BUENOS AIRES — In Argentina, dating apps like Tinder, Happn or Bumble are a booming business. But some similar apps have been discretely profiting from the pandemic months, offering a slightly "shadier" version of dating, nicknamed "sugar dating."

It is not illegal, though everyone still uses pseudonyms. People submit their age and a picture, that's all. What may not be immediately clear on any sugar dating website, however, is that many are "selling" their love or affection. The most typical outfit in sugar dating is a girl looking for an older man with money, for a quick date, or a relationship. In other words, it's a broadly heterosexual affair for now with more than a faint link to the concept of the sugar daddy.

One user, MeryLupita 23 (not her real pseudonym!), wears tight jeans that show off her curves. The text on her profile is succinct: "I'm sick of hysterical w**kers. I want someone who understands everything and will be generous. I have everything to give." There is also Santiago18, a self-professed toy boy, who writes "I am a teenager with a very daring personality and good vibes, looking for a sugar mommy who'll spoil me."

In contrast with other dating apps, people do not upload "Instagrammable" pictures of their travels, dinners or pets. It is always selfie pictures, though you can also ask for private pics.

Clarín spoke to SugarDaters, the world's biggest sugar dating website, on sugar dating's popularity in Argentina, asking what it meant for feminism and whether or not it was just glorified online prostitution.

SugarDaters has some 4,000 users, though it is not the only such website operating in Argentina. More than 60% of its profiles are of young women or "sugar babies," with an average age of 22. Just under 30% are toy boys, and 4% are sugar daddies or men in their 30s willing to be generous. There is also a tiny portion or 2% of sugar mommies.

The website told Clarín sugar daddies were proportionately few and far between, compared to girls looking for them. "The sugar mom is practically nonexistent in the world. In fact Argentina's 2% is quite high," it stated. In Argentina their average age is 48, though some are older, while toy boys are also 22 years old on average.

The website admitted 30s was a younger age group than you might imagine for sugar daddies, but "it's not so exceptional. Society thinks sugar daddies are oldies, which isn't necessarily the case." According to SugarDaters, they tend to be businessmen "with little free time," while toy boys and sugar babies are youngsters "with aspirations but little money." Most of its users, over 65%, live in Buenos Aires.

Mónica Cruppi, a psychoanalyst and author of Vivir en la posmodernidad (Living in Post-Modernity) has been studying online dating since 2009. So far, she says, "none of my patients has turned to these platforms." Before them, she says, "these situations already existed," which meant a market already existed for websites like SugarDaters or Seeking Arrangement to exploit.

The difference between sugar dating and "love" apps, says Cruppi, is that the latter ones promote "hookups and romance, where loneliness becomes an object of speculation."

Money is not offered for a particular service.

In terms of socio-cultural levels, Argentine toy boys, sugar babies and sugar daddies are educated to university level or beyond. Interestingly, stats suggest this tends not to be the case with sugar mommies.

Sugar dating is not technically prostitution, in the sense that money is not offered for a particular service. There is instead an element of "financial support" that is integral to the relationship. There is "an emotional connection and expectations" that are absent in prostitution, says Alexandra Olariu, marketing head of SugarDaters, speaking with Clarín. She says sugar babies and toy boys choose their partners and will not necessarily seek to have "multiple customers" like prostitutes.

Psychoanalyst Jorge E. Catelli, a member of the Argentine Psychoanalytical Association, says sugar dating leaves no room for feminism, but prostitution does. With prostitution, he says, there is no pretense of affection, even "from the hostile affective point of view, which underlies this 'power relationship' even if it is not explicit." Catelli also sees an "Oedipal" aspect to sugar daddy relations, a "search for a father or mother figure idealized since childhood, either for an unmet need or fixation." In both situations, he says, a power relationship exists.

Olariu says "there's great confusion on what sugar dating really is." "This means our website is inundated with people who do not use it correctly and we have to use all our resources to detect and eliminate those profiles," she says. A crucial difference with other dating apps, she explains, is that SugarDaters sifts through profiles "manually," with moderators checking every profile to ensure they "are real profiles."

She says the website bans nude pics, or straightforward prostitution. "We also try and make sure all content is authentic. It's a worthwhile effort, as you know at the end that you will find more real profiles than on any other website. We're very careful with content." Violations, she says, ensure your profile is banished from this unquestionably shady, and sugary, world of alternative dating.


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