There is nothing particularly subtle about the sales patter. "We make mutually beneficial relationships," goes one pitch. "We are where the attractive meet the affluent," claims another.

A third bills itself: "An upscale community of beautiful women seeking wealthy men."

The service being brokered is as old as the institution of arranged marriage. The pitches are aimed at wealthy male "sugar daddies" who, in the jargon of lonely hearts ads, WLTM [would like to meet] very much younger women.

In America's booming online dating market, few sectors are hotter than so-called "sugar daddy" sites, which help rich men to make "arrangements" with attractive and financially needy younger women. Between them, these specialist sites now account for 10 per cent of the entire industry. In the US the online dating business now generates profits estimated at US$700 million ($840 million) a year.


The "sugar daddy" trend began in 2006, when the entrepreneur Brandon Lee founded a website called SeekingArrangement. The older, male subscribers pay a fee of US$50 per month; young women can join for free.

Lee says that business has been boosted by a mixture of the faltering economy, which has increased the number of cash-hungry young members, and the robust number of baby boomers who, often with pharmaceutical assistance, are continuing to enjoy active sex lives.

"We are also noticing an increased number of college students signing up," he says. "When I started the site, roughly one in four of what I call my 'sugar babies' were at college; now, that figure is closer to four out of 10. University fees have got more expensive, and loans are harder to come by so, for many young women, getting a sugar daddy becomes an increasingly attractive option."

The trend became a national talking point last week after CBS showed a documentary about a 22-year-old student from Miami who uses Lee's site, and others, to find gentlemen companions willing to subsidise a monthly allowance of between US$10,000 and US$20,000. Various men she has met on the site have paid her university fees in return for exclusive relationships.

Some viewers thought the lifestyle outlined in the documentary bordered on prostitution. The student, who kept her identity secret, insisted otherwise, although she admitted that most of her "sugar daddy" relationships haven't lasted more than a few months.