Call it an occupation or call it a lifestyle, either way being a sugar baby is both and more. Beyond the controversial title is a person – who despite their setbacks – has to embrace a specific persona for the job. You are not you anymore when you’re catching sugar; you are a performer, performing the best version of yourself in exchange for money. Even today there’s still a huge debate on whether sugaring is similar to prostitution on publications like Vanity Fair and New York Magazine. The urban youth who participate in sugaring are often cultured and aware in order to keep up with their daddies or mummies – which explains why sugaring is even trendy to some in Western countries. But what do Malaysian sugar babies do? And most importantly, when and why do they drop the act? JUICE Writer Nia Leah investigates…
Images Sharon Butler + Seeking Arrangement
As a struggling fresh graduate at the start of 2017, my friends and I found ourselves in the middle of a financial turmoil. We didn’t want to rely on our parents while the city’s cost of living and our desire for pretty things grew higher as well. A friend of mine who worked in advertising desperately needed a new laptop and a car, my friend who was unemployed just wanted to make fast money, while I hopped from one company to another as a freelance writer and telemarketer. Life wasn’t shit, but we wanted more. After countless free drinks during ladies night, we decided that our part time jobs were insufficient, so we started joking around about being sugar babies.
In reality, a lot of men and women who seek sugar babies on Seeking Arrangement have aged rather harshly due to the demands of their busy lifestyle.
Jokes soon became a drunken registration on an online sugaring platform called Seeking Arrangement where I adopted the nickname Cherry. Unlike Nia, Cherry isn’t shy, she’s flirty; and she was more than ready to earn some moolah. To make things sexier, my personal summary wrote “sweet like cherry,” I felt like a fucking natural. Pop culture deceivingly paints sugaring as DILF or MILF material elders who are “cash rich but time poor.” Unfortunately, only the latter is mostly true. In reality, a lot of men and women who seek sugar babies on Seeking Arrangement have aged rather harshly due to the demands of their busy lifestyle. With over 3.3 million sugar babies on this infamous social platform, this is Tinder for the broke-asses. I read websites like Let’s Talk Sugar – which aims to make things easier for sugar babies, from what to do, to where to go, to how to behave – for tips to ensure I don’t make a fool out of myself.
I knew he was old, but I didn’t expect him to be that old.
My first date was at a decent eatery where expats tend to gather (my potential daddy was a foreigner). From where I was walking, my first sight was a man with barely any hair and a massive bald spot – I knew he was old, but I didn’t expect him to be that old. The longer we spoke, the more he opened up about sugar culture and its impermanence. After spending over RM10,000 on a sugar baby and offering a roof above her head, Anthony* grew accustomed to this transient lifestyle after ultimately losing her to a job offer in Singapore.
Anthony’s sugar baby isn’t the first of her kind, plenty of sugar babies join the industry to earn a good income while working their way up in their personal lives. Our date turned into a sugar daddy crash course after I told Anthony that he was my first. As helpful as he was, I only got to keep the change from our lunch to cover my travelling expenses. The money and the lifestyle seemed promising in the beginning, but I realised that boring ol’ me would rather work 9-to-5 for a legitimate payroll. I’m well aware that it pales in comparison to the luxuries of sugaring, but who cares though? I like my man young.
It took me just one date and a few conversations with multiple daddies to know that this wasn’t what I wanted. However, it turns out that I wasn’t the only one who’d abort mission. “Although there are many jobs that can earn you a quick buck, being a sugar baby still tops everything,” said Jane*, a 20-something-year-old Kuala Lumpur native who is very comfortable with her sexuality. Jane believes that despite the negative label of sugaring as ‘high end prostitution’, it’s basically a relationship between two consenting adults that is beneficial for both sides.
“What many people fail to see is, sugar babies have a choice and don’t have to do anything they don’t want to.” – Jane
The relationship between sugar babies and their clients is the biggest distinguisher between sugaring and prostitution, it’s also the main thing most people miss out when they think of sugar babies. Seeking Arrangement‘s blog even points out that in the sex industry, most interactions are brief, sort of like a Touch n’ Go thing. “What many people fail to see is, sugar babies have a choice and don’t have to do anything they don’t want to. One of the biggest obstacles is dealing with the stereotype of being a sugar baby. The majority of our Malaysian culture views sugar babies as someone who lacks integrity, who has loose morals, and is a gold digger. The fact of the matter is, both sugar daddies and sugar babies go into the relationship with very clear intentions and wants from the relationship,” explained Jane.
