The Singapore-born founder of what he claims to be the world's largest sugar dating website has defended his business, insisting it is not a front for prostitution.
"Today's sugar daddies are wealthy and successful boyfriends - the type of men most Singaporean mothers tell their daughters to date," said Mr Brandon Wade, chief executive and founder of several dating websites, like SeekingArrangement.com, WhatsYourPrice.com and SeekingMillionaire.com.
In an e-mail to this newspaper, he compared a sugar daddy who pays a young woman for companionship to "a rich boyfriend who spoils his girlfriend or a husband who gives his wife an allowance". He asked if the latter should also be considered "prostitution".
The report included several experts calling for such websites to be banned as they could draw vulnerable young women into prostitution.
Out of SeekingArrangement.com's 4.5 million active members, 1,200 men and 700 women are from Singapore. The website also mentioned that it has a Singapore office, apart from two others in Las Vegas and Ukraine.
On whatsyourprice.com, where men make bids to ask women out on dates, there is a list of 250 men and 350 women from Singapore.
Mr Wade insisted that prostitutes and escorts are not allowed on his sites and he uses software and a large team of administrators to ensure users abide by their strict policies. In a CNN article published last year, Mr Wade also said they "kick off dozens of escorts and prostitutes every day because they attempt to use the site inappropriately".
Mr Wade, who is in his 40s, is a former St Andrew's Secondary and Hwa Chong Junior College student and now resides in the United States.
Besides websites such as WhatsYourPrice.com and SeekingMillionaire.com - billed as the "exclusive playground for beautiful princesses and wealthy millionaires", Mr Wade launched Openminded.com in April.
It is described as an "ethical cheating" portal for polyamory, in which people engage in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all involved. There are already nine profiles from Singapore listed on that website.
The Media Development Authority (MDA) was quick to ban controversial Canada-based dating portal Ashley Madison, which connects would-be adulterers, when its operator announced plans to launch a Singapore site in 2013.
But MDA said there are no similar plans to clamp down on sugar dating sites. It explained that there are many sites with undesirable content on the Internet, and it is not practical to block every one.
Ms Braema Mathi, president of human rights group Maruah, said maintaining human rights means providing choices but warned that such businesses need to be honest about their profit motive.
"They may say it is about giving people liberties and lifestyle choices but the business model is highly attractive and the money in the sex industry is huge," she said.
"What is worrying is that when we give people choices, we really need to step up public education in schools for the young to make informed decisions.
"Surveillance of these sites has to go up as well since we can't expect these businesses to police themselves," she added.
Ms Shelen Ang, head of research and development at Focus on the Family, agreed.
"The sites are definitely a ground for potential sexual transactions to take place but banning them alone will not address the root problems," she said. "Parents need to be educated (on) how to talk to their children about these issues so that the young can make informed and values-based choices on love and sex."
This article was first published on August 30, 2015.
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