Since I’ve not installed an ad blocker on YouTube, I often find myself pressing skip impatiently after enduring five seconds of some insufferable promotion. But when an interview by Durex and Coffee Meets Bagel came on before the video I queued, I let the ad continue playing. My attention was piqued by the results of the survey they conducted among daters in Singapore: “Over half of us have trouble talking about sex with our dates.” This statement was hardly surprising. Sex can be a difficult topic to broach, especially with someone new, as it usually involves disclosing aspects of ourselves that may leave us feeling vulnerable.
It certainly doesn’t help that Singapore is a predominantly conservative society. According to the 2021 World Values Survey, 67.3% of Singaporeans believe that having casual sex is never or seldom justifiable whilst 45.9% believe that pre-marital sex is never or seldom justifiable. Our national sex education places an overriding emphasis on abstinence, in hopes of guiding our youth away from the temptations of the flesh. The prevalent cultural discourses — through our media, schools, government, and other institutions — indubitably influence how we think about and experience sex. As such, talking about the erotic realm can be difficult for daters in Singapore, where the cultural prohibitions against pre-marital and casual sex may cause them to grapple with shame, anxiety, or fear. As Esther Perel writes in Mating in Captivity, “A society that sees sex as soiled does not make sex go away. Instead, this kind of anxious atmosphere breeds guilt and shame in its more extreme version, or a generalized discomfort in its more ubiquitous expression.”
Normalizing conversations sure is a step towards reframing how we perceive sex and sexuality in Singapore, which was what I appreciated about the Durex x Coffee Meets Bagel video. The short clip contained many insightful responses, hilarious quips, and nuggets of wisdom. When asked if bringing condoms on a date was being presumptuous or prepared, one interviewee (Jeremy) responded, “I wouldn’t judge the guy who brings an umbrella out on a sunny day.”
Curious about what young adults in Singapore had to say about the dating scene, I put a callout on wildchild’s and Not A Dating App’s Instagram. I asked them to share their thoughts on talking about sex with their dates — if it was normal to do so, the average number of dates they go on before broaching the topic, a memorable anecdote, and if they benefited from those conversations. Here are their illuminating responses, which were lightly edited for clarity.
Lilith: I usually bring up the topic first because I like to get a feel of my potential partner’s sexual prowess. I can be a horny *redacted* at first and they need to be able to keep up. Gender doesn’t have anything to do with it; if my partner brought it up first I’d happily go along with the conversation. Talking about sex gives me a good feel of how confident my partner is, and I like me some confident men/women.
Dexter: I try my best to normalize talking about sex and bring it up at some point because I feel that it’s important. On average, I go on maybe two dates before broaching sex. Just to ensure that the ice has been broken and that they are comfortable enough for me to open up the conversation because most people still aren’t very open to talking about it. I have had cases where I’m sharing my sexual history and the other party would say things like “wow you’re quite a slut ah”, albeit jokingly. I’d laugh it off but I don’t think it’s a great way to respond when someone is sharing something personal. It doesn’t look good on them either.
As someone who feels that talking candidly about sex is important in any relationship, broaching the subject definitely helps me get to know my date better. Whether or not things turn sexual, I believe that having a better understanding of things like your date’s sexual history, sexual preferences, etc. really helps you get to know them on a deeper level.
Bella: The topic of sex — talking about past sexual experiences — does come up, usually on the second or third date; it’s not a common first date conversation. It often surfaces naturally, when the topic of exes or kinks comes up. It also usually happens over drinks when we are both more relaxed and in the mood to talk about risqué topics.
Typically I’ll be more elusive. I’ll wait for the guy to talk about his experiences first and tend not to dive deep into mine. I subconsciously don’t want him to perceive me as a “slut” or someone that has been around. It takes about two to three dates before we start talking about sex and probably four to five dates before we have sex, for a bit of time is needed to build sexual tension.
One memorable anecdote would be how one guy told me about how he has a few girls on rotation like a “roulette” — disgusting. I think sex is less intuitive than we think and there are a lot of complex pieces such as what you’re comfortable with and what your boundaries are. Talking about it definitely helps the process and helps to put everyone at greater ease.
Devi: At the very beginning of my dating journey, talking about sex was not normal to me. But I think after being on dating apps for a few weeks, I started getting accustomed to the fact that sex was a very common topic. Having been on the apps for a while now, sex became a very expected topic. I used to bring it up first, especially when I thought that I wasn’t vibing with someone — I thought that we could salvage our time or the night by at *least* getting some sexual pleasure. But when I wanted to become more serious about dating, I ran as far away as I could from the topic. Rather than who brings it first, I feel like how a person brings it up is super telling.
