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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”