6 Things You Learn Trying To Meet A 'Sugar Daddy' Online
You may have seen ads for websites like SeekingArrangement.com, which act as matchmakers for wealthy men (and sometimes women) of a certain age and financially struggling "sugar babies." These sites promise "mutually beneficial relationships" (some ads are more tasteful than others). While it is illegal to charge money for sex in most states, you can definitely command a fee for your company ... and all that might entail.
The kind of sugar baby you're imagining here is probably nubile, designer-label-hungry, and work-averse. But the reality is that men and women often seek out sex-for-patronage situations as a way to get their utility bills paid and maybe get a slight buffer from living paycheck to paycheck, Prada totes be damned.
We talked to two women who have "dated sugar" -- Julia, a recent college grad with a full-time job, and Fancy, a 33-year-old doctoral student. They said ...
Yes, This Is Sex Work
The word "sex" isn't going to show up on sugar dating sites, but Fancy points out that it's almost certainly going to be expected. You're fooling yourself if you create a profile on a site like Seeking Arrangement thinking otherwise. After all, you're going to be alone with men who, in her words, "feel like you owe them something, because you do if you want to get paid. This job is 100 percent paid companionship, including sex in almost all cases."
According to Julia, "There's a specific dollar amount for the initial meetup. For me, that was $100. I'm on the low end. From there it was 'Do you want to meet me again? OK. What do you want to do? Do you want sex?' And then we'll discuss from there."
But much like texting that one former co-worker to see if he's still selling Adderall, you gotta be up on your euphemisms. Fancy breaks down the lingo: "You would say, 'I'm interested in short-term hookups,' which means a pay-per-meet situation. You can say things like, 'I'm looking for a long-term traveling partner,' which means you want money to travel. You just have to be a little bit more subtle than saying the direct exchange of funds or goods."
There are some exceptions to the sex requirement. Fancy has gotten the occasional straightforward "companion" gig. "I had a guy who gave me $2,000 a week just to hang out with him and drink wine and listen to him cry about his ex." You can debate among yourselves whether such an arrangement should actually pay more.
You Have To Keep Proof Of The Agreements While Not Leaving Too Much Of A Paper Trail
Julia got into sugar dating to supplement a 40-hour-a-week factory job that just wasn't cutting it, hoping to be treated to the occasional dinner out as a break from her regular strictly subsistence diet. "And maybe if times were particularly rough," she adds, "to help me with student loans, or rent for that matter." She also has health issues that get in the way, even at age 23. "My body is kind of falling apart, unfortunately. I have chronic tendinitis, my feet do weird things that they're not supposed to do."
Fancy's arrangements have been more big-ticket. "I had a guy who paid rent on a really big two-story furnished apartment in a really nice area of downtown Denver for me for several months, and paid my car payment, the insurance on it, and every single one of my bills. He was spending maybe $6,000 to $7,000 a month," she says.
But all those gifts were in her name and paid for in cash, because as she stresses, you really have to look out for yourself should things turn sour. "I have a friend who is in court right now. She has an former sugar daddy, his wife found out [about the arrangement], so to not get in trouble, he said [her friend] was extorting him. She was facing up to six years in prison. She just got three years of probation, which isn't ideal, but she's been in court for months and months."
To protect herself, Fancy takes screenshots of initial interactions with sugar daddies, and always gets some form of written documentation (generally an email exchange). And then she avoids much in the way of messaging after that. "I don't want to be a part of their life. If things go sideways and they decide to report me to police, I want the least amount of information on their person as possible."
"Just the nature of these kinds of transactional relationships is really tenuous," she adds. "It's obviously much more dangerous for the woman involved ... it's always the providers who get busted, it's never the clients."
Either Side Can Get Scammed
Before she met potential sugar daddies in person, Fancy made a point of getting their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles. "It avoided them being cops, and it allowed me to do some background checking." She'd also use apps that allowed her to pay for more thorough online background checks -- something that, now that we think of it, maybe everyone should do before dating online?
She also had to take steps to make sure she wasn't being exploited. "I would never hang out with anyone, or do emotional labor like texting a bunch, for free," she explains. "I usually only exchanged five messages to establish that we were looking for the same thing. I'd get some kind of show of good faith upfront, because these guys, a lot of them are just weirdos looking for free sex, and they'll promise you money down the line. Seeking Arrangement is heavily populated by that kind of guy."
In sugar parlance, those guys are "salt daddies," infamous for trying to con attention or sex out of women without giving anything in return. Their worker counterparts are called "Splenda babies" -- women who promise a physical arrangement, but push for gifts and money without following through.
"There's this kind of prevalent idea that female sex workers are just looking to rob guys," Fancy says, "so the guys on there are already pretty distrusting. It sucks. It's this whole back and forth trying to figure out if someone's legit before wasting time and money. It adds another weird layer to an already weird dynamic of online dating."
It Emphasizes The Unseen Labor of Sex Work
"The thing about sex work is that 90 percent of it is invisible," says Fancy. "You have to get professional photos taken. You have to always have your nails done, toes done, always wear something nice. That's expensive and time-consuming. A lot of that labor, finding him, all that's invisible to [the sugar daddies]. In their minds, it's like, 'I pay them so much just to hang out with me!'"
