Compensated Dating and Intimacy

Eason Shum
9 min readApr 11, 2020

Compensated dating, hereinafter referred to as CD, prevails and intriguingly co-exists with prostitution in cities across the globe. Such comparatively new form of temporary intimacy benefits both the service provider and the client and creates, however, new issues to conventional intimate relationships. Some believe CD belongs to counterfeit intimacy which threatens authentic, intimate couple relationships while some do not and question what makes authentic intimacy authentic and counterfeit intimacy counterfeit. This article aims to clarify the differences between CD and prostitution, which are seemingly similar, and attempts to distinguish authentic and counterfeit intimacy with the influence of CD.

CD is generally acknowledged as a mutually consented contract between a female, whom is usually a girl aged around 20 and offers companionships and possibly sexual services, which last for only a limited time, and an older man, whom in return, provides monetary and/or social benefits to the girl (Chu, 2018). In contrast, prostitution refers to “the act of sexual relations between a prostitute and a paying customer” (Flowers, 2005, 6). Many recognise CD as a form of prostitution, and indeed they share similar characteristics. For instance, both involve a service, possibly sexual, provider, in the CD’s case, a 20-year-old girl, and in the prostitution’s case, probably a woman or a man, and a client/clients, both male and/or female. They, however, differ in history, workplaces, the involvement of sexual activities, forms of compensation, ways of filtering unwanted clients, etc.

Phryne Revealed before the Areopagus (1861) by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904)

The history of prostitution dates back to the ancient Mesopotamia in recorded history. Prostitution considered as one of the oldest professions (Lerner, 1986) while the history of CD, enjo-kōsai, dates back to the mid-1990s in Japan (Broma-Smenda, 2014). CD is commonly known as a form of part-time jobs, which allows working less frequent, for schoolgirls, who want to make easy and extra money; meanwhile, prostitution is often considered as a full-time job for men and mostly women, including mothers[1], particularly single ones, who fails to financially rely on their husbands and have insufficient skills to be employed to make a living and wish for a job with flexible working hours in order that they can allocate and spend more time picking up and looking after their children after school. Mother prostitutes may feel ashamed to sell sex at their apartments and disgrace their kids; thus, they need another place to perform their jobs, which leads to the second difference of CD and prostitution, workplaces.

[1] Flowers (2005) points out that 70 per cent of sex workers are mothers in New York.

De Wallen Red-light District in Amsterdam

Prostitutes more often work in a fixed area, such as red-light districts in Bangkok, Hamburg, and Amsterdam, or private apartments, unlike people engaging in practices CD as service providers (“part-time girlfriend (ptgf)” in Hong Kong), hereafter known as sugar babies, whose workplace varies, depending on the requests of clients. Sugar babies usually arrange their dates at a consented place which could be a restaurant, karaoke bar, pub, clients’ houses (Broma-Smenda, 2014), or cinema. It can be deduced that CD does not necessarily involve sexual activities as sugar babies’ workplace could be public places. In fact, “CD does not automatically equate to sexual exchanges, [notwithstanding that] in many cases, CD does involve a variety of sexual interactions, ranging from kissing, fondling, and oral sex to safe vaginal sex, unsafe vaginal sex, anal sex, and sadomasochism” (Chu, 2018, 5). That is dissimilar to the case of prostitution, for which sexual practice is always a must. It is due to different original intents of targeted clients of CD and prostitution. For sex buyers, they pay for releasing sexual desires by having sexual intercourses or sexual activities whereas, for people engaging in CD as clients, hereafter known as sugar daddies, they pay for mainly companionship and sometimes sexual interactions.

Prostitution and CD, moreover, have different forms of compensation. For prostitution, it is quite straightforward. Prostitutes gain cash from clients as ‘cash only’ prevents possible troubles such as arrest, because bank transactions could be official proof of selling/buying sex and to them, being prostitutes is all about money and is the only choice they have to earn money. Sugar babies’ attitude, however, is very different from that of sex workers. They, as mentioned, obtain monetary and/or social benefits, which includes decent dinners, cosmetics, luxury goods, temporary shelters, etc., from clients (Chu, 2018). Even for sugar babies who gain monetary benefits, not all of them wish for money per se but the ability to purchase wanted items because of the influence of mass media and materialistic culture (Broma-Smenda, 2014). Such ability possibly leads to conspicuous consumption, a term coined by Veblen (1899), meaning the (excessive) purchase of luxury goods to manifest one’s economic power. The reason for such phenomenon is that sugar babies, as adolescents, have a strong need of affiliating to their peer group and to fulfilling their friends’ expectations and they show the robustness of personal identities, which lures others to admire them, by dressing consistently with personal standards (Gentina et al., 2013) instead of earning bread for their families, despite exceptional cases in which the sugar babies have drug addiction and/or problems.

