Lifestyle

The secret world of the $ugar babies

More university-age women than ever are taking to the web to find sugar daddies who’ll pay for tuition, trips and designer bags… but the perks come at a steep price.

The secret world of $ugar babies

Lots of girls feel jealous of Abby, 19, a business major, for landing such an amazing boyfriend. She raves about her special connection with Michael, a hot 36-year-old doctor who is happy to spend weekends with her at the symphony, appreciates her cooking so much he’s offered to pay for culinary school, and isn’t afraid to commit to a monogamous relationship, even inviting her to live in his mansion. The thing that those other girls don’t know? Abby’s relationship started on SeekingArrangement.com, a site that connects wealthy sugar daddies with attractive young women for “mutually beneficial arrangements”.

A friend of Abby’s who uses the site recommended it to her. Recently out of a long-term relationship, Abby thought it might be something fun to try. “I’d never done anything like this, or even been on a dating site,” she says. “I thought, maybe I’ll go somewhere fabulous or on a few fancy dates.”

Soon, Abby was inundated with messages from men. Before becoming serious with sugar daddy Michael, she met up with six others – one 40 years older than her – and although she did dismiss two right away, she continued relationships with the others.

The men took her on first-class trips, put her up in $500-a-night suites, bought her clothing, and even offered
to pay her school fees. “I pay for school myself and it’s been a struggle, so the offers are tempting. I currently have $30,000 in loans and more to go before graduation,” says Abby, who’s accepted around $3000 in cash from three sugar daddies including Michael.

Abby doesn’t consider going on dates with sugar daddies “prostitution” because she sleeps only with men she’s attracted to. “Even when I went on a three-day trip with one man, I stayed in a separate hotel room. There wasn’t any attraction on my end and nothing happened between us, so he broke it
off when we got back.”

On the money

Abby isn’t the only bright, educated young woman choosing to become a “sugar baby”. According to Seeking Arrangement, 44 per cent of the site’s sugar babies are enrolled in university. The women are given an average of $3000 a month in gifts, meals, clothes and cash. That’s not the only name in the game either, with competitors such as AustralianSugardaddy.com.au and SugarDaddyForMe.com also promising to deliver high-rollers.

With overwhelming student loan debts and a competitive job market for millennials, trading intimacy and time for cash doesn’t seem unreasonable to some. But it can have physical and psychological risks. In 2011, a Florida judge sentenced a man to life in prison for raping at knifepoint a 22-year-old he’d met on a sugar-daddy site.

Emma*, a 21-year-old student who’s open with her friends and family about dating sugar daddies (they say she should live it up while she’s young), had her own scare.

Danger ahead

“I’d been talking to a guy for months, and told him I didn’t feel comfortable sleeping with him the first time we met. He said, ‘That’s OK, I just want some company,’ and he flew me out [to meet him],” she says. “But when I got there he tried to push me and get physical, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I left early and didn’t talk to him again. So I was alone, vulnerable, and away from home. It made me wonder what would have happened if I didn’t get it under control,” she says.

Emma first joined the site two years ago, after a painful break-up with a cheating live-in boyfriend who’d left her heartbroken and in debt.

Her arrangements start with a message from a potential daddy that leads to emails back and forth. If she feels a connection, she gives him her phone number. They’ll text, talk and Skype before she agrees to meeting in person, as all have involved flying to the men’s cities. As well as cash for uni, they pay for designer gear, $500 hair extensions every other month, tanning sessions and her phone bill.

She hammers out the conditions before meeting, making it clear that she won’t have sex the first weekend they meet, that she requires her own hotel room, and how much cash she wants to spend the weekend she’s there (usually $1000, although one daddy recently surprised her with $3000).

Other than the really pushy guy, Emma has had three arrangements via the site, and gotten intimate with two of the men. One man who pays for her time is married, and although he wants dirty photos and Skype sessions, they have never gotten physical because he would consider that cheating.

“These guys are buying my companionship; sometimes they just need someone to talk to. And if I feel a connection, why not become intimate? I’m not a prostitute. I don’t sleep with anyone I’m not attracted to,” says Emma.

If being a sugar baby isn’t prostitution, then the two unquestionably overlap.

