All about ‘sugar’

This commentary has nothing to do at all with Negros Occidental, known as the sugar capital of the country, but about “Sugarbook,” the ‘sugar daddy dating’ site that has sparked debates among women advocates.

A very interesting and well-written report by Tarra Quismundo on the ABS-CBN News website is a must-read, if only to understand the relationships between sugar daddies and young women, from their lenses, not ours.

I was curious enough to look up the site which was started by Darren Chan in Malaysia three years ago. This site is fast rising in the Philippines, mostly from young women in search of their sugar daddies. A noticeable increase of 63 percent in sign-ups happened in the months of March to August this year, coinciding with lockdown periods.

Metro cities have the highest number of memberships especially in Metro Manila which accounts for more than half of members, both in young women and sugar daddies.

The site is well-marketed with its slogan “Where Romance Meets Finance” at the opening page and promotes female empowerment (or does it?) which boasts of 800,000 membership worldwide.

A look-see of the sugar daddies display hunk-like mature men, rather than your typical image of a dirty old man – white-haired, leery looking DOMs. Of course, you have to take those images with a grain of salt as their uploaded photos may look different in reality as in the case of most dating sites – and that’s speaking from experience!

Tarra’s article included revelations from young women members who earn an average of almost P50,000 a month that allows them to maintain a comfortable lifestyle and help out their families.

“Driven by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, more users are signing up to Sugarbook due to unemployment and gender pay gaps. On average, a sugar baby in the Philippines receives up to P49,700 monthly,” according to its founder, Chan.

However, women’s groups are concerned that “despite the argument for freedom of choice, it could perpetuate gender disparity and female objectification, and even lead to abuse,” Tarra wrote.

The writer interviewed lawyer Evalyn Ursua who believes the site used “the concept of prostitution” as its business model, adding that while the site purportedly sells romance, “the fact that money is exchanged for this so-called ‘romance’ means that it involves a commercial transaction.”

I do not think that what the men buy is a conversation, given the money involved, she added. It may be true but one must also take into account that there are non-sexual escort services worldwide that provide mere companionship in exchange for money.

“While the site claims that the transaction is consensual and that the women are ‘empowered’ since they define the terms of the relating, there is an assumption that the negotiation is by persons who are equal in power and agency. This is simply not true. What is evident here is that men with money buy women’s services or ‘romance’,” Ursua said.

However, Chan said Sugarbook is not a prostitution app but merely a social networking platform. “Sugar babies do not sell their bodies. It is unjust to label our members as prostitutes just because we call them Sugar Babies,” he said saying the site does not earn profit from any transactions as well.

However, while sign-up is free and involves the submission of various documents before getting approved, their premium subscription rate is quite steep amounting to $19.99 per month or a discounted rate of $11.59 per month for a 6-month term in the Philippines. It is higher for members in Singapore and the US which ranges from $79.95 per month or $59.95 per month for a 6-month deal, the report said.

One sugar baby Tarra interviewed was a 23-year old single mom who said her reason is “beyond financials” as she is really into mature men. “Younger men talk about shoes, the older ones, talk about life goals and business.”

“It’s not just about sex and money and older guys preying on [younger women] and being creepy. It’s actually dating and just an advantage to it that these guys are rich,” she added.

But the debate has now levelled up to women’s groups asking the national government to shut down the site saying that no matter how Sugarbook markets itself as empowering women to exercise their freedom of choice when it comes to transactional relationship, they believed it is still “glamorized prostitution” thus, illegal in our country.

Katrina Legarda, on the other hand, said, if the argument is choice, women can go ahead provided they join with eyes wide open and know the risks involved. As to regulating the site? Katrina added, “If a person persists on his/her intention to be a ‘sugar baby’ or a ‘sugar daddy’ why should you regulate them? Regulating stupidity has never been successful.”

I am not about to judge anyone who is against this site or for it. We just have to view it through their lenses. For women’s rights advocates, the danger is real and understandable. For choice advocates, who are we to label them if they choose that path. If I’m younger, I’ll probably sign-up just to meet gorgeous peppered-hair men.

The missing element in the entire story is the sugar daddies, none of whom wants to be interviewed. Interestingly enough, the preference of younger women towards older men should scare the younger men to step up to the plate and be palatable enough to give these sugar daddies a run for their money.*

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