For some of us, the exhausting upheaval the pandemic brought about was characterised by bread-scented ovens, a crash course in domesticity, and paranoia about the laptop camera being on when it absolutely shouldn’t be. But for many, coronavirus and its resulting lockdowns came with crippling consequences like salary cuts and job losses.
Many young Asians—especially those who have freshly graduated into a weird world being battered by a global recession and a virus—are facing the heat of business closures, downsizing and education loans. But while the pandemic may have fuelled careers of home chefs and cam girls, its side-effects have also pushed young people to turn to a different kind of dating.
Sugar dating is a mutually beneficial relationship between sugar babies and sugar daddies or mommies—usually involving money, gifts or other financial incentives in exchange for the sugar baby’s companionship and time. Sex may or may not be involved in this transaction.
While it’s not entirely uncommon for people to take up sugar dating when their jobs gets too hard to handle, the pandemic has made Asians way more open to the idea. While the Philipines saw a 65 percent surge in the number of people who began sugar dating in the pandemic, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and India also reported an upward trend following COVID-19 lockdowns.
“It’s not something I ever thought I would get into,” Akash Durani*, a 23-year-old writer from Mumbai, told VICE. “To be honest, I always low-key judged the concept, until I met an older man on Grindr.” While Durani wasn’t seeking out a sugar daddy, he soon realised the sweet perks it came with after he was laid off from his job at a content writing startup. When he ranted to his partner about his situation and asked for advice, the man promptly transferred into his bank account an allowance to cover his costs. “I couldn’t believe that someone’s idea of a good relationship or their way to get turned on was to make me feel comfortable and make sure I get whatever I need, and not just how attractive I am or how I am in bed. It was liberating and refreshing.”.
In a recent report, popular sugar dating website SeekingArrangement found that sugar dating has been on the rise in India, particularly in cities like Mumbai, due to soaring unemployment rates and education loans.
“Sugar daddies and sugar mommies don’t only come in the form of providing financial assistance, rather they also serve as mentors, offering a host of financial guidance, networking opportunities, and career advancements, among others,” Brandon Wade, the CEO and founder of the website, said in a statement.
And it’s not just the ability to increase your network. For many, sugar daddies have been a welcome distraction from the boredom and insecurity of living in lockdown.
For 25-year-old Zahra Irani*, a cabin crew member with an airline, life came to a total standstill when the pandemic hit her industry hard, and with it so did her salary. “I wasn’t paid my full salary until last month. It was rough,” she told VICE. Irani, who was used to a life of jet-setting across the country, not only found herself furloughed, but also excruciatingly bored when India first went into lockdown in March.
“I knew I didn’t want a committed relationship, but I wanted to do something interesting. So after a few Google searches, I signed up to be a sugar baby on SeekingArrangement,” she said. Since then, Irani has connected with three sugar daddies, and even made plans to meet with the one she vibed most with. “My favourite part is this column which lets you put in all the things you want with direct links to buy them. I’ve now got expensive perfumes and bags. It’s nice to be able to live a luxurious life even in times like these,” she said.
For the flight attendant, sugar dating opened up a virtual world to escape to, where she could connect with mature, like-minded older men. For many sugar babies, the idea of earning a mentor and guide is another reason to get into sugar dating.
Meera Roy*, a 24-year-old furniture designer from Delhi, has been scouring through sugar dating websites for the last five years. However, when faced with a salary cut due to the pandemic, Roy felt relatively shielded from her woes thanks to her sugar daddy. “My job requires me to go to people’s houses and no one wanted that at the time,” she told VICE. “The situation was bad, but I didn’t have to worry about it getting worse. I didn’t feel anxious about my job, instead I felt stable and safe.”
However, it’s not all sugary sweet. The vulnerable situation that many young people find themselves in has also led to a rise in sugar daddy scams. The rise in sugar dating during the pandemic has allowed scammers to pretend to be sugar daddies and steal vast amounts of money from unsuspecting sugar babies under the pretence of sending them money.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Roy when asked about how many sugar daddies respect boundaries. “You have to also be careful of people who buy off your body. While I’ve always had the agency to refuse to sleep with a sugar daddy if I’m uncomfortable, I’ve heard of situations where the girls were not so fortunate,” she said.
But despite the dangers, most sugar babies are attracted to the ability to carry on a conversation with a well-connected individual and access a luxurious lifestyle they may not have been able to afford otherwise. Furthermore, in the pandemic, sugar dating also seems to have evolved into a way to establish a deep and meaningful connection with a person who can help you out in a potential financial crisis.
“I’m glad I opened myself up to this,” said Durani. “And even if it doesn’t last, my sugar daddy saved me from a very bad time in my life.”
*Names changed on request.
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