Questions of morality
The majority of public objections to TheSugarBook seem to be moral ones, with people questioning the nature of sugar relationships and their possible dire consequences.
It is no coincidence that TheSugarBook has been on an active digital media spin since its recent launches in Malaysia and Singapore, with hard reporting on it being seen on several reputable news channels, including Singapore’s TodayOnline and Digital News Asia ourselves. There have also been a slew of commentary articles in the mainstream news focusing on the legality and morality of sugar dating.
According to Ong, the startup has been doing a lot of digital marketing and public relations work recently not just to acquire users but to educate the public on the idea of sugar dating.
“People have this concept that sugar dating is dirty – dirty old men with young girls. It’s not like that. Basically, sugar dating is being honest and up front about what you want in the relationship,” she says.
“Our goal is to connect like-minded consenting adults who are in search of mutually beneficial relationships that are based on honesty and transparency,” adds Chan (pic, above).
What Chan and Ong mean is that TheSugarBook provides a forum for its users to openly talk about finances and how they factor into a potential relationship.
To illustrate his point on the importance of being open about financials in a relationship, Chan refers to a 2015 study conducted at UCLA, Chapman University, Indiana University and Rutgers University among heterosexual adults by a team of health, social and behavioural scientists that found that the majority of men chose beauty as the main deciding factor when wanting or starting a relationship with someone and the majority of women chose money.
He also refers to the Prudential Relationship Index 2016, extensive surveys by the insurance company across Asia on relationships. In Malaysia, 47% of couples said that the most likely source of arguments is money, the main cause of arguments among couples surveyed. In Singapore, it is 41%, the second cause.
Ong says that TheSugarBook enables modern young women to meet the kind of men they want to date – ‘daddies’ (respectful and financially stable men) instead of the bad mannered, disrespectful and broke young men that usually move in their circles.
This is the reason TheSugarBook users Ming (not her real name), a 21-year old university student and freelance model, and Jordan (not her real name), 23 and also a university student, decided to get on the platform.
“I hated the feeling of being broke, trying to make ends meet, asking my parents for money and being tired all the time with taking care of my boyfriend at the time. I want someone to take care of me instead,” says Jordan.
Both sugar babies say that they have been able to meet mature, successful and driven men on the platform who encourage them in their studies, provide career advice and are willing to supplement their incomes while they concentrate on studies. Interestingly, both say that the only rude, immature or badly-behaved men they have chatted with on the platform are the younger ones who are not ‘real’ sugar daddies.
Jordan is currently in a steady relationship with a sugar daddy who provides her a monthly allowance to cover rent, utilities, groceries, transportation, gym fees and grooming bills; she is required to not spend the money on drinking or parties and provide him a monthly spending report.
Ming is currently not in a steady relationship as she is focusing on studying for her exams but does go on dates. Her terms are that the man pays for every date and for her companionship, and she does not have sex with them.
Businessman Mark (not his real name), 38, is a sugar daddy who uses TheSugarBook as he would any other dating app, as his busy lifestyle and caring for an ill mother leaves little time to meet women. From his perspective, sugar dating is not very different form normal dating. “From dinners to holidays to gifts, I don’t see a difference except maybe the girls are more upfront about asking for what they want.
“I prefer TheSugarBook [to other dating apps] as I find the straightforwardness of it refreshing. You tell me what your expectations are, I tell you mine and if we can meet in the middle, let’s go for a coffee,” he adds.
TheSugarBook does have an option for users to state their marital status; there are a number of married users on the app. The platform cannot realistically have control over whether or not people cheat on their partners so it us up to the individual users to ensure there is consent from all parties before embarking on a relationship.
It seems that while these kinds of open, honest relationships between consenting adults should be acceptable to society, what people get hung up about is the ‘sugar’ aspect, which is no wonder as Malaysian society is traditionally a more conservative one. Coercion, fraud or vice could take place no matter which dating app people meet on but the fact that money is a major factor could be a tipping point.
Ideally, adults would use platforms such as TheSugarBook knowingly and carefully so that there should not be any disastrous consequences other than those that could possibly result from any normal relationship that goes wrong.
“Today’s online dating generation is pretty street smart. They are raised by the baby boomers and they know more about tech than me, for sure. Tinder, OKCupid, TheSugarBook – they are all online dating apps and I don’t see much difference,” says Mark.
In the end, morality is subjective. What platforms such as TheSugarBook provide is an environment where people are encouraged to discuss what they want and need from a relationship.
TheSugarBook is before anything else a business. Ong admits that while TheSugarBook is championing honest relationships, it is ultimately trying to sell its product.
“Social media driving a desire for finer things and experiences - the fear of missing out – among young adults gives us a bigger market to introduce sugar dating and this lifestyle to,” she says.
The startup is currently self-sustaining and, according to Chan, is looking for funding. However, it remains to be seen if a controversial product can indeed attract interested investors in morally and financially conservative SEA. Perhaps the next question that should be asked is ‘is TheSugarBook’s business sustainable?’
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