"Sugar dating" sites, which pair young women with rich older men willing to pay lavishly for companionship, have, in recent years, begun targeting people in Singapore. And hundreds have been signing up, leading to some to call for them to be banned as they could draw young women into prostitution.
Sugardaddysingapore.com is run by a United States-based sugar dating agency, and has a list of 500 women and 60 men from here. In the case of seekingarrangement.com, which is also based in the US and is founded by Singapore-born businessmen Brandon Wade, 1,200 men and 700 women from Singapore have active accounts.
On whatsyourprice.com, where men make bids to ask women out on dates, there is a list of 250 men and 350 women from here.
Most of the Singapore women at the popular seekingarrangement.com are in their 20s, but about 50 were 18. Many posted photos of themselves in suggestive poses, or dressed in bikinis or lingerie .
A 19-year-old student, who calls herself Annab89, joined the website in March. She wrote in her profile: "I am looking for a short-term sugar relationship, for now, though that most definitely could change. I am bisexual, so sugar mommas and dads, I want you!"
Several were upfront about "prices". "Looking for monthly financial support of $4 to $6k with meet-ups once or twice a week," wrote 25-year-old ReiReiXX, who joined the website in April.
Nicolettebaby, who listed herself as a 23-year-old with a 34C-26-33 figure, wrote: "Dinner dates at $300. No physical intimacy."
Several men were explicit about their intentions.
"I don't want to kid anyone here that I'm only seeking meaningful deep conversations with somebody beautiful and smart," said a 43-year-old film director, who stays in East Coast. "Please don't contact me if you don't even enjoy sex."
But others claim they are not looking just for a sex partner.
"I am a regional sales director and stock trader and can teach and guide you in stock trading if you are keen," was one response a fictitious account set up by The Sunday Times received from a 46-year-old man who lives in Alexandra. Another 34-year-old finance professional offered $200 for a first date at whatsyourprice.com.
It is free for women to join these websites, but men have to pay as much as $100 per month to make contact with women. These men are mostly in their 40s and 50s and listed occupations include lawyers, traders or marketing directors. Around 350 men listed their relationship status as "married but looking" on seekingarrangement.com.
These websites have kept a low profile in Singapore, unlike controversial Canada-based dating portal Ashley Madison, which connects would-be adulterers. In November 2013, it announced plans to launch a Singapore site, but that was quickly blocked by Internet regulator Media Development Authority (MDA) as "it facilitated extramarital affairs and declared it would specifically target Singaporeans".
But there are no similar plans for sugar dating sites, which are growing in popularity around the world. The largest of them, sugardaddyforme.com, reportedly has more than 45 million members. An MDA spokesman added: "Site blocking is not a comprehensive and foolproof solution. There are many sites with undesirable content on the Internet, and it is not practical to block every one of them."
A Ministry of Social and Family Development spokesman said that while it supports the blocking of websites that go against family values, it is not very effective and "cannot be the only solution". Instead, parents can shield their children and peers can coax their friends away from temptations.
But some consider sugar dating as little more than prostitution. The police warned of the possibility of action, saying: "Police do not take persons who hide behind the anonymity of the Internet to conduct such illicit activities lightly." It promised to "evaluate the circumstances of each case... before action is taken".
Senior director for youth services at the Singapore Children's Society Carol Balhetchet said such websites should be banned even if many more will pop up in their wake. "We are hearing from a growing number of parents of their daughters engaging in commercial sex and we are worried about the vulnerable young," she said.
"I think there are also others who are just materialistic and should be aware of consequences, such as being addicted to cash for sex or getting sexually transmitted diseases."
Member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng feels that the authorities should do more. "We do not need such sites and I am all for a ban," said Mr Seah, who is the Deputy Speaker of Parliament.
"While this will not stop new ones from coming up, we should do what we can and the Government also needs to take a stand and protect as many people and families as possible, and also protect vulnerable and at-risk individuals from being exploited too."
Mr Wade, a US citizen who made millions running online dating ventures widely criticised for being a thin disguise for the sex trade, did not respond to media queries.
He had studied in St Andrew's Secondary School and Hwa Chong Junior College before breaking a government scholarship bond and evading national service to pursue his studies abroad.
This article was first published on August 16, 2015.
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