CALGARY -- There are more "sugar babies" now since the start of the pandemic and many members of an online platform that promotes the lifestyle attend Alberta universities, according to a website called SeekingArrangement.

“Sugar dating” is a term used to describe a relationship between a typically older and wealthier person (sugar daddy or sugar mama) who will provide gifts or even a cash allowance in exchange for companionship with a typically younger person (sugar baby.)

“It’s basically like Tinder except if you play it right you are going to get paid,” said Keith Regalado, 20, a Calgary university student who has had two sugar daddy relationships in the past two years.

“They took me out to a really nice restaurant and paid for everything and you don’t really get that with dating now.”

He also received money from the relationships, which he used to pay for his tuition and books at the University of Calgary, and he says sexual relations progressed with both of his matches.

The SeekingArrangement site has coined the term “Sugar Baby University” and messaging on its website is targeted to students facing financial hardship, saying the average Canadian student graduates with $25,000 in debt.

It says it has seen a 21 per cent increase in Canadian members since March 2020, the start of the pandemic.

Students from the University of Toronto have the most members with 257 students, followed by the University of Alberta with 231, Mount Royal University (MRU) rounds out the top ten institutions with 104 students, whereas the University of Calgary has 57 student members.

“SeekingArrangement has provided a platform for students to go to college without the stress of post-graduation debt, while continuing to enjoy all the experiences that come along with college life,” said Brandon Wade, founder and CEO.

The site says it has 22 million users around the world and is considered the largest sugar dating platform.

Despite the explicit and implied culture where money is exchanged for time spent within a relationship, the site says it does not promote prostitution.

“SeekingArrangement is not a site that allows or is geared towards commercial sex. We explicitly prohibit commercial activity of all kinds, therefore we do not have any legal hurdles,” said Kelli Tellier, a spokesperson for the site in an emailed statement.

“With SeekingArrangement, we're redefining the expectations of traditional dating through open and honest, upfront conversation leading to a mutually beneficial relationship. Our site is no different than any other dating site as we're relationship focused.”

Legal scholars say money or other material benefits cannot be exchanged for sexual activity, according to Canadian law amended in 2014.

“It’s not against the law to sell it – it’s against the law to buy it,” said Doug King, professor of Justice Studies at MRU.

“Where it becomes harder to enforce is when there is no explicit contract for sexual activity but it is an implied understanding of that’s what will happen.”

King was not aware of any criminal investigation into the site or others like it and says law enforcement will typically respond after repeated calls to activity that have become a public nuisance.

CTV News has reached out to the Cybercrimes Unit of the Calgary Police Service, but officials were not available for comment at this time.

Financial experts say they are not surprised to learn that Alberta students are turning to sugar dating as a means of a “side hustle.”

“(Alberta has) seen a major downturn, you’re going to see things like this happen,” said Faisal Karmali, co-founder of the Popowich-Karmali Advisory Group.

He says students should research what resources are available and often under-utilized.

“First and foremost are there any loans, scholarships or grants that you can receive?”

As well, he recommends parents begin saving when children are young to grow a registered education savings plan.

Debt specialists want to demystify how debt can be restructured, should university students face financial hurdles upon graduation

“Being conscious to say, ‘I don’t want to grow old being strapped with debt’ is a fair concern, but it’s important to understand there’s ways to restructure our debt in the event that you do get over your head,” said Shawn Stack, vice-president of insolvency firm Bromwich & Smith.

“Any relationship that doesn’t have an appropriate power balance isn’t really a relationship.”