Sugar Babies: Sweet or Sour?

If you’re a stereotypically broke college student who is looking for some consistent work and steady pay, you may consider dropping that part-time on-campus job and picking up a full-time job as a “sugar baby.” All you need is a “sugar daddy” or a “sugar mommy” who can provide financial incentives in exchange for your companionship – simple, right?

When I first read this CNN article over a year and a half ago about the creative ways that students have been making money to pay for college tuition, I was drawn mostly to the idea of sugar daddies/ mommies and sugar babies. At the time, the idea of online-originating arrangements seemed like a fad concept – one that would fade away with the regular tide of social networking websites. But even a quick Google News search today shows that the promotion and criticism of sugar-babies wasn’t new in 2012, and it hasn’t stopped being a short form newsworthy topic a few years later.

On SeekingArrangement.com, one of the most popular sites that has been drawing attention for its promotion of what they call “mutually beneficial relationships,” wealthier men and women (but overwhelmingly men) can find younger and more attractive men and women (but overwhelmingly women) who are looking to make some money. On the site’s general information page*, it claims to have a “solution to the problem of imbalance and broken expectations in dating relationships” by eliminating “awkwardness” and “guessing games.” It writes as fact that “older, wealthier men and younger, more beautiful women have been seeking each other out for… let’s see… THOUSANDS OF YEARS,” and that “it’s a tradition that’s not going to change anytime soon.”

If the patterns of wealthier men looking to find younger women haven’t changed and won’t change, maybe that’s the reason that sugar daddy/baby connection websites are still around. Even now, there continue to be articles written about the growing number of sugar babies at universities including Georgia State University, Miami University, and even at Cambridge University in the UK. And though I do not personally know anyone involved in a sugar daddy/ baby relationship, I generally agree that healthy dating relationships can form when there are clear expectations.

So what makes me uncomfortable about the growing number of sugar daddy/ baby relationships formed by these arrangement websites?

Though sites like SeekingArragement.com claim to set clear expectations for these relationships, these websites seem only to make clear the financial expectations, not the expectations for companionship – and more specifically, sexual intimacy. While sugar babies can clearly state their “lifestyle expectations,” which range from “negotiable,” to “minimal” or less than $1,000 monthly, to “high” or over $10,000 monthly, there are no equivalent metrics for companionship. And how could there be a set of easy-to-list companionship expectations to choose from? What would even come close? The number of nights per week expected to have dinner, or to watch a movie, or to be sexually intimate? And could you even begin to quantify the emotional commitment aspect?

Websites like SeekingArrangement.com advertise relationships that are ambiguous and imbalanced from the beginning. If we evaluate relationships on a gradient from romantic ones to transactional ones, the explicit transfer of money within sugar daddy/ baby relationships seem much more transactional but are marketed as more romantic. A sugar daddy knows exactly how much he will pay for the companionship of a sugar baby, but a potential sugar baby doesn’t know what form her companionship should or will take. When these relationships fail – at least in part – because intimacy expectations are not met, then the sugar baby will always be at higher risk for blame, because the conditions are unfair and unclear to begin with. Arrangement sites bring this type of inequality to a larger scale.

*The site has since updated its general information page and the link provided above directs to an archived version.