If you still live with your parents, like most Singaporeans below the age of 30, you know the difficulties of balancing a healthy sex life with your parents’ approval.
Josephine Teo might’ve been right when she famously announced back in 2016 that “you need a very small space to have sex”, but she forgot that you also need privacy.
Like most conservative Asian families, my parents were never ecstatic about me bringing my boyfriends home. If he was coming over, they had to be informed. When he was at my house, closed doors were prohibited, sleepovers forbidden, and even reclining on the same bed together was discouraged.
These rules never changed, even as I switched boyfriends and am now, undeniably, an adult.
It may seem odd that even as grown ups, our sexual relationships continue to be confined by the fact that our parents decide who’s allowed into our rooms. You can pay your own bills, hold a full time job, own a car and travel the world, but unless you’re married and/or own your own home, your sex life is never quite your own.
Instead, we’re turning to weekends away at Wanderlust Hotel, Quincy Hotel, or Studio M. At these boutique joints, we get to enjoy the best of both worlds: we get the privacy we crave, without having to compromise on comfort and aesthetics.
While 24-year-old Tiffany regularly stays over at her boyfriend’s house (without her parent’s knowledge), she never feels completely at ease.
“We hide under the blanket whenever we do stuff so if someone comes in we can pretend to be asleep,” she tells me, simultaneously reminding me of how quintessentially Singaporean it is to say “do stuff”.
Even with the door closed, she says, “You still have to be paranoid. Once, his sister just barged in without warning.”
Rather than a moment to be savoured, intimacy had become a mission to avoid getting caught—a mission that was more frustrating and inconvenient than it was exciting.
On staycations, however, it’s their chance to finally “feel free”. They can be as noisy or as rowdy as they wish without fear of someone listening in or walking in.
Outside of staycations and the occasional overseas trip, Aaron, who is 27, doesn’t get many opportunities with his girlfriend to make the beast with two backs. Despite being working adults, his girlfriend’s parents aren’t thrilled with him sleeping over and being in the same room as their daughter.
Nevertheless, Aaron considers sleeping together a significant milestone and important part in any relationship.
Not only do staycations mean that you have to spend close to (or more than) 24 hours with your other half, “There’s nothing like ‘living’ with someone, seeing their sleeping habits, waking up in the morning and seeing them as they are”.
It’s a perspective that going out on dates alone simply cannot provide.
He concedes that while staycations are wildly different from “actually living together”, it’s the closest faux-experience one gets without having to leave the country.
“If anything, it brings us closer.”
Upon perusing the websites of several boutique hotels in Singapore, it becomes obvious that the layout and decor of the rooms—rose petals scattered on the floor, bottles of wine laid out on the bed, towels in the shape of a heart, and open-concept, glass-walled bathrooms—are catered to couples. They’re not really for travelling families or groups of friends.
It is precisely this “bold and provocative” decor, says the manager of a popular boutique hotel in the downtown area, that attracts younger customers.
According to a another boutique hotel in Somerset, 25% of their customers comprise young Singaporean couples aged 21 to 30. From their observations, most couples arrive with the intention of spending time together away from their homes, and spend the majority of their stay holed up in the room ‘Netflix and chilling’.
“During staycations we never head out,” says 23-year-old Jasmine, who frequents boutique hotels with her boyfriend. “Since we already spent money on the room, we might as well optimise its facilities.”
So yes, when she says “optimise its facilities”, she is referring to the Instagram-ready room, a pretty pool, room service, 24/7 air-conditioning, and of course, plenty of space and privacy to have sex. All this is a far cry from their cramped bedrooms and overbearing parents back home.
In a perfect world, we would be able to have open and honest conversations with our parents surrounding our personal and sexual needs, rather than have to sneak around, lie, or spend unnecessary amounts of money.
This is easier said than done.
According to Shannon, 20, as far as her parents are concerned, she’s never been in a relationship before.
“They are very strict,” she says, “Not only do they want me to date within my religion, they think I’m too young to be in a relationship and that all boys are trash.”
With her ex-boyfriend, she often had to lie to her parents whenever she was with him or at his house—something which caused her a lot of guilt and anxiety. “Eventually, I just stopped doing all of that because it’s not worth it, you don’t end up enjoying your time with him.”
Despite her attempts to talk to her mother about her relationship, the two of them failed to see eye to eye each time. This put their relationship on edge.
“It even got violent,” she tells me.
In some cases, being open with one’s parents can lead to a worse outcome.
When Dionne, who is also 20, was in secondary school, she was “the rebellious one” in her family, having lost her virginity at a young age and often sneaking people home whilst her parents were out or asleep.
The full extent of her sexual exploits only came to light when she started attending family therapy a year ago.
Perhaps it was the knowledge of what their daughter had been up to that motivated her parents to install several surveillance cameras in their living room.
The cameras, accessed through a smartphone, would display real-time footage allowing her parents to keep track of their children’s whereabouts and if they were bringing anyone home.
Dionne says, “They check on it frequently. They’ll send recordings to the family group chat asking who is this person coming in at this timing or why is this person always doing this thing.”
Although she now has a boyfriend and is in a stable, committed relationship, her younger brother has purportedly begun to follow in her old footsteps.
While Dionne describes her parents as the kind to try and “close both eyes”, she gets that it’s difficult for them to witness their children growing up and making mistakes along the way—hence the cameras.
To my surprise, Dionne’s situation is apparently not unique. Camera surveillance is, in fact, a growing trend amongst parents.
“At least half of my friends have had a camera installed in their house,” she shares.
Under such repressive conditions, Dionne tells me that young people her age will take one of two options.
“Either they give up, shut down and don’t try anymore, or they rebel even more and find other ways around it.”
But money also means very different things to different people. Some would rather pay for a holiday in a commercialised and overpriced beach resort, while others would pay for any opportunity to spend some time alone with their loved one.
Physical affection and sex is a crucial part of any relationship. Many of us just want to make the intimate experience even more memorable.
As Debbie, 28, put it, “After months of being together and being uncomfortable with the fact that my grandmother was just across the hallway, having the chance to finally be alone, just us, was great.”