“Both prostitutes and sugar babies are bought by men willing to pay them to be sexually available, and both are damaging acts,” says Kathleen Barry, author ofThe Prostitution of Sexuality. “These young women may act with bravado, but they often feel shame.” The power inequality mostly benefits the “daddy”, she says.

All business

Brandon Wade, the 43-year-old CEO of SeekingArrangement, sees a wider gulf between babies and prostitutes.
“A prostitute’s transaction with their customer is linear and non-emotional, while a sugar daddy and baby’s is more complex,” he suggests. “Sex is never a requirement – although it may be aspired to – so the sugar daddy is no different to a wealthy boyfriend who loves to spoil his girlfriend.”

SeekingArrangement claims to use software to cross reference escort websites to weed out the sex-for-cash profiles, and Wade claims to kick off
up to 100 alleged escorts per day.

The SeekingArrangement site refers to sugar babies as “goal seekers” and codes requests for sex as seeking a “passionate princess”. The men’s ages tend to range from mid-30s to mid-60s and their profiles are just like standard dating ones, except with a section for “budget”, which is usually marked as negotiable, although some state figures (often $1000 to $3000). Some profiles sport a diamond icon which means the men submitted financial statements for the site to verify. The babies’ profiles also have the budget line. Some depict pouts and lots of cleavage, but most of them look like the girl next door.

The real deal

“You deserve to date someone who will pamper you, empower you, and help you mentally, emotionally and financially,” the site reads. But many would argue the sugar baby experience is the opposite
of empowering.

“Once I met up with a guy who seemed fine online, but when I got to the bar, he was drunk and tried to make out with me without putting in any effort,” says Kat*, 24, a recent university graduate. She says most of the men she’s met through the site are looking only for sex, not the companionship
of a partner, because many are already in a relationship.

“I try to avoid the married ones now,” says Kat. “Really, they’re paying us to leave. They don’t want us to be a nagging, time-consuming, sweatpants-wearing girlfriend.”

Kat has heard of the occasional sugar-daddy arrangement that’s led to a monogamous relationship or even marriage, and continues to wonder if she could get aPretty Womanending. But the chances of meeting your future husband through one of these sugar-daddy websites are minuscule – as is the possibility of leaving this sort of experience in your past. Being a sugar baby, even for a short time, can have lasting negative psychological effects on you, says Barry.

“Sugar babies turn themselves into commodities so that they can earn commodities. The Prada bag he buys you is so that you keep being sexually available to him, not because he values your worth as a person,” she explains. “[Being in this situation] compromises your independence at a fundamental emotional level, meaning you start to lose your sense of self. Even if [sugar babies] feel they’re making their own choices, nothing is more regressive
and damaging to a woman’s psyche than having to build her experience around pleasing a man.”

After graduating, Marissa, 24, joined some sugar-daddy sites. She met Dave, a 50-year-old with two kids who travelled regularly for work. “I started spending three nights a week with him – he wined and dined me and two of my friends. I grew to like him, but it was exhausting and felt like a part-time job because I had to be there to entertain him whenever he wanted.”

After seven months Marissa got a promotion at work and decided that she didn’t need a sugar daddy anymore. Months later, she fell in love with one of her co-workers, and one day, the two started talking about marriage.

“I told him the truth about my ex, thinking he and I were life partners. He called it prostitution and couldn’t get over it – it was a deal-breaker for him,” says Marissa. “I was devastated about the break-up, and it’s awkward knowing he knows what I’ve done. I worry he’ll tell our colleagues, too.”

Trading your body for a high-flying lifestyle deeply affects how you view relationships, says Helen Croydon, who wrote Sugar Daddy Diaries: When
a Fantasy Became an Obsession about her own time as a sugar baby. After dating daddies for three years, one of the men took her to Paris.

“At dinner, I looked around the restaurant at the chic French women. They looked like middle-aged wives, not mistresses, yet all the men seemed captivated – like they were looking at them with genuine affection that had survived years,” she recalls.

“That’s when it hit me. I wanted to be someone’s cherished partner too. Instead, I’d made myself the mistress, worthy of their money but not of their love. I realised it would stay that way as long as I kept putting a price tag on my company.”