With our current economy and rising tuition costs, a growing number of college students across the country appear to be dating sugar daddies, wealthy older men who pay for young female companionship. At UC Davis, this year’s 220 percent rise in our sugar baby population shows that we are quickly joining the trend.
Sugar daddy dating is commonly understood as young, attractive girls dating older, wealthier men for an allowance, and according to Angela Jacob Bermudo, the public relations manager of the world’s largest sugar daddy dating website, SeekingArrangement.com, college-aged sugar babies receive an average allowance of $3,000 each month.
To explore this phenomenon in which female college students appear to be turning to sugar daddies when they can’t can’t pay tuition, I delved into the economic and gender aspects of sugar daddy dating and additionally decided to make a sugar baby account for myself.
SeekingArrangement.com — In brief
According to Bermudo, there are about 2 million members on the website worldwide, though sugar babies outnumber sugar daddies significantly.
These sugar daddies average between ages 35 and 45, and according to Bermudo, are generous, wealthy men who may run their own businesses or be high-level CEOs who can’t be bothered by the stress of regular dating.
The average sugar baby is 21 to 27, and generally is struggling to make ends meet.
Safety and confidentiality is emphasized on the site. According to Bermudo, members are always advised to only date verified members, as SeekingArrangement.com offers to conduct comprehensive background checks on both sugar daddies and sugar babies.
Sugar daddies also have the option of being Diamond Members, which means that the website will confirm their actual income to make sure that they’re not pretending to be wealthy.
Once two people have met and an arrangement has been made, however, both sugar daddy and sugar baby are on their own, and if a sugar daddy refuses to pay his sugar baby, she can’t blame the website.
“You can’t come back and say, ‘Oh, we broke up,’” Bermudo said. “It’s just like any other dating website. We’re not involved in that.”
My dip into SD dating
To explore the phenomenon myself, I created a 20-year-old student and non-smoking sugar baby persona seeking a sugar daddy and expecting $1,000 to $3,000 a month.
Before I could use the Mailbox feature of the website to contact other users, my profile and photo had to be approved, which took about two days. Once they were up and available for viewing, sugar daddies began writing to me.
“Wow you are beautiful,” wrote a 55-year-old sugar daddy. “Among other things, I’m interested in a SD/SB relationship where we spend some quality adult time being naughty in the bedroom — three to four times a month. If that interests you please give me an idea of the amount of support you would need to make that work.”
“I had a Sugar Baby for five years, so I know what it takes to keep someone happy,” wrote another 55-year-old sugar daddy. “Monthly allowance, gifts, etc.”
“I liked your profile, so I thought I would give you a shout,” the above-mentioned sugar daddy wrote. “My specialty is spoiling! Mentor, benefactor, lover (world class) — all rolled into one! But would you be open to an arrangement with someone who is married?”
A 34-year-old sugar daddy took the time to type up and send specific instructions to me.
“It’s generally two times a week, two hours each of [those] nights. Of course if you want to hang out beyond that, grab dinner, a drink, coffee — that’s up to you. What you do when you’re not around is your own business and [is] never discussed so long as it doesn’t affect me. Your life remains your own, without drama or nonsense.”
He then requested that I send him recent pictures with measurements for my true height and weight included, and mentioned that I would need to be on birth control.
“That’s all we’ll be using,” this 34-year-old sugar daddy said. “I take my time and want to feel everything. If it works out, I can pay for part of that too.”
Other sugar daddies sent a variety of offers, several suggesting that I travel to see them, but the vast majority simply requesting that I explore their profiles and message them back if interested. Others had more interesting requests.
“How are you?” wrote a 53-year-old sugar daddy. “I am looking to meet a very dominant female. Have you ever had a fantasy about being dominant?”
“I would definitely want to make friends with such a smart person and help her succeed in life,” a 46-year-old sugar daddy wrote. “Let me know if you would let me be the wind for the kite you are flying!”
Competing perspectives — Dating vs. new-age prostitution
Amina Mama, director and professor of women and gender studies at UC Davis, views the practice negatively.
According to Mama, women are doing it for the money, which means that when an economy gets worse or gets more unequal, there is often a rise in transactional sex.
“It’s the oldest profession,” Mama said. “All women can fall back on it if they are excluded from other opportunities.”
Bermudo disagreed about the sexual part of this sugar daddy-sugar baby transaction.
“Prostitution is a one-time transaction; it is black-and-white money for sex. [At] SeekingArrangement.com, our mutually beneficial relationship does not involve sex. Sex is not part of the arrangement. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship,” Bermudo said. “[If] a man is showing a woman that her time is worth his money, that woman in turn doesn’t give what a normal relationship would: jealousy, selfishness or a constant demand on [his] time.”
Both Bermudo and Mama agreed that the current economy is most likely a large part of the recent rise in college-aged sugar babies. Bermudo stated that when parents lose their jobs or face financial hardships, their college-aged children must often find their own ways to support themselves.
“I think it reflects the persistence of gender and economic inequalities, which in fact are growing,” Mama said. “It’s a fact that women are paid less for doing the same jobs [as men]. So because more women are poor, especially younger women, it follows that men are more often in a position to pay for sex.”
Mama stated that because sugar babies are of age, sugar daddy dating can’t be called child abuse. However, the age difference is significant and is neither new nor old.
“We object to child marriages, and we’re very critical of sex with minors — there’s a name for it: The Lolita Complex,” Mama said. “[The idea of] old men who want to have sexual relationships with young women and girls is not well-regarded, but it is common. It’s a problem because there is already inequality between men and women, so when you compound that with the sugar daddy’s age, his gender advantage and his economic power, these relationships are far from equal.”
Mama stated that the economy is creating an atmosphere where sugar daddies can take advantage of young students in need of tuition money.
“What worries me about this is the large number of young people in need of selling their sexual services for money,” said Mama. “That confirms that it is economically driven and that young people, including students, tend to be the poorest.”
Bermudo made clear that SeekingArrangement.com is not attempting to target students by claiming that sugar daddy dating is the only way to pay their bills.
“We’re saying that this is a viable option,” Bermudo said. “But if you’re the type of person who is OK with earning money with a part-time job, then that’s for you.”
NAOMI NISHIHARA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.