Gimme Some Sugar

“Sugar Babies”

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This “professional” sugar baby has over ten different sugar daddies that support her 

Over Thanksgiving break I spent most of my time either sleeping or lounging around the house (as one should).  While watching TV and browsing the on demand options, I noticed some new episodes of “Black Market: Dispatches,” a relatively new show on VICELAND that I’ve grown to love, were released. I ultimately decided on the “Sugar Babies” episode, hoping to understand more about this growing phenomenon.  For those who don’t know, a sugar baby is “a young female or male who is financially pampered/cared for by a sugar daddy or sugar mama in exchange for companionship (i.e. sexual favors).” Overall, the episode was creepy yet informative, but it left me curious to learn more.

Seeking Arrangment
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For as long as I’ve known about sugar daddies and sugar babies, I’ve wondered how they meet.  How does an extremely well off, middle-aged, man find “companionship” (more on this later) with a woman in her twenties struggling to get by?  The answer is seekingarrangement.com.  The website is essentially a mix between match.com and Tinder/Bumble.  Sugar daddies and sugar babies looking for “companionship” initially need to pay $50/mo. or $20/mo., respectively, to join the site.  Both types of users set up pages which require information about your appearance, background, work and, most importantly, expectations of what you wand and need out of the “companionship” (i.e. financial compensation for the baby and expectations of the daddy).  Sugar daddy’s are then able to search the site to find sugar babies that pique their interest.  Once a sugar daddy finds a potential match, they will openly discuss the expectations of “companionship,” and if both are agreeable, they will proceed with their relationship.
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Example of a sugar baby page

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Example of a sugar daddy’s post

Seeking Arrangement’s website defines an arrangement: “An arrangement is where people are direct with one another and stop wasting time.  It allows people to immediately define what they need and want in a relationship.  Our profiles allow members to effortlessly state their expectations.  This is what we like to call Relationships on Your Terms.”  The company’s founder and CEO, Brandon Wade, describes Seeking Arrangement as empowering to women as it gives them the opportunity to date up.  This is clearly attractive to young women around the world, as 4 million sugar babies are already on the site and another 4,000 young woman sign up everyday.  The fastest growing population on the site is college students, and Seeking Arrangement has adjusted their promotion to target this segment.  They’ve found that a large portion of students are either searching for an easy way to pay off student loans or want to travel and experience the world but don’t have the money.  For them Seeking Arrangement provides a unique opportunity.

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One of many advertisements that addresses college debt

My Take

Besides the creepiness of paying for companionship and the obvious age gap, the site actually does appear to be empowering to women as Wade mentioned.  In some cases this seems to be the reality.  The Black Market episode highlight the story of Kandy, a sugar baby living in LA trying to make it as an actress, and she is an exemplary case.  She uses the sight to setup first dates (and nothing more).  During the episode she makes $140 from one date and says it’s the least she’s ever received.  Over the course of the day she had three dates and raked in over $1,000, all in cash.

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The reality in most cases, however, is far less appealing.  Although the website advertises “companionship,” the reality is that most sugar daddies don’t pay their sugar babies a monthly allowance, rather on a pay-to-play basis.  This undeniably crosses the line into prostitution.  Although most know that the site is indirectly serving as a pimp, it is legal for the site to operate since they advertise as their service as establishing “companionships.”  To Seeking Arrangements credit, they do conduct background checks that look for sex crimes, domestic violence, violent crimes, misdemeanors and other criminal issues.  The text on the billboard ad below though, clearly highlights an emphasis on exploiting young woman’s erotic capital.  Sites such as Seeking Arrangement objectify women and create an environment where wealthy men are able to choose a sugar baby from the millions of options the site offers.  Additionally, sugar babies can be lent out to friends of the sugar daddy “on share.”  Women are treated more like trading cards than people.

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This ad from a competitor highlights the underlying reality for sugar babies

The intense and insatiable need for money often causes sugar babies to be amenable to their sugar daddies expectations.  These expectations can range reasonable requests, such as what topics are to be discussed, to hyper-controlling requests like the sugar baby cannot gain weight or the sugar baby cannot be upset if the sugar daddy is also dating other women.  Nevertheless, woman flock to the sight to earn easy money.  Critics, however, claim that sites such as Seeking Arrangements take advantage of women by getting them hooked on a materialist lifestyle that is ultimately self-destructive.  If a sugar daddy cuts ties with a sugar baby she is forced to quickly transition from a lavish lifestyle that the sugar daddy provides to the reality that faces a young women without a job.  Sugar daddies are essentially able to buy sugar babies subservience since they become addicted to a lifestyle of luxury.

Closing

For peace of mind, I would like to end with a quotes from an interview in the “Sugar Babies” VICELAND episode to dissuade anyone who I may have intrigued in the sugar baby lifestyle.

VICE correspondent: “If you could speak to a girl just starting Seeking Arrangement what would you tell them?”

Sugar Baby: “Don’t.”

 

11 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing. I honestly had never heard of Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddy until this summer. I interned in Philadelphia and a fellow male intern of mine one day at lunch had a look of disgust on his face. He put his phone in my face to display instagram on the screen. It was a picture of a young girl about our age with an aged man, caption under said Kappa Kappa Formal. Apparently, it was a girl he had gone to high school with and even dated a while. She openly used an app called ‘Sugar daddies’ on her smartphone and would even bring him along to her sorority socials. I do not understand how these apps and websites get away with it?

