In late July 2017, Rojak Daily released a video interview, where two sugar babies shared their experience sugar dating on a website called TheSugarBook. A few days later, a video interview by VICE with the founder of Seeking Arrangement, another sugar dating website was also being circulated. Upon more digging, we found that R.AGE had also covered sugar dating more than 2 years ago, also talking about Seeking Arrangement.
We couldn’t find a formal definition for “sugar dating”, only for “sugar daddy”, which is defined as “a well-to-do older man who supports or spends lavishly on a mistress, girlfriend, or boyfriend”. Leading from there, sugar dating is where women and men seek to establish that kind of relationship with sugar daddies or mommies. Usually, sugar babies get compensated with expensive dates, luxurious goods, vacations, and even an allowance for their time and companionship, which undeniably includes sexual favors.
No matter when or where the story was broken, Malaysian comments against the practice heavily outweighs everything else:
Some called it a re-branding of prostitution, some shamed the sugar babies, and some shamed the sugar daddies and mommies, but there were some that received it with more humor:
Through our editor, we got to know that TheSugarBook’s office was based in Malaysia, so we got in touch with them to learn more about
job opportunities the controversial phenomenon in Malaysia. We spoke to Jessica Ong and Joie Chan from TheSugarBook’s public relation and communications, and here are the other things we learned about them:
[No, Cilisos wasn’t paid to write this article, even though some Cilisos people are friends with TheSugarBook people.]
1. Sign ups actually spiked after the Rojak Daily video
While TheSugarBook was made for international audiences, they now have a 20 people operation here in Malaysia. They moved here for logistics and cost efficiency, but they wouldn’t tell us if they started in Malaysia or not. TheSugarBook has about 45,000 – 50,000 users on their website.
Despite the impression the negative comments might give, Jessica and Joie told us that TheSugarBook saw an increase in sign ups after the Rojak Daily video was released.
“After the RojakDaily video, we are seeing a lot more active users online. At any given time, there are an average of 300-500 users online based on more popular locations like Petaling Jaya or Kuala Lumpur.” – TheSugarBook told CILISOS
Their website spread through word of mouth, and slowly gained traction. Now, they also use social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to continue growing. Comparatively, Seeking Arrangement (the sugar dating website covered by VICE), was said to have around 4.5 million users in 2015, but then again, TheSugarBook was only launched December 2016.
Getting into TheSugarBook was easy, the difficult part was actually deciding to be a sugar baby or sugar daddy/mommy… so we made 1 of each. Using a free account, up to 5596 people were browsable to us, sugar babies, daddies and mommies alike.
Basic details like any other dating website are available, but some options (like age and height) were restricted. You also have more filter options to help you with your selection, and there was even an “income” category sugar babies could select, where the minimum amount was 50,000 USD annually.
From some rough scrolling, there was a mix of ethnicity and diverse ages, and many of them were in fact Malaysians. And speaking of age…
2. The age difference between babies and daddies is not as far as you think
From the general assumption, people imagine sugar daddies as old men, exploiting young and beautiful sugar babies with their wealth and experience, but Jessica and Joie painted for us a different picture. Majority of sugar daddies on TheSugarBook are aged 30 – 50, while sugar babies are in their 20s and up to 49 years old.
“The ratio of female to male users is 70:30, and we definitely have more sugar babies and sugar daddies than sugar mommies.” – TheSugarBook told CILISOS
Turns out, it doesn’t really matter what you signed in as, because we got 3 sugar babies messaging us immediately after signing up as a sugar baby. Looking through the profiles, we saw sugar babies in their early 20s to mid 30s, while sugar daddies were mostly from mid 20s to early 50s.
Apart from random bits and pieces of data revealed by the sites themselves, demographic statistics of sugar dating sites were difficult to come across, which raises concerns about young college students being involved in sugar dating. Even in TheSugarBook, they have a similar programmer that is also offered by Seeking Arrangement, where sugar babies who register with their student email can get a premium account for free.
Dr Helen Pringle, a senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) who specialises in pornography and human rights, believes that “sugaring” is straight-forward prostitution, and worry about the mental health of young sugar babies, because according to her, sex workers suffer higher rates of post-traumatic stress syndrome than war veterans.
3. Unlike normal websites, TheSugarBook attempts to verify its users
On the internet, love scammers prowl online social media, as the number of cases in Malaysia clearly demonstrates. With TheSugarBook, one would expect the same, especially when money is openly on the table. Apart from that, there is the obvious concern where users might be drugged or raped (though upon search, news like this was not common).
Another crime linked to sugar dating seems to be the blackmail and extortion. “Sexual blackmailers” will threaten to release explicit footage of rich men, unless they are paid. Numbers from Seeking Arrangement says sugar daddies in New York spends an average of $5,692 per month on sugar babies. In TheSugarBook users can state their lifestyle expectation and budget upfront for all to see, and it’s categorised as follows:
Jessica told us it’s common practice for sugar daddies to provide sugar babies a monthly allowance.
