PUTERI, 18, looks like your average teenager. She likes to have nice meals, go shopping, watch movies, and hang out with her friends. The only difference is she’s looking for a wealthy man – a sugar daddy – to pay for that lifestyle.
“Having financial security is important to me. If I have to date a man to get it, why not?” said the Form Six student.
“It’s difficult to maintain my lifestyle as it is, but I also want to have nice clothes, and have fancy meals. My friend’s sugar daddy was able to give her all that, so I decided to try it too.”
This sugar daddy-sugar baby arrangement – where attractive young people offer “companionship” (which usually includes sex) in exchange for money, shopping trips and exotic holidays – is becoming increasingly popular in Malaysia, all thanks to the Internet.
In the past, sugar babies would usually have to hang around and play the field at certain clubs or pubs – not an easy process. Now, it takes literally five minutes to set up an account on one of the many sugar baby websites available, upload a profile and wait for the offers to come in.
SeekingArrangement.com is one such website. Since it was launched in 2006, it has amassed a whopping 3.6 million members, with a ratio of eight sugar babies to one sugar daddy.
College girls get harrased and hit on by guys online all the time anyway. All they’d have to do now is negotiate a price.”
Though the odds might seem to favour the sugar daddies, the profile I set up to test the site received two offers within a day – both from gentlemen who were worth over US$1 million (RM3.6 million). In the past month alone, I’ve had 13 offers.
On top of that, you have online classifieds websites. A quick search brought up four local sites with dozens of ads openly asking for sugar daddies.
These sites also make it easier for not-so-stereotypical sugar babies to get in the game. Example: one of the ads was by a woman who said she dresses very conservatively, while another said she was newly-single, pregnant and desperate for financial help with her unborn child. The old hang-around-the-clubs routine probably wouldn’t have worked for them.“Back in the day, the usual way was to be a GRO at a club, drink with businessmen all the time, and see where it goes,” said Sulastri Ariffin, programme manager of Social and Enabling Environment Development (SEED), an organisation that works with marginalised communities. She has been giving counselling and support to sex workers since 1992.
“But online, college girls get harrased and hit on by guys all the time anyway. All they’d have to do is negotiate a price,” she added.
Puteri, who lives in Ipoh, decided to go with a classifieds website to find her sugar daddy, asking for RM1,000 a month – relatively cheap compared to sugar babies in the Klang Valley.
In exchange, she would be his girlfriend and provide the company and “love” involved in such relationships.
Does that arrangement include sex?
“Of course!” she said, sounding surprised. “Isn’t that the way it works?”
“To be very honest, I love money, and the power that comes with it.”
— Sugar baby Sandy, 23
You could see why young people would find a sugar arrangement a sweet deal.
We’re talking about fancy dinner dates, expensive gifts, holidays around the world and a few thousand bucks in monthly allowances. Most sugar baby ads come with fixed price tags of around RM3,000 to RM5,000 a month!
But with sex almost definitely on the table, isn’t it essentially prostitution?
“I’ve never considered this prostitution,” said Sandy, 23, who started her sugar life in 2012, when she a second year college student.
“I’m paid for my company, not for sex. I have the power to choose whether or not I have sex,” said the self-confessed “materialistic girl” who started down this path when a friend asked if she would like to get paid for a dinner date.
Sandy, who lives in Petaling Jaya, has had many sugar daddies over the years, including several Datuks.
“To be very honest, I love money, and the power that comes with it,” she said, adding that a one-off dinner date with her costs RM500, excluding the expensive gifts.
Across the world, sugar babies appear to be getting younger – a trend Sulastri sees happening in Malaysia as well.
In 2006, only 20% of the women on Seeking Arrangement were college students. Now, that number is close to 50%.
SeekingArrangement.com CEO and founder Brandon Wade believes it’s because the cost of education is constantly on the rise. “Most students will graduate with a large amount of debt that will take years to pay off,” he said.
Of course, a sugar daddy would ease that financial burden; or a sugar mommy, for that matter.
There aren’t as many male sugar babies out there, but they do exist. Mo, 25, for example, recently posted an ad in a local forum, looking for a sugar mummy. “Looking for a mutually beneficial relationship,” said his ad, accompanied by a picture of his frankly rather impressive abs.
