Prostitution, Sugaring and the Evolution of Sex for Money in Taiwan

Prostitution, Sugaring and the Evolution of Sex for Money in Taiwan
Credit: taiwan-sugar.net
What you need to know

What’s the difference between prostitution and sugaring? After all, both involve sex for money.

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Not only was prostitution the world’s first profession, it will probably be the last one, too. Online sugar babies and daddies, with savvy website owners effectively acting as pimps, would appear to be one of the latest iterations of this ubiquitous business and one that is growing in popularity in Taiwan.

Technically, sugaring could be considered as another import from the United States, where it is popular as a dating service for students, who are said to comprise 42 percent of the babes on SeekingArrangement.

Taiwan-sugar.net is the number one website locally and promises confidentiality, privacy, safety and “quality.” Naturally, the girls are all marketed as beauties and the boys as “noble” and “gentle.” Butterflies, bucolic backgrounds and dappled sunlight, a teen biting her lip or wearing a crown of flowers: these are the kind of images that draw men to the site. It all shies as far away as possible from the nuts and bolts of what is really going on.

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Credit: taiwan-sugar.net
A typical promotional photo from a sugaring site.

One of the babes on the site, a pouting Tang Tang (“Sweety”), is a 19-year-old student from Taipei. She claims to come from a single-parent family (indicating financial need) and has worked since she was young to support herself (subtext, she’s not a hustler). She thanks her sugar daddy for helping her get through college (by paying for sex), where she studied literature and music (she’s classy).

Yep. Then there’s Ah-long, or “Dragon” (!), a “typical” 39-year-old office worker in Taipei who just so happens to look like a model in his late-20s. He’s “willing” and able to “love these beautiful girls … and complete their dreams.” He adds that you don’t have to be rich to be a sugar daddy (thereby giving hope to millions) as long as you are generous (pay up).

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Credit: taiwan-sugar.net
Here's hoping he is the generous type.

Taiwan-sugar.net claims to “eliminate” illegal users and those with ulterior motives, though it’s a challenge to the imagination what this could mean, since it’s obvious what the site is selling.

So, what’s the difference between prostitution and sugaring? After all, both involve sex for money. A friend suggests that if there’s a “running relationship” and it’s one-to-one, rather than one-to-many, then it’s sugar. My response is that prostitutes can also have one-to-ones or regular johns, while sugar dad just seems to be a polite or politically correct name for a rich john.

“Prostitution is a kinda bullshit term anyways,” is his succinct rejoinder. It’s a bullshit term because sex is sold in myriad ways and described metaphorically because it needs to avoid the obvious fact that in many countries and cultures, including Taiwan, prostitution is illegal.

That said, I am proposing a cam girl-to-prostitute axis. It’s all shades of gray and describes the gradual devolvement from eye candy to sex for cold cash only.

Starting at the top, there’s the xiao san (小三, “little third” or mistress). According to those in the know, this is not a straightforward transactional relationship, as the mistress may strategically delay financial gratification in the hope of eventually cashing in on the big prize of marriage.

Before this can happen, however, and considering emotional commitment and time wasted, most mistresses will need to be looked after. Hence the need for “tokens of love” such as gifts, handbags and jewelry, or, indeed, money. In return, the man presumably receives all the fun and excitement that are missing from his marriage.

Local websites and apps appeal in large part to the zhainan (宅男, extreme geek) population – those who would rather fap than flap after women in real life.

Then, there’s baoyang (保養, “taking care of someone”), where the gan die (乾爹, “adopted dad” or “godfather”) is buying a relationship with all the trimmings – emphasis on the trimmings rather than the relationship. Typically, the gan nu’er (乾女兒, “adopted girl”) is provided with a car and one-bedroom suite (in the man’s name, so he can get them back when it all goes sideways), tokens of love, plus the occasional dinner and possibly a dance or two.

