As a recent college graduate, I am no stranger to the financial weight of student loans and related academic expenses. Throughout my time spent as a student, I, and nearly all of my friends and other acquaintances, had to work some type of job outside of school hours to afford our expenses. While some of my friends worked on campus, others chose to seek employment at local restaurants or businesses. However, every so often, a seemingly casual joke would be made about becoming a “sugar baby” or “sugar dating” to make extra cash.
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation states that “‘sugaring/sugar dating’ involves wealthy individuals—who tend to be older and male (though that’s not always the case)—using cash, lavish gifts, and/or help with debt as a means to facilitate and stimulate their demand for sex and intimacy via less-than-wealthy individuals who tend to be younger and female (though, again, that’s not always the case)”. In these cases, the wealthy individual or “sugar daddy” may promise a financial allowance in exchange for meeting up for a date, or something similar. Sometimes, the sugar daddy might indicate that sex is not expected. However, when the exchange of money actually occurs, a strong power imbalance is created between the “sugar daddy” and their “sugar baby”. At this point, the sugar daddy may feel that they can do whatever they please to “get their money’s worth”.
There are sites that are specifically designed for those interested in sugaring, including Seeking Arrangement, RichMeetsBeautiful, Sugarmodels, and many more. Some websites, such as Seeking Arrangement even offer a free upgrade when individuals sign up using a .edu email address, suggesting that they are intentionally marketing to college students (Sheppard, 2020). With student loan debt consistently creeping up year after year, I am not surprised by the draw that these websites and this lifestyle might pull for college students. Furthermore, the industry seems to consistently push the idea that sugaring promotes being “empowered” and “pampered” as opposed to “exploited”.
In my own personal experience, I have also noticed sugar daddies using popular social media sites, such as Instagram, to encourage sugaring though direct messaging. Many of these individuals seem very open about the fact that they are actively involved in sugaring. I have actually personally viewed sugar daddies blatantly describe in their biographies how they offer “allowances” to young women that they are interested in.
While having a sugar daddy is frequently joked about, this growing trend poses extreme dangers. In fact, while researching the topic of sugaring, I came across countless stories from sugar babies who have experienced assault, rape, and unwanted acts from their sugar daddy. In one story mentioned by The New York Post, a 23-year-old sugar baby mentions that she was invited to a pricey vacation with her sugar daddy, only to eventually be coerced into participating in an unwanted threesome. Although there may be select cases where a sugar daddy may not be seeking a sexual relationship, the power imbalance still remains. There is something to be said about the dynamic created between an older higher-income individual and a younger, often lower-income audience. Even if sexual experiences are not desired, this relationship can easily lead to various other forms of manipulation and undesired expectations, which cannot be taken lightly.
Thankfully, it seems that the education and awareness about the dangers of sugaring is on the rise. Throughout the conduction of my research, I came across many credible sources and major news providers that encourage caution when encountering older individuals interested in sugaring. Moreover, this awareness and public recognition has also pressured websites such as Seeking Arrangement to re-evaluate their policies and safety measures. According to The New York Post, Seeking Arrangement released a statement after numerous concerns, stating, “We are improving our user reporting tools and employing more artificial intelligence software to keep escorts, prostitutes, attempted underage users and those who violate our terms of service and code of conduct off our social network… To even further discourage these unwanted elements, we will be working on an initiative to proactively report violators to law enforcement”.
In a similar fashion, the website also mentioned that they plan to work alongside sex trafficking advocates and experts in an effort to determine best practices for preventing sex trafficking in the dating, transportation, and hospitality industries.
Going forward, I plan to challenge the casual jokes that are made about sugaring and will continue to share the dangers of this industry. I hope that you will do the same.
Yours in the fight,