Sugar Babies, A Controversy
Diving Deep into the Sugar Bowl: The Sugarbook Controversy in Malaysia
On February 10th, Sugarbook founder Darren Chan published a post boasting the top 10 local universities with the highest number of sugar babies. These statistics claimed that not just hundreds, but thousands of students from elite universities were using Sugarbook to finance their lifestyle. This insight sparked an uproar in the Malaysian public, which consists of a socially conservative Muslim-majority.
Before we dive any deeper, let’s address some key questions.
What is Sugarbook and sugar dating?
Sugarbook is an online sugar dating website “where romance meets finance”. It matches “sugar daddies” to “sugar babies”, or older and generally more well-off men to young women. Sugarbook also claims that it is “a social networking platform that helps build beneficial relationships with our society’s elite”.
Sugar dating or “sugaring” is a transactional and consensual dating practice generally characterised by one partner financially supporting the other in a mutually beneficial relationship. This financial support can come in the form of cash, 5-star hotel stays and luxury gifts. In a “sugar relationship”, both parties define what they want in a relationship in exchange for financial support.
How does being a sugar baby work?
Some SDs (sugar daddies) provide allowances to their SBs (sugar babies) weekly or monthly whilst some pay by date. Some SDs want to meet several times a week while others meet once a month.
SDs provide financial support to SBs in exchange for companionship, moral support and time. Although sex is common in sugaring, not all sugar daddies seek such intimate relations. Similarly, although most sugar babies engage in sugaring in order to meet their expenses, some hope for a serious relationship.
Why are there so many sugar babies from our private and public universities?
Sugaring has become increasingly popular among students in the past few years. In the working world, degrees are quickly becoming a basic requirement if one wants to get a job. As more people attend universities to earn their degrees, the costs of tuition rises. Sugar-dating platforms like Sugarbook and Seeking Arrangement have cited high tuition fees, heavy student loan debts, rising costs of living and network opportunities as why some university students become sugar babies. As the pandemic places an even larger strain on our economy and the finances of working families, university students, and young adults in general, are likely to be further incentivised to try out the sugar-dating lifestyle.
Most of the top ten universities with the highest number of sugar babies listed in Sugarbook’s post were private universities. Tuition fees of most private universities are higher than those of public universities, which might provide a larger incentive for more private university students to engage in sugar dating as they have a larger tuition debt to pay off as compared to public university students.
Many say that there’s not much difference between normal dating and sugar dating. The only difference being that the latter is financially compensated for their companionship and time. Some people become sugar babies simply because they chose to. They enjoy the perks of living that lifestyle and have fun indulging in the luxuries sugaring can afford them. Some sugar babies claim that they truly do love their sugar daddies, though there are also others who criticise that they are only in love with their sugar daddies’ wallets.
The risks of sugar dating
Sugar dating has many hazards. One risk is that the nature of sugar dating can mislead sugar babies, especially those who are younger and from a low-income background, and place them in situations where they are subjected to manipulation and sexual exploitation.
Some young SBs may not have the life experience or emotional maturity to spot red flags, especially if in financially-desperate situations. This can increase the risk of them getting taken advantage of. Companies like Sugarbook promote sugaring as a form of fun, safe and no strings attached relationships but in reality, it doesn’t always turn out that way. Some of these relationships have led to harassment, sexual assault, and the manipulation of financial arrangements in an effort to coerce unwanted sexual intimacy. There have been SBs that have been scammed, abducted, pressured into taking drugs and or murdered by their SDs. This is very dark but crucial to talk about because it is important to raise awareness of these issues.
Sugaring using online apps also carries the same dangers as online dating. You never know who you’re talking to, even if they are willing to pay you. As a precaution, both SBs and SDs tend to use fake identities even after meeting up to protect their safety.
Sugar dating carries risk and can be dangerous. The life of a sugar baby can be glamorous but it is also important to bring to light the dark sides of sugar dating to reduce the risk of naivety that may lead to exploitation. There are wolves out there, people who commit gruesome acts that go against every fibre of basic human morality. Unfortunately, there is always a risk of meeting such people, a risk that is increased when you date strangers online. Whether you engage in normal online dating or sugar dating, there is still this similar but dangerous level of risk. Hence, before getting into anything, always remember to do your research.
But if there are such risks, why are there still so many sugar babies?
People like luxury, getting pampered and expensive gifts. Apart from the reasons already stated above, some might think that becoming a sugar baby is an easy way to make money, regardless of whether they need it urgently or just want some extra cash to spend. Financial incentives are not the only perks of dating someone successful and experienced. You can connect and build a network with powerful individuals, which can help one climb the corporate ladder or pursue career advancements. SDs can offer mentorship to their SBs. Some people also have become sugar babies out of boredom.
Not all SDs are bad. Engaging in sexual activity is not a requirement but if both parties explicitly consent to it, it can and has happened. There are people out there who have been SBs for more than 2 years and not once had sex with a SD. There are men out there who are just lonely and truly yearn for companionship.
Is sugar dating prostitution?
The answer for this question will vary depending on who you ask. Some people argue that sugar dating is just a sugar-coated word for prostitution, stating that while the exchange of sex for money is not explicitly stated, there is a clear expectation. Some call it naive to think that most men who are willing to pay for expensive hotel trips and luxury gifts do not have ulterior motives. There are similarities between the two, both sugar dating and prostitution being unsustainable lifestyles and that they are both transactional relationships involving money.
