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PETALING JAYA, July 19 — Darren Chan, the Malaysian creator and chief executive of Sugarbook, wants to make it clear that his dating app is not a platform for prostitution.
“Sugar dating”, the concept behind the app, as defined on the Sugarbook website is merely a method for males and females who are “eligible of financial backing in exchange for love and companionship.”
“A lot of people think sugar dating is prostitution. Sugar babies are not obligated to have sex, that’s prostitution.
“Sugar dating is about saying what you want in life and not being afraid to say it,” Chan told Malay Mail in a recent interview.
To many people, such a lifestyle is no different from prostitution, but Chan insists there is a line that distinguishes both.
He explains that Sugarbook encourages sugar daddies and sugar babies to state down their “unique needs”.
Unlike Tinder that matches individuals based on common interests and geographical location, Sugarbook allows users to be a part of a social networking platform focusing on financials.
“Sugar babies will probably say, ‘For me to get into a relationship with you, I’d need you to provide me US$3,000 (RM12,000) a month, are you okay with that?’ or a sugar daddy might say, ‘For me to get into a relationship with you, I can only see you once every two weeks because I’m busy flying from London to KL’.
“If you’re not happy with the terms, you can always say no. Nobody is paying you to do the things you don’t want to do,” he said.
Chan claims Sugarbook has 200,000 members across Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, the US and Thailand to date. He elaborated that 70 per cent of members are what he called “sugar babies”.
The start-up is looking to expand into China and Japan next and is seeking funding.
Since its launch in January 2017, the unorthodox dating site is no stranger to controversy.
In February, Sugarbook attracted the attention of Singapore’s Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, who said the police will keep a close watch of the dating platform and its users.
Such platforms “commoditise and devalue relationships under the cover of a mutually beneficial arrangement,” Lee told Singapore broadcaster Channel NewsAsia then, adding that sites like Sugarbook encourage young people to “demean their own sense of self-worth” and puts them at risk of being exploited and abused.
A month later, a private party that was scheduled to be held at Zouk KL was cancelled as the nightclub’s management was worried about the event’s sexual undertones, Advertising+Marketing Malaysia reported.
In the #MeToo era, it’s easy to see why dating sites such as Sugarbook are a magnet that attracts debates on our attitudes on sex and power.
Asked how he would respond to claims that sugar dating sites are anti-feminist and perpetuate patriarchy, Chan said: “Many women across the globe don’t have the luxury of choosing the man they want or have the lifestyle they’ve always desired without being shamed for it.”
“At Sugarbook, we always believe that women are entitled to freedom of choice.”