Expanding counselling services to hard-to-reach MSM in a MSM sauna in a conservative and homophobia society

Published: July 21, 2010

C.H. Choong

Oogachaga, Singapore, Singapore

Issue: In the 2006 Singapore MSM Survey, it was found that MSM saunas were the third most popular venue for sexual encounters, as identified by 25.6% of respondents. In our past collaborative outreach with other CBOs at saunas, we found that most patrons do not know of our supportive services or feared being spotted in a LGBTQ counselling centre. As such, we decided to expand our counselling services to this target group.
Description: We conducted a pilot counselling project located within a MSM sauna, from February to May 2009 at One Seven, Singapore’s second largest MSM sauna. It was done within a quiet area in television lounge, demarcated by dividers. A trained counsellor is stationed each Saturday evening to provide counselling for patrons’ emotional issues or HIV and STIs concerns.
Lessons Learnt: We provided counselling to 19 MSMs in 12 sessions. Most sessions were done at the counselling area but some patrons would not speak to us because the area felt exclusive. We would move out to speak to patrons in the lockers room or café. 47% of clients presented issues of inner conflicts with their sexuality and 31.5% on same-sex relationship issues. In the process, we introduced the services of OC and other CBOs and were successful in reaching out to MSMs who are married in heterosexual relationships, closeted, Chinese-speaking and foreign MSMs who only visit saunas and do not access other MSM services.
Next Steps: The project gave us an excellent opportunity to be proactive in providing counselling to MSMs in a gay sauna which is their familiar and safe environment. The second run is conducted from January to March 2010 with slight modification. We will be more proactive to speak to the patrons in crowded areas instead of just the counselling area.

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