore would have to produce more babies or welcome more migrants to sustain economic growth and living standards.

Officials have unveiled a $185-million package to encourage baby-making, including cash perks, child-care subsidies, tax rebates for working mothers and longer maternity leaves. They also introduced programs such as "Romancing Singapore," which encouraged people to meet, fall in love, get married and procreate.

Reasons for this baby bust are complex.

In this hyper-expensive city, many young workers still live at home. Others are deferring marriage in favor of career and lifestyle. Those who do have children stop at two because of the high costs involved.

The job market is so competitive here that when young workers land a good position, they'll do anything to keep it -- such as staying long hours at the office or taking work home.

"This society is a pressure cooker," said Singaporean sociologist Angelique Chan. "The feeling is that you've got to keep performing on the job or you're going to be left behind. People feel so overworked and stressed out, they don't have time to go out and find a partner. Married people have even lower sex drives.

"People are always talking about this here. And the consensus is that Singaporeans just don't have enough sex."

Carmen Leow is typical of many residents.

"I work 10 hours a day and when I get home and my boyfriend even mentions sex, I just sort of recoil," said the 20-year-old bartender, adjusting her serpentine bicep bracelet. "A relationship in this city is like a second job. You just get so tired out."

Although she plans to marry next year, Leow said, "we're not having kids for at least 10 years. I just don't have the time or energy."

To counteract this paucity of sexual interest, the government has loosened its tie. Singapore now has a bar with topless dancers and recently sponsored its first sex exposition featuring bedroom aids and sex therapy. Newspaper ads such as the one for the recent movie "Black Dahlia" feature ads that trumpet, "Hottest sex scenes ever."

Into this more permissive atmosphere has stepped Wei. Sporting oversized, box-shaped glasses that look like relics from a 1950s 3-D movie audience, he was an unlikely recipient of approval to publish the new adult magazine, which features soft-core nudity.

But Wei doesn't aim merely to titillate.

He calls it "adult edutainment," a concept that includes forums, advice and articles on vaginal surgery and maintaining healthy sperm and eggs. The main feature for the launch edition was a story on "Tokyo Love Hotels: Made for Extreme Pleasure." In the mix also are artsy black-and-white nude photographs in heavy shadow.

"The magazine is not men-centric," Wei said. "It's for sex-doers, not lookers."

Both have the same goal in mind, but Wei says he differs from government officials on how to boost Singapore's fertility rate.

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