However, some argue that the differences outweigh the similarities, that there is a thicker line between sugar dating and prostitution than many perceive. Sugar babies are more like escorts than prostitutes. Even if they don’t participate in sexual favours, sugar babies will be paid whereas prostitutes would not be until they consummate with their client. A prostitute is hired with the clear expectation of sex while a sugar baby is hired with the expectation to provide companionship, comfort and moral support to their SD. It is not necessary for them to partake in sexual activities.
Sugar babies have control of who they meet, when they meet, and they can also set personal boundaries. Many prostitutes don’t get that freedom. Prostitution is also typically a one-time fling whilst sugar dating involves ongoing romantic relations of deeper complexity, which has morphed into long-term relationships and in some cases, marriage. In most situations, commitment and trust are hardly present in prostituting whilst it is present in sugaring, even if in a limited manner. There is a difference between sugaring and normal romantic relations, romantic relations mostly being more complex and meaningful but regardless, sugar relationships are more personal and intimate as compared to prostitution. This is why some, myself included, believe that the common misconception that sugar dating is equivalent to prostitution is inaccurate as one does not necessarily lead to the other.
Is sugar dating wrong?
Is sugar dating immoral? Everyone has different ideas of what morality means. I don’t believe that sugar dating itself is immoral. Most people believe that sugar dating is immoral because of the common misconception that sugar dating always involves sex and thus is synonymous with prostitution, but as we mentioned before, it doesn’t always.
Another reason why some people think that sugar dating is immoral is because they associate it with partners cheating on their spouses with sugar babies. Cheating on your partner is an immoral act, period. However, if such a situation does occur, I don’t think it is the act of sugar dating itself that is wrong but the person who committed the act of cheating on their partner. If someone was cheating on their partner with someone they met through on Tinder, for example, would you say that online dating is immoral just because some people engaged in online dating with immoral intentions? Not all sugar relationships involve cheating spouses and it is unfair to say that the act of sugar dating itself is wrong just because a few unfaithful partners engaged in it.
The act of sugar dating alone doesn’t harm anyone as long as there is clear communication, transparency and respect between both parties. What’s wrong with two adults being in a mutually beneficial relationship involving mutual consent and respect? If there is a lack of such key elements in the relationship, is it the act that is wrong or the people who performed such malpractice? If two adults decide to engage in coitus, as long as there is consent, is it really a problem?
I don’t think the government banned Sugarbook to end sugar dating or to end what they view as online prostitution. The government knows that banning Sugarbook won’t stop sugar dating in Malaysia as there are still multiple other platforms that people can use to connect. Rather, the government had to ban Sugarbook due to public interest in the controversy. The statistics that Sugarbook released shocked many Malaysians and if the government didn’t take any action against Sugarbook, the universities mentioned and the more conservative side of Malaysian society will likely not have been very happy. It wasn’t a smart move for Sugarbook’s founder to release that information but I think he’s already learned that lesson.
Does being a sugar baby demean women?
According to TODAYonline, a Singaporean news website, the very concept of “sugar daddies” and “sugar babies” is misogynistic and demeaning towards women. They quoted the words of Darren Chan, saying that it promotes the stereotype that “women date men for their money and status”, while “men date women for their beauty and youth”. They argued that there is an inherent inequality in money-for-love relationships which undermines the equal dignity of both men and women.
The Harvard Crimson, on the other hand, argues that becoming a sugar baby does not mean that one is accepting a man’s sexualization. They say that it is fundamentally a clever means for women to refute the same system that perpetuates catcalling, unwarranted, explicit private messages, and harassment by demanding payment. Everyone is entitled to their own bodies and it is their choice on what they choose to do with it.
“ We need to stop judging women for how they choose to spend their time and with whom they spend it.”
— The Harvard Crimson
I think a very important point to bring up at this point of the article is that not all sugar babies are women. There are sugar babies who are men as well as sugar mommies. I mainly referred to SDs and female sugar babies because they make up the majority of the sugar dating subculture. I bring this up because if it was a sugar mommy or daddy with a male SB, would we still perceive the situation in the same way? Will we still think that being a sugar baby is as demeaning?
I feel like becoming a sugar baby isn’t shameful but it is discouraged in society because some view it as degrading to please a man for money. Some believe that men who pay sugar babies for their time tend to objectify them and treat them more like a product or a trophy than a person, which is metaphorically and actually dehumanizing, and perhaps this perception does hold some truth.
There has always been a debate about this subculture. Not everyone is as open or supportive of sugar dating and frankly, that’s okay. We all deserve the rights to our own opinions. However, regardless of your personal views, women should never be shamed for how they earn a living, whether it’s to fund their education, their personal expenses and or their future. Any form of discrimination against anyone, including sugar babies, is immoral.
Both sugar babies and their sugar guardians are still people and deserve to be treated as such. Being a sugar baby might not be considered particularly empowering to some but how someone else makes an honest living is none of our business. We are all just trying to make a living and it is up to us to decide how we do so. You might not respect their career choice but at least respect them as a person.
After all, we are only human.
[Written by: Ruby]
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- I’m a ‘sugar baby’ who gets paid $500 a date — here’s what it’s really like to date sugar daddies and get cash, gifts, and 5-star hotel stays
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- Don’t Shame the Sugar, Baby | Opinion
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[Written by: Ruby Seet]