Prostitutes and sugar babies, furthermore, have very different ways of filtering unwanted clients. Sex workers seldom have the right of refusal. They may risk dangers, e.g., rape and assault and battery, or threats, even deadly ones, which are not scarce on newspapers, from clients if they do so. The sole way for them to say no is by face-to-face conversation as they do not know who will be their clients until they arrived. Sugar babies, however, have a lot more ways to safeguard their rights than sex workers. They can, for example, ask for clients’ portraits and background information, e.g., height, weight, age, body shape, or even size of the penis through online communication platforms and applications and then choose their wanted clients from all who are interested. This is one of the safest and most effective methods to filter undesired clients without risk. From this point of view, it can be seen that sugar babies have greater freedom and are more protected, compared to sex workers.

In spite of the fact that many still regard CD as prostitution or form prostitution, they are, after all, quite different.

There has been controversy over couple relationships and commercial sex, including but not limited to CD, and authentic intimacy and counterfeit intimacy. It is crucial first to define authentic intimacy and counterfeit intimacy so as to study whether it is true that commercial sex is counterfeit intimacy and couple relationships are authentic intimacy.

Counterfeit intimacy (Boles & Garbin, 1987) is a form of intimacy usually with bounded authenticity and has the characteristic of deliberate manufacture of emotions for that one can establish a closer or seemingly more genuine relationship to the other (Chu, 2018) to gain his/her participation (Sijuwade, 1995) whilst authentic intimacy has no bounded authenticity and has the characteristic of “mutual respect, trust, acceptance, and deep understanding” (Linder, 2012, 16). The term bounded authenticity (Bernstein, 2010) is a central concept that denotes that the authenticity is restricted by time and money (Chu, 2018). Thus, counterfeit intimacy only lasts for a limited amount of time with the support of money and is established by artificial emotions while authentic intimacy does not end on a previously set time and is established by genuine interactions, beliefs, and sentiments.

CD, a form of commercial sex, provides girlfriend experience (GFE), in which the client should be able to enjoy “high-quality emotional and bodily intimate service (Sanders, 2008, 93)” that is found in the romantic couple relationship, under the consented contract between sugar babies and sugar daddies. In the agreement, the amount of money is the determining factor of what level of such service will be provided and how long will the service last. In CD, there are clearly limited by temporal and economic constraints; therefore, CD has bounded authenticity. Sugar babies, moreover, intentionally produce artificial reactions and emotions to their clients so that they find the service enjoyable and girlfriend-like and believe that the money spent is worth it and they ought to patronise again. It is then evident that the sort of intimacy built within CD is very possibly counterfeit, in spite of cases in which sugar babies genuinely fell in love with their clients during CD and then established authentic intimacy.

Likewise, prostitution, another form of commercial sex, typically provides intimate sexual service to clients in a limited period time, e.g., two hours, if only they are willing to pay. Sexual intimacy is built with bounded authenticity. The way of how sex workers react to clients during sexual activities often is that they pretend to be comfortable, enjoyed, and satisfied even they are not because such ingenuine reactions are part of the service so as to please the clients. With these two features, the intimacy established within prostitution is also counterfeit.

From the two examples of commercial sex, it is believed that most intimacies set up in commercial sex are counterfeit intimacy.

In non-commercial couple relationships, couples do not set a timer to their relationships and intimacies. The intimacy will not usually come to an end suddenly because of the absence of financial support from either one of them. The form of intimacy is not constructed with bounded authenticity. The emotions and reactions between romantic partners in no matter daily life or sexual life are mostly genuine although some, for instance, during sex, could rarely be sham for the sake of other’s feeling and long-term development and continuation of the intimacy. Couple relationships, moreover, involve the sensitivity for other’s feeling. Couples accommodate themselves to each other’s habits, ways of handling matters, personalities, etc. and develop mutual respect. Unlike in commercial sex, instead of faking, they produce real emotions after partially changing themselves to get along with each other. Notwithstanding individual cases, non-commercial couple relationships are considered authentic intimacy.

With reference to the definition of authentic and counterfeit intimacy and bounded authenticity, it can be concluded that commercial sex is counterfeit intimacy and non-commercial couple relationships are authentic intimacy.


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Eason Shum