Mo was very forthcoming when we asked what he was looking for in his sugar relationship, which is a “mutual exchange of benefits” – financial assistance with his degree in information systems in exchange for his “companionship and intimacy”.
“They will see fathers – and older men in general – as exploitative, and they will pass that perception down to their children too.”
In the long run, this whole sugar daddy culture could lead to a whole host of societal problems, according to Malaysian Mental Health Association deputy president Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj.
“It destroys the institution and image of fatherhood for these young women.
“They will see fathers – and older men in general – as exploitative, and they will pass that perception down to their children too,” he said.
Young people who engage in such relationships might also find themselves “unable to develop normal relationships based on reciprocal love” after their sugar baby years are over.
On top of that, there are physical dangers as well.
Andrew has treated two patients for substance abuse, as their sugar daddy had introduced them to a “hedonistic” lifestyle of drugs and alcohol which they weren’t prepared for.
Another patient was locked up in a condo by her sugar daddy, after she threatened to leave.
“Safe sex is another problem. Most sugar daddies would have more than one sugar baby, so the chances of getting a sexuall transmitted disease is higher,” he said.
In South Africa, the sugar daddy-sugar baby problem became so bad, youth movements under the Progressive Youth Alliance banner launched a campaign to protect and educate vulnerable students.
Though Sulastri admits the main reason most college students become sugar babies – and sex workers – is because they crave a better lifestyle, she nevertheless implores the public not to stigmatise them.
This need for understanding is all the more important now as Sulastri said the majority of sugar babies and sex workers she comes across these days are college-aged.
“Not everyone in college comes from well-off families. There are many from smaller towns whose families spend a lot of their money paying for their education, and they can’t afford to have the great lifestyle their friends have,” she said.
“They won’t even dare to leave the (sex) trade even if they wanted to.”
Of course, many will see that as a terrible excuse, but peer pressure gets to everyone, and Sulastri said being judgemental does not help.
“What we do at SEED is provide safe sex education and support to sex workers, but so many don’t ask for help because they are afraid their families will find out.
“And you’d never know if they were forced or blackmailed into the sex trade. The stigma is so strong, many of them go underground. They won’t even dare to leave the trade even if they wanted to,” she said.
SEED offers job placements for former sex workers. “But we don’t tell them to stop sex work,” said Sulastri. “It’s not our place.”
Talking to a sugar daddy
So, how rich do you have to be to afford a sugar baby? Well, the Malaysian ones listed on SeekingArrangement.com have annual incomes from US$75,000 (RM268,000) to US$1mil (RM3.5mil).
But not all of them are the rich, old men you probably had in mind (shame on you!). Just like sugar babies, sugar daddies are also getting younger these days.
“I appreciate it when the girl is honest about what she wants.”
— Sugar daddy Shaun, 27.
“I am willing to pay my sugar baby up to RM3,000 a month,” said Jon, 25, who currently works in his father’s company. It would take up a large chunk of his salary RM5,000 salary, but he doesn’t mind. “It’s less complicated to have a sugar baby, and besides, even if I had a girlfriend I’d spend a lot of money on her anyway.”
He previously had a sugar baby living in Sabah, and would pay for her flight tickets to Kuala Lumpur, where he lives. “It’s a good arrangement, and I’m the one in control.”
Shaun, 27, likes how the two parties can be upfront about their expectations in a sugar relationship.
“Being a manager, I feel I can afford to splurge on a girl,” he said. “So I appreciate it when the girl is honest about what she wants.
“I feel that Asians don’t feel it’s taboo anymore (to be a sugar baby) so it’s a lot easier to meet like-minded people.”
However, Shaun is not a fan of giving cash, which he feels is too much like prostitution.
“It’s a fine line,” agreed Wade, emphasising that his website does not promote prostitution. “Prostitution, the act of receiving money for sex, is not permitted on our website,” he said.
He doesn’t, however, deny that most people who meet on his site are in it for the sex.
He is quoted on CNN.com as saying “Seeking Arrangement is a dating site, which means most of the men here are eventually hoping to have sex.
“Regardless of whether a man has money or not, when two people are dating, sex will inevitably be a part of the equation.”