“Skills aren’t involved and neither is training unlike other jobs.” – Sarah
Same thing goes for Sarah*, who needed to make easy money. “Skills aren’t involved and neither is training unlike other jobs,” said the recent graduate who now holds a full time position at a reputable company. Her interest in sugaring is solidified by the clear-cut communication sugar babies have with their daddies, one thing that differentiates sugaring from sex work. “I think it’s interesting that both parties can have a mutual understanding on fulfilling each other’s needs without judging one another. It really makes it easier to get what we want. It’s a win-win situation,” expressed Sarah.
Both ladies embrace the feminist label and are sex positive. Nevertheless, as females, there’s always something to worry about. Not wanting a man to feel entitled over her body just because of money, Jane’s main concern was safety. Similarly for Sarah, who was afraid of facing aggression from the opposite sex should she ever reject having sexual intercourse. When asked about her biggest obstacle to sugaring, Sarah shared, “Not being able to have a stable and committed relationship or to start a family if I were to continue this for the next 10 years. The reputation of a sugar baby is quite negative especially in this part of the world, so keeping it private from these people is crucial.”
Some girls have it good though, like Melissa* who still has fond memories of her time with a former sugar daddy in Singapore. This daddy was described as an older Zac Efron lookalike, a humble but affluent man who made Melissa chicken wings, brought her for weekend trips, and checked up on her. Many women venture into sugaring for the sole purpose of making ends meet, but not Melissa. “I feel that if you go into sugaring thinking it’s a job — that’s prostitution. There’s a thin line between it. A lot of people, especially from the outward gaze, think it’s a job. It’s not. It’s a lifestyle.”
“Sugar dating should not be anyone’s last resort.” – Melissa
Melissa went on saying: “For me, it’s another type of dating. Sugar dating should not be anyone’s last resort. That would just lead to desperation (we all know where that leads to) and people pry on that weakness (as would any horrible human being).” A firm believer that sugaring isn’t just an exchange of money and sex, Melissa also knew of sugar babies who remain virgins. Her positive experience is credited to the unique outlook that she has on sugaring, comparing the work of sugar babies to a Japanese Geisha.
Melissa added, “If you are genuinely interested in the lives of men more experienced than you and know your worth – as in what you can bring to the table, not just what you can take away from it – proceed with caution. I think in general, if you don’t know yourself, the relationship is bound to fail. It’s about two whole people bringing different things together, to enrich and colour life.” Melissa’s unique affair is wholly subjective, and she was extremely lucky.
… since its inception in 2006, Seeking Arrangement‘s student participation grew from 20% to 50%.
For many sugar babies, money is the lead motivation and sugaring has been an option for even the most unconventional sugar babies like pregnant and conservative ladies, according to an investigation on local sugar babies by R.AGE. The term sugar baby is also literal as majority of them are young college students, and we’re not saying that for the hell of it because statistics prove that since its inception in 2006, Seeking Arrangement‘s student participation grew from 20% to 50%.
… it’s pragmatic to know that just like any relationship that involves romantic chemistry, most clients do expect sex sooner or later – even though it’s not an obligation.
To uncover the complexity of this culture in Southeast Asia however, can be a pain in the ass especially when you take into consideration the net worth of Malaysia’s prostitution industry that went up to billions in 2015. Not to mention the amount of girls who are forced into sex work for survival. Suddenly, making a choice to exploit your body for a better lifestyle feels like a shitty thing to do when you dig deeper into the dark side of prostitution. While platonic relationships do exist in the sugaring-sphere, it’s pragmatic to know that just like any relationship that involves romantic chemistry, most clients do expect sex sooner or later – even though it’s not an obligation.
The bottom line is, the sugaring industry is not equivalent to sex work, it’s a service that people actually sign up for. Anyone familiar with any form of service would know that the more you do, the more you’re rewarded. To equate sugaring to whoring is not only inaccurate, it can also lead to the mislabelling of sugar babies who do it without the sex. Besides, if people want to bang for cash, they’re entitled to it as long as their choices don’t inflict any harm onto others. Sugaring is a classic case of supply and demand that comes with a set of rules that aren’t politically correct, but being politically correct is for pussies, and that’s the gist of it, majority of sugar babies can’t afford to be one.
*names have been changed to preserve anonymity