I knew I was unique/edgy/rare because I was a woman who talked about sex. Unlike men, I also thought I never ran the risk of being creepy or making them uncomfortable — not true, by the way. It gets creepy when they ask about body count or how kinky you are, but I love discussing it as a topic in itself. I guess most recently with my current partner, I asked him on our first date “so how are you at sex?”, and he answered super calmly and confidently, “very good”. I guess that was the most memorable experience. It’s ironic because what I loved about it was that he didn’t say anything else. He didn’t probe, he didn’t want to know “how I liked it” — he just left it at that. He said so much by saying nothing.
Sometimes I become friends with my dates and become their sex-confidant. These guys text me when they have sex-related issues or worries — I love talking about sex and hearing about other people’s experiences, so I happily play sex therapist. At the end of the day, they just need someone to reassure them that they aren’t strange and that they’re normal for feeling xyz. But in cases where I don’t want to talk about sex on a personal level, I’ve found myself in uncomfortable situations.
Eleanor: My take is that I am completely open to talking about sex. But the moment my date explicitly talks about his past sexual experiences and history, I don’t see him as a potential partner anymore. Discussing sex as a topic on its own sets the expectation that it’s gonna happen between us, which kills the mood. So I believe we should talk about sex only after it happens organically first. If you want to take me home, just proposition me. As I don’t judge whether someone is suitable as a sexual partner based on his body count etc., I am more interested in having conversations about our sexual dynamics instead of their past.
Timothy: I’m fairly open about sex. When someone gets the courage to talk about it, there’s a tension that’s released like a soufflé deflating. I think it’s difficult to pin down who actually broaches this because if we talk for long enough, the conversation eventually (and inevitably) centers back to relationship history and sex. I think we’re all equally shy to talk about this, across genders! Before broaching the topic, I usually go on enough dates so that we trust each other. I also prefer a less public space and a more intimate setting because the ambiance is so important; we could be at each other’s homes or even at the park at night. When I was still a Christian, I thought we had to set boundaries like not going past hand stuff… Not like that works, we broke those rules anyway. Sex is such an important part of life that it would be a shame if it is a topic that can’t be communicated freely and openly.
Fabiola: I’m normally the one who brings up sex. Sometimes subtly but usually I am pretty forward. As a woman, I feel like I need to set the tone and pace when it comes to sex to make sure that everyone knows I’m in charge and I will only do what I want to. I usually [broach the topic] on the first date to suss out whether the person will be down for what I want as well as whether we are sexually compatible.
Paxton: Talking about sex is not taboo to me. Still, I won’t initiate the topic during a date. I won’t avoid answering questions if my date brings it up or if it somehow seeps into the conversation because discussing sex is a way of getting to know someone, after all. We don’t have to make things weird just because we are talking about sex; it can be a gateway to getting to know each other better.
The reason why I steer clear from the topic is that some guys try to find out about the girl’s experiences so as to survey how they can make their next move, which is pretty predatory to me. Why can’t we just talk about anything under the sun without having ulterior motives?
Rebecca: I’m never the one who broaches sex with my dates but that’s because I’ve never had any sexual experience before. I am definitely interested in hearing what they have to say about sex. Still, I won’t bring it up as a talking point because I honestly have nothing to contribute and worry that my date may feel like I’m asking personal questions without offering much in return. I’ve spoken to people on dating apps who openly talk about sex — not their experience per se — but their attitude towards sex and what it means to them, even before our first date. I believe that it’s helpful to know if your values are compatible with your dates’, especially if they have the potential to become your partner. However, in the early stages of getting to know each other, I would probably prefer to assess other areas of compatibility first since sex is not something that I would explore with someone I just met on an app.
Andrew: [Talking about sex] is unusual, but it does come up in the natural course of getting to know one another. And I mean beyond making sexual jokes and banter — more in the realms of sexual history and practice. There is a societal norm for males to be the only ones who want sex, to be dominant. Hence, they are expected to be more motivated and expressive. However, my own sexual awakening came much later than my peers, especially when compared to my female counterparts. So initially, in my formative years, I was pretty clueless and [my female partners were the ones] who seemed to know their way around things. Later on, with a better grasp of sex ed, I’ve been rather candid and honest with broaching the topic. I have been lucky to have had female partners who weren’t shy or reserved about their sexual desires and needs, so I wouldn’t say stereotypical gender roles played a huge part in my sexual relationships.
I am very vanilla and have a relatively lower sex drive. I also only engage in sex with people I’m serious about. As I haven’t really had sex with strangers, I would say that I’ll only bring it up when we have really gotten emotionally close and there is the expectation that we could take things further. When my first proper girlfriend told me she wasn’t a virgin, it shook my world. I even wondered if I could still be together with her. That’s funny in hindsight.
Growing up, it was great being honest and open with each other because we were all still figuring things out. And being two pieces of a puzzle both figuratively and quite literally, it helps to talk about it and figure it out together. Hypothetically, if I were to be back in the dating game now, I think that sex as a topic will definitely be more accessible than when I was younger. Sharing knowledge, preferences, and needs about sex is just the means of getting closer to this other human being that you are interested in knowing better.
Feature collage by Sherryl Cheong
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