And then there's the actual on-the-job tedium of being a paid companion. "Having to listen to a businessman tell you about the ins and outs of his day, when you know you don't get to talk about your day at all, is exhausting," says Fancy. "You're letting them be a person in your direction. It's super uni-directional."
Have you ever broken off a friendship with someone like that -- someone who just enjoyed "being a person in your direction"? It's like having to quietly put up with that, all of the time, so you can put food on the table.
Julia found a way around this by entering into an unconventional (but decidedly sugar) live-in arrangement with a friend. Everything was negotiated in advance, including "the start and end time, how involved I would be getting with his family, for example. As far as his family was concerned, we were dating." They even had a contract which stipulated what he paid for, the length of the arrangement, and the fact that it was monogamous.
And no, this wasn't some romantic comedy scenario in which they soon realized they were in actually love. Julia had no interest in extending beyond the original six-month term. That part of it was nothing but a job.
It's Only Safer In Theory
Julia admits that she's sometimes ignored safety concerns in favor of making those pesky ends meet. "Unfortunately, I had about a 30 percent 'feeling unsafe' rate. When you meet a lot of people, and you're too excited to meet people and not actually thinking about the feeling in your gut, you can get in an unsafe situation." In one case, a guy pestered her so much after the fact that she had to change her phone number.
Fancy was in a better financial situation and could be more selective about partners. Not that sugar dating -- or any kind of sex work -- will ever be perfectly safe. "Being alone with a man is being alone with a man," says Fancy, "and they don't see a difference between a sugar baby and an escort. In fact, because it's the first area of sex work many people start with, the risk is higher because the expectation of screening isn't really there."
Nor are all sugar daddies pressed-for-time gentlemen who are just looking for a little affection that fits their hectic schedules. "Half are awful misogynists who want to pay you to deal with them, because no one else will," says Fancy. "That doesn't necessarily mean it will be more detrimental to you, it'll be just less emotionally rewarding. I have a friend who likes going out with the awful ones because they pay more.
"Then probably the other half of real sugar daddies are just guys who are lonely and have money, but want something that is not directly transactional, so they're interested in a true sugar daddy / sugar baby relationship, but those guys get scooped up so fast. It gets so competitive among sugar babies, it's crazy. It's a buyer's market."
Despite sugar sites' insistence that "entering the sugar bowl" is all about forming lasting romantic bonds of convenience, the turnover rate for arrangements is high -- about two months on average, in Fancy's experience. "[The sugar daddies] meet someone else, or they want to stop giving you money. Usually it's this pull to keep them reined in, and then at the end of two months, it kind of peters out."
The Return On Investment Is ... Disappointing
Both of our sources recently made the decision to quit sugar dating. Julia got a promotion at her day job, while Fancy decided that the profit wasn't worth it compared to traditional escorting and stripping. "I found the men on the sugaring sites to largely be cheapskates who want to trick young women who are too scared to escort into providing escort services for a fraction of the cost," she says. "It's very manipulative, financially."
She points out that higher-end escorts tend to charge at least $2,000 for overnight stays. In her experience, that amount is at the upper end of the monthly allowances sugar daddies offer -- and for escorts, those overnight stays don't require the devotion, time, and attention that often accompany a sugar arrangement. So she switched to more traditional full-service sex work. "It was like a light bulb went off when I saw the rates my friends were charging," she says. "I was taking $300-$600 for overnight (sugar) stays! All just so I could call myself something other than a whore and have an illusion of safety. I felt so foolish."
Unfortunately, not long after Fancy made that switch, Congress put through the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), which have effectively criminalized the online spaces sex workers have long used to vet potential clients and ensure their own safety.
Corners of the internet like Craiglist's erotic services listings and Backpage have been demonized as online portals to sexual exploitation, yet studies show that such outlets have not only helped law enforcement identify human trafficking victims, but have also provided sex workers an alternative to soliciting on the streets (which is estimated to carry a risk of homicide 13 times higher than that posed to the general population).
"I have returned to sugar dating part-time, because the loss of ad sites also filled the strip clubs, so there's no money anywhere, currently," says Fancy. "Escorts are definitely using the sugar sites post-FOSTA, but not very successfully."
Reflecting on the line-blurring nature of sugar dating, she adds: "If it wasn't a branch of sex work, it wouldn't be that weird of a job ... I think the glamorization of it has contributed to the sense it's exotic, that it has to be profoundly spiritually rewarding. But at the end of the day, I don't feel any differently about it than I would any other job I've had. Under capitalism, everyone's selling their labor and their bodies. I don't feel like sex work is different than that."
Saundra Sorenson is on Twitter. Judging by the number of SeekingArrangement press releases she received to her work account when she was a small-town newspaper reporter, she can attest to the fact that sugar dating sites are great at identifying their target market.
For more, check out 5 Things I Endured As A Legal Brothel Worker and Here's An Inside Look At The Therapists Who F#ck Clients.
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