Over 1,000 Irish women have signed up for SeekingArrangement.com, a ‘sugar daddy’ dating website where women exchange companionship, and usually sex, for financial support from wealthy, older men.
Entrepreneur Brandon Wade, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, launched the site in 2006. He also founded SeekingMillionaire.com and SeekingFantasy.com
"I knew people who quietly lived the sugar lifestyle. I suspected there were a lot more out there who fantasized or thought seriously about forming such attachments but had no idea how to begin or where to find partners," Wade told the Independent.
"The majority of Irish sugar babies are in their 20s and looking for sugar daddies to help them fund their studies. Most sugar daddies are generally in the upper middle-class income bracket. They're white-collar workaholics looking for the fun they're not getting outside the office."
To use the site, men pay a subscription fee, about $40 a month, to meet the women, who advertise for free. Fifty percent of the men using the service are married.
"I would say sex is involved about 99 per cent of the time," says Lisa, a 25-year-old Irish woman who signed on to the site because of money problems.
"In a normal relationship, sex is expected anyway, so it's not a huge issue for me.
"I would usually have met the sugar daddy quite a few times before an arrangement is reached so I probably wait longer for sex than I would in a normal relationship.
"There are things I'd feel uncomfortable doing, but these would all be discussed before meeting to ensure compatibility."
Wade insists that his site is a dating site and not all of the arrangements involve an exchange of sex and money.
"When people hear about sugar arrangements, they invariably jump to the conclusion that it's prostitution -- an utterly false assumption, “ said Wade.
"Prostitution is offering your body for a specific period of time for a specific amount of cash. In a sugar arrangement two people negotiate terms of agreement -- some about sex, some about money and some about any number of issues. There's much more than sex to a sugar daddy and baby relationship."
Gerardine Rowley from Ruhama, a Dublin organization that works with women affected by prostitution and the sex trade, doesn’t agree.
"If someone is entering into a situation of selling sexual services for money or benefits, then that is prostitution. It may be seen as more covert or subtle or both parties may be under the delusion that it's not prostitution, but it is hugely harmful and could be the first step towards standing on the street,” says Rowley.
"Many women enter the sex industry thinking it will be short term only to find themselves trapped. It's a huge worry that young girls think they can enter into a business-like agreement of selling sex for money and come out unscathed.
"After working with women involved in the sex trade for many years, I don't think there's anyone who comes out without some form of psychological or physical damage."