Oral and anal sex in private between consenting heterosexual adults would be legalised under Singapore's first major penal code amendments in 22 years, the government said on Wednesday.
Singapore, which in recent years has gradually eased social restrictions that have given it a straight-laced reputation, said it had conducted a comprehensive review of sexual offences in the penal code, which was enacted in 1871 and received its last significant amendments in 1984.
"We sought to modernise it to be in line with social mores and emerging societal trends," the Ministry of Home Affairs said.
In another major change, the ministry proposes new laws to combat child prostitution and sex tourism.
Prostitution is not an offence in the city-state but the proposed amendments would make it a crime to purchase or solicit sex from anyone under the age of 18.
"What this new section does is to enhance the age of protection for females to include 16 and 17-year-olds when commercial sex is involved," the ministry said.
The purchase or solicitation of anyone under 18 in a foreign country would become an offence which could be prosecuted in Singapore.
Local media have reported that some Singaporeans travel to the nearby Indonesian island of Batam for sex with teenage girls.
"By introducing the extra-territorial laws, we will send a strong signal that we are against this appalling act and deter those who are inclined towards such acts," the ministry said.
A gay rights group, People Like Us (PLU), welcomed the repeal of the section against "carnal intercourse against the order of nature", which currently forbids oral and anal sex.
But PLU expressed disappointment there is no plan to repeal a section which criminalises "gross indecency" between two males.
While acknowledging there have been no prosecutions against consenting males in recent years, PLU said retention of the section "will signal to many that homophobia is justifiable and acceptable and has the support of the state".
The Ministry of Home Affairs, in defending retention of the law against gay sex, noted that Singapore remains a largely conservative society.
"Many do not tolerate homosexuality, and consider such acts abhorrent and deviant. Many religious groups also do not condone homosexual acts," it said.
The ministry said there is no special emphasis on the review of sexual offences in its revamp of the penal code. It said other proposed amendments, including strengthened prosecution of credit-card fraud and the extension of several offences to the electronic media including internet, could have a great impact.
Another proposal would clarify the definition of an unlawful assembly as a gathering of five or more persons whose common objective is to commit any offence.
"This is to make it clear that there is no need for the Act to affect public tranquility before an offence of unlawful assembly is made out," the ministry said.
In total the proposed changed would affect 19 existing offences, add 19 new ones, and review penalties.