The pair can rest assured this is not a prelude to marriage or a hustle. I’m told sometimes the guy is so old and decrepit that sex is not involved. How platonic! But mostly, this is an arrangement between two consenting adults that just so happens to involve sex for money.

The two relationships described above are considered to be fairly traditional, one-to-one and involve various degrees of emotional commitment. If the mistress, however, is not keen on a concurrent, standard issue job or has pressing financial needs, and the “gentleman” is not generous enough, then she can up her game, be a bit more professional about the whole affair and facilitate one-to-many relationships.

At which point along the cam girl-to-prostitute axis we come to sugar babes and sugar daddies, which is like Tinder or Blendr, but inserts cash between the hookup. Having spoken to a “friend of a friend who was a babe” about this, there’s a lot of chatting … apparently. Essentially, the website provides a platform for screening, meeting ‘n’ greeting. But there’s no honey without money, or vice versa.

Then there’s wang mei (網美, internet lovelies) and zhibuo zhu (主播著, anchors), who are the online versions of the “you can look but can’t touch” scene. For an extreme version of these kind of websites or apps, look no further than Chaturbate or LiveJasmin, where performers basically get sent tips or tokens for camming sex acts.

Given the more delicate sensibilities of most Taiwanese, the local websites and apps are nowhere near as hardcore and appeal in large part to the zhainan (宅男, extreme geek) population – those who would rather fap than flap after women in real life.

Lang Live, for instance, positions itself at the intersection of celebrity and online titillation and recently had a breakthrough when the singer JJ Lin (林俊傑) was outed as a fan. Adopting the pseudonym “Timekeeper,” Apple Daily recently reported that he had been romancing top-100 “anchor” Mida (163cm, 45kg, Aries), whose interests include chatting, singing and e-sports.

Performers do magic tricks, cook and just about anything else to keep eyeballs glued. In return, fans are encouraged to send tokens of affection that can be changed into cash. Based in Taipei, with a Hong Kong holding company, the platform has more than 200,000 daily users, who spend an average of more than 90 minutes watching per day.

17Live calls itself Taiwan’s biggest live cam platform and avowedly focuses on the development of talented “anchors” such as Japan’s Yuri, who has 381,000 fans and millions of likes. Converts send gifts ranging from NT$30 to NT$100,000 (US$1 to US$3,236). The more you pay, the greater the interaction.

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Credit: 17 Live
Mida's interests include chatting, singing and e-sports.

Xiao Fei-yu (小飛魚), for instance, is Instagram cute, with augmented reality pink rabbit ears, nose and whiskers. She wears very little, just a T-shirt and panties, and squirms around on her chair a lot, grabs her crotch or sips from a sippy cup with a straw. She pulls a lot of doe eye poses and pouts, in addition to chatting in that manga cartoon-type voice.

By all accounts, if the money is good then the performer doesn’t have to trick, but there’s shades of gray and of course guests ask for numbers and numbers lead to dates and so on … just ask JJ Lin.

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Credit: Wikipedia
Singaporean singer JJ Lin is a fan of Lang Live.

Simply put, prostitution is charging money for sex and is conflated with “gangsters” controlling women and taking their money. This sounds unjustifiable and is, but hookers would not need pimps if the law wasn’t an ass. After all, just about every other service you can think of is charged for, but the most basic of needs is criminalized.

Sugar babes are just one of the latest iterations of this semantically tortuous legal minefield, with its shifting boundaries and constant demand. In the examples given above, setting aside sex trafficking and gangster-driven prostitution, women make most of the money from this industry because they give men what they want.

It’s their body so you would have thought it was their right to do as they wish, particularly since they provide pleasure, which is generally considered to be a good thing. Perhaps, if women made more laws rather than men and there was no hypocrisy about sex being legal but sex for money being illegal, there would be no issue. But that’s not the way of the world, so long live the sugar babe.

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Editor David Green (@DavidPeterGreen)

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