  2. alinacasari · ·

    Wow your closing was really powerful! I’m sure there are some situations that work out well, but I would assume those occur much less than the pay-for-play situations. Super interesting post- sugar daddy is something I’ve always heard said but never knew someone had turned the concept into an actual website. I’m not surprised the concept was exploited to make money, but I am shocked to see how many young women are joining. As someone who hasn’t been in the position of needing the money to the extent of some of the women, I can’t judge their actions, but it is surprising to see how so many people are turning to this lifestyle. The numbers are just astounding!

    I know some users try to justify it, but the billboard is clearly stating the expectations many have for these girls. I am curious how the men who use it as sugar daddies would feel if the site worked the other way around (if young men were sugar babies). Especially if there were as explicit billboards directed at them. Great job analyzing the site! This was completely new information to me and you provided a lot of interesting looks into how this works.

    1. Tyler O'Neill · ·

      The site actually allows for sugar mammas and male sugar babies but these instances are far less common.

  3. mikeknoll98 · ·

    Really interesting post! The only previous knowledge I had of Sugar Babies were the small pet lemurs that glide around people’s houses. While my first knee jerk reaction to this website was a cringe, I ultimately got over it and saw how cool and how big of an opportunity it was for people seeking this type of relationship. The person type is so specific and I think this is one of the great ways social media and the web can help connect people of such a select group. Thanks for sharing and again great post.

  4. Nice, thoughtful post. I suspect – like Ashley Madison before it – much of this is more about hype than reality. It gets people to sign on for the promise of “companionship” or money, and then the reality is very different. But I could be wrong.

  5. I gotta say Tyler, the first thing that I thought when reading your article was “wow, he’s going to have some really creepy targeted Facebook ads now!” Haha! I’ve seen a couple of documentaries about this recent phenomenon and it makes me cringe every time. I know a girl from home who does this sort of thing now to fund her modeling career. Judging by the photos she chooses to share on social media, she seems to have done “well” for herself in terms of self-financing these aspirations…but everyone else I know is completely baffled. Thanks for diving into this subject and examining it from a new perspective!

  6. copmania12 · ·

    Like you said, this site seems to essentially be a diluted form of prostitution. It makes me pull into question the aspect of site security and reminds me of the scandal with Ashley Madison. I have to wonder what type of skeevy individuals participate (on both ends of the “companionship”) in this sort of behavior, and whether or not well known celebrities, executives and politicians are on that list as they have been in the past… but maybe that is just my curiosity getting the better of me. Either way the website must have a pretty strong assurance of secrecy and privacy to be able to convince people to engage in monthly memberships. Very interesting post and great analysis!

  7. skuchma215 · ·

    Really interesting post. I wonder what it is like to work at SeekingArangment.com knowing you’re helping run a quasi-prostitution business. It’s surprising to me that over 4000 women are joining a day. I imagine the sugar daddy to sugar baby ratio is extremely skewed. Are all the relationships on seeking arrangement about financially reliability? Do the sugar daddies on Seeking Arrangement literally name a price for a date, or is it more ambiguous regarding how they’re going to financially compensate the sugar babies?

  8. Really interesting and very creepy post. I had no idea of this site or what sugar babies and i believe it is very unusual and shocking. At the end you are “cutting to the chase in something that happens in reality but i don´t know if it is ethical, or should be legal, to facilitate it. It is an interesting debate if this kind of websites are empowering women, but I don´t want to get into that debate, since i feel is a complicated one. Also, as professor Kane said, this looks a lot like Ashley Madison, it is specially suspicious the number of accounts they say they have. I believe that, as AM did they are faking the numbers with their own bots. But again it is an interesting read and an interesting topic.

  9. mashamydear · ·

    Really glad you wrote this blog post! I think the “sugar baby” to “sugar daddy/mommy” relationship is extremely fascinating, as I can understand how individuals who are pro sex work view this relationship as empowering to some. However, I can’t help but think of the physical and psychological damage some women have experienced due to the nature of these relationships. I remember reading a couple of years ago how some “sugar daddies” on the site are just old men with no families that want someone to go out to dinner with them, but I think the vast majority of the sugar daddies/mommies do expect the relationship to become sexual at some point. And with any online dating-like platform, I’ve read horror stories of sexual assault that occur within the community as well. Apparently these women have their own platform to sort of black list sugar daddies that commit these violent acts, but due to the nature of these relationships the legal system is less than ideal in holding these men accountable for their actions. It’s also really interesting to see how Seeking Arrangements targets women in college who have student debt, sort of taking advantage of their fiscal instability.

  10. cmackeenbc · ·

    Thoughtful, in-depth post on a tricky topic. I am curious to know what the Seeking Arrangements business model is–do they charge a fee for sugar mommy/daddy accounts? That seems to make the most sense to me, though I am guessing they also take in advertisement revenue and probably offer “pay for premium” accounts for all members. In my opinion, it seems to be a pretty skeevy way for the executives to make money. It is interesting how much we have talked about the desire for “connection” in this class via technology, and it seems that the Seeking Arrangements platform truly capitalizes off of that desire. I think this offers a good subject for debate on the nature of the connections we have online. Based on my experience, I believe in the idea that digital interactions may merely be an extension of an already existing relationship in the physical world. I don’t think that a relationship in which one party is paying for the companionship of the other is a legitimate relationship, though I do believe it is highly unlikely but possible that a site like this could connect two people that make a good match. Great work!

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