Recently, users of TheSugarBook online dating platform made the news.
Responding to concerns raised in Parliament about the site, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said the police would be keeping a “close eye on TheSugarBook, as well as the individuals who use its services”.
Founded in 2016, the Malaysia-based dating platform helps to connect men seeking romantic relationships with women looking for financial support. It currently has 90,000 users, of whom 30,000 are from Singapore.
However, this is not the only such platform being used in Singapore. Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore spoke to Singaporean women who use the site Seeking Arrangement, which connects Sugar Daddies – mainly rich older men – with Sugar Babies, usually younger women looking for financial support or gifts.
The site, which claims to have 10 million members worldwide, was founded by Brandon Wade , an American businessman who was born and raised in Singapore.
So why do these women use such sites in the first place?
The Singaporean women, who insisted on using pseudonyms, said they joined the site in early August last year seeking financial help for their school fees and to support their lifestyle while studying.
Tina, in her early twenties, said, “It was very shady and (I) never imagined myself ever joining the site, but my friend assured me that it was safe (so) I joined as I desperately needed my tuition and school fees paid”.
In an e-mail interview, 24-year-old Ashley, who works in the arts industry, said she signed up as she was “struggling quite a bit financially and really needed some help”.
“I didn’t want to bother my parents, so I thought this might be a better option,” she added.
Ellie, 20, joined the website because she was in a “reckless phase” of her life following a bad break-up and wanted to have some extra cash in addition to her part-time job while studying in a polytechnic.
All the women received many likes and messages on the site from men who were in their early 30s and late 40s. Most of the men were businessmen or worked in finance and were from Singapore.
Tina received messages from “five to 10 men starting conversations with me per day during the first week, as I was much younger than most of the ladies there”.
A lot of the men wanted a no-strings-attached type of relationship.
Ashley chose to meet with the first man “a couple of weeks” after she joined, because “at that point in time he had offered me the most in terms of money”.
She normally asked for no less than $500 per meeting arrangement. Most of her rates were similar, and the sum was both for sex and companionship.
For Tina, her dates were priced at $50 to $300. Ellie received a lump sum of $1,000 for four days and two nights with her date.
It was Ellie who had the most memorable dating experience with an attractive, successful older man working in design. Sharing a love for food and cooking, they went grocery shopping and even cooked together at his place, while enjoying wine he ordered.
On their second date, he took her on a staycation at Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa. He even offered to fly her out to Bali where he would be on vacation with his friends.
For the other two women, their dating experiences were not very memorable. Ashley recounted how she had a couple of “significantly bad experiences”.
“One man was very possessive and kept repeating how he wanted us to be exclusive and didn’t want me to see anyone else, and went back on the deal that we had previously discussed and agreed on.
“When I told him I changed my mind and didn’t want to continue it anymore, he said that I’d never find anyone like him and that no one else would ‘love’ me like he did. This is all after we’d only met once,” she said.
Tina met with five men for one to two dates each. The most enjoyable was the “youngest” guy, a 35-year-old, who “took me to bars and drove me around in his BMW convertible”.
“The worst was a Caucasian man who would not stop trembling and stuttering,” she added.
Some men were quite extravagant in their offers.
“I came across one who wanted to take me on vacation to anywhere I wanted to go for five days and was willing to completely provide a new life for me when I mentioned I had thought about moving overseas to work,” said Ashley.
Tina also said there were men willing to offer her monthly allowances which would help to pay for her studies.
With regard to safe sex, two out of three girls mentioned it was talked about.
“I’m normally the one who mentions first that I need it to be safe and that safe sex is very important to me. Only one has disagreed with me on this and didn’t want to wear a condom, which annoyed me to say the least, and I left it at that,” Ashley said.
For Ellie, however, there was no talk about being safe or using a condom with her date.
Fortunately, there were no situations where the women felt physically unsafe. It was also easy for them to avoid getting emotionally attached due to the age gap, “not finding any common topic to talk about after a while” or not being “extremely attracted” to any of the men.
Despite the perks, only one out of the three women are still on the website. Two of them fell in love with men closer to their age.
Ashley still maintains an active profile because it helps her to be more financially stable, she said.
In spite of their willingness to return to using the site due to its financial benefits, they are wary about revealing their identities and have only talked to their close friends about their activities.
There is an implicit understanding of the social stigma behind such websites and the lifestyle associated with them.
“Looking back, the site did have much for young girls to benefit from. But just bear in mind that girls will want to receive money and offer minimal sex, while men there just want sex, and companionship, to feel less like it’s prostitution,” Tina observed.