“It’s a common belief that sugar daddies provides allowance to the sugar babies. Just like in a marriage, the one who’s got a higher earning power will be the one giving an allowance to the wife taking care of the house.” – TheSugarBook told CILISOS
TheSugarBook told us they use a type of recognition technology to check whether photos uploaded are stolen or downloaded from elsewhere. For the highest sugar daddy account, they must even prove they have at least 100,000 USD in their bank accounts. Comparatively, dating app giant Tinder only verifies some public figures, celebrities and brands.
Beyond that, TheSugarbook has an internal reporting system, which might lead to an investigation if needed, and there are also internal forums for sugar babies to interact and perhaps flag out suspicious users. So far, TheSugarBook said that they had not have any serious incidents.
Seeking Arrangement, on the other hand, takes it a step further. They depend on a 3rd party company to perform background checks on users, looking out for any criminal records, international wants and warrants, and even does address tracing.
4. Employees at TheSugarBook office are mostly … women??
For a company that gives the impression of “objectifying women”, we found it surprising when TheSugarBook told us that women employees outnumber the men 4 to 1. We were also told that all 12 of the website’s moderators (who verify the accounts and keep the peace in TheSugarBook) are women as well. When asked if they hire women on purpose, Jessica and Joie said it was just naturally that way.
According to the Seeking Arrangement website, there is almost 5 times more sugar babies than sugar daddies. In 2013, Seeking Arrangement even estimate that 44% of its sugar babies are college or university students.
In 2015, Singapore was actually deliberating on banning sugar dating sites. The concerns are valid, considering some women do get hooked on drugs and alcohol during their sugar dating stint, even the spread of sexually transmitted infections because sugar dating sometimes involve having more than 1 partner at a time.
“While this will not stop new ones from coming up, we should do what we can and the Government also needs to take a stand and protect as many people and families as possible, and also protect vulnerable and at-risk individuals from being exploited too.” – Singapore member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng
In our browsing, we did find some women that do not fit the usual sugar baby description. We found women who had children, we found women who do not drink nor smoke, and we found women that did not want sex. There was even a single mother with 3 kids who is looking for financial support, expecting a “moderate lifestyle” in return.
“I am a simple person that needs extra income to raise my kids.” – From the profile description of a single mother
5. Even for older women, most of them still look for “financial support”
After clicking through the profiles of the various “older women”, it didn’t seem to match with what TheSugarBook told us about them, as most Malaysian girls in the age range described to us were still seeking to be pampered.
“We have a lot of girls in their late 20s to 30s who straight away state in their profile that they are not looking to be financially supported. They’re on this platform to find the network and grow their career, they just want an older man (from the industry) to teach them how.” – TheSugarBook told CILISOS
Reading the experiences from various articles, sugar babies don’t only do it for money. While some are in it for the pampering, others see it as just another source of income, or even a place to seek companionship, as a sugar baby we met on TheSugarBook told us:
“Initially, I was not that interested really because I thought this is just another normal dating portal.. people will come and disturb me for fun. But then as time passed, I discovered some really mature men and they started interacting with me. It really got my attention and they really offer me money.” – A 29 year old sugar baby told CILISOS
In certain countries, pressure of study loans are much higher than in Malaysia. A poll in the UK found that 1 in 3 student would consider sugar dating if they were to lose their student funding. There are even those who stopped once they’ve achieve their goals, or simply when they grow out of it.
“They would never consider a monogamous relationship with someone who would need to do this to survive. It’s like a class thing. They see you as beneath them, desperate.” – an ex-sugar baby told Vanity Fair
Sugar dating still seems to be a relatively new phenomenon, considering we only found studies on hypoglycemic babies when we tried to google it. While there some are concerned that the culture will ruin impression of older men for future generations of women, there are also more immediate and physical harms.
Should we accept sugar dating as “just a more honest form of dating”?
As TheSugarBook likes to tell us time and time again during our interview:
“At the end of the day, we are an online social platform for people to meet and negotiate the terms of their relationship honestly. Whatever happens between the users is private and confidential, and its up to the individuals.” – TheSugarBook tells CILISOS, many times, in different ways
While it’s hard for some of us to accept, the decision to sugar date is up to the individual’s choice. While we can disagree reasonably, or even attempt to impose our standards on others, what right do people really have to meddle in the relationships of strangers, when it barely affects us in the first place.
Perhaps a more constructive approach could be to consider what lead to the culture to blossom in the first place, a closer look at how our society regards money, intimate relationships, and even women.
In the end, while it’s easier to pass judgement on things we disagree, perhaps it’s wiser to try to understand it from another perspective instead. As a master of perspectives once said:
“There is only one way to look at things until someone someone shows us how to look at them with different eyes.” – Pablo Picasso
Let us know what you think about sugar dating in the poll below.