The burdens of soaring tuition prices and student debt, accompanied by the weight of a falling economy, have forced many ASU students to turn to alternative means of paying for college. A growing number of women are enlisting the financial help of “sugar daddies.”
According to the website, seekingarrangement.com, “sugar babies” are “attractive, ambitious and goal-oriented” young women who are willing to offer their friendship or companionship to wealthy and generous benefactors – sugar daddies – in return for being pampered and receiving financial assistance or gifts.
ASU has the sixth largest number of female sugar babies in the nation and has seen a 240 percent increase in enrollment on seekingarrangement.com during the past year, website spokeswoman Angela Jacob said.
She said the ranking is calculated based on the number of women who enrolled using their asu.edu email addresses.
“We offer premium memberships to female college students as long as they sign up with their .edu (email) addresses,” she said. “We saw that this demographic is the most popular when it comes to what our sugar daddies are looking for.”
Jacob said premium memberships allow sugar babies to contact sugar daddies directly. She said there are probably more women from ASU on the website, but they do not all use their ASU email addresses upon enrolling and therefore are not included in tallying the rankings.
MIT graduate and website founder Brandon Wade started the website in 2006, because he lacked “Rico Suave moves and Hollywood good looks” and had trouble dating women, Jacob said.
“What the never-been-kissed MIT nerd found was not only love, but a gold mine for providing a solution for men like him,” according to the website, which has grown to over 2 million members in just over six years.
Jacob said the average monthly allowance for a sugar baby is $3,000, while the amount of time spent with her sugar daddy varies on a case-by-case basis.
Sugar daddies can use their profiles to post monetary offers for the company of sugar babies. The offers vary from negotiable, to between $1,000 and $3,000 a month and can even go as high as between $5,000 and $10,000 a month. And, though it is rare, some sugar daddies offer up to $20,000 a month for the company of a presumably very classy sugar baby.
“Heather” and “Kelsey”
ASU sugar baby “Heather,” a 24-year-old justice studies junior who chose not to disclose her real name in order to avoid controversy and protect the privacy of her sugar daddy, said she was originally drawn to seekingarrangment.com because she was looking for a way to meet mature, successful men.
“When you date guys that are in their early 20s, they are very immature,” she said.“When you go out with someone who is a little older and a little more mature, they know what they want out of life.”
Heather said she does not have a job because she is taking 16 credits this semester, but her sugar daddy pays her around $1,500 per month, and the two meet up once or twice a week.
However, she said getting paid for her time is by no means the point of their relationship, and it feels more like “a perk or a bonus” than a job.
“To me, it’s natural for the gentleman to take care of the lady and treat her nice, buy her flowers, take her out to dinner, that sort of thing,” she said.“So, it’s not a huge deal to me. It’s more traditionally expected.”
She said some sugar babies prefer to take a natural, more spontaneous approach to setting up dates with their sugar daddies, but she likes to schedule hers in advance because of her demanding school schedule.
She enjoys the lack of time constraints provided by her arranged relationship, she said.
“With a traditional relationship, especially with someone my age, there is almost a neediness factor where people need to be validated, and they need to talk to you twice a day,” she said. “With arrangements, there is less pressure to have the constant communication and see each other every day.”
“Kelsey,” an earth and space exploration senior, chose to remain anonymous because she doesn’t want her family, especially her mother, to know she is a sugar baby.
The 21-year-old, who was referred to seekingarrangement.com by Heather, said she does not want to subject her mother to the stress of worrying about her daughter going out with “random strangers.”
However, she said she hopes to make a lucrative connection with a wealthy man, much like her friend.
“I am looking for a sugar daddy that can pay me between $1,000 and $3,000 a month and that I can see two to three times a month,” Kelsey said. “But I want to have good conversation with him too, and I want him to be a mentor to me and teach me things that I can use to get a job while he provides me with some financial sustainability.”
Kelsey said she has been on several first dates with men she met on the website, including two that have netted her more than $1,000 dollars. However, none have turned into a relationship, because they lacked the attraction and chemistry she was looking for.
Kelsey, who pays out-of-state tuition, does not currently work because she could not fit a job into her hectic, 15-credit hour school schedule, she said.
She said she receives some financial aid, but it is merely “a drop in the bucket” compared to how much tuition costs her.
“A sugar daddy can show me things in my life that I may never be able to experience, regardless of whether I have a job,” she said. “So why wait until I’m 40 to travel when I can do it when I am still young?”
Stephanie Robinson, an undergraduate research assistant for the Feminist Research on Gender and Sexuality group, said websites often make claims that no sex is required to make money in arranged relationships, but most men will base their payment on sexual favors and women should beware not to fall into “sexual traps.”
The psychology senior said women often turn to escort work or sex trades, because the media portrays women’s sexuality as very accessible to men with power and money.
“In song, people are talking about making it rain on strippers and, in the news, you see higher-up political government officials with mistresses,” she said. “It’s a very alluring thing, especially for young girls who are coming to college and seeing a $5,000 tuition bill.”
Women who participate in these types of relationships are often paid so highly that they become blind to the personal and social implications of the traditionally “recession-proof business,” Robinson said.
She said this type of work promotes rape culture while perpetuating the idea that women are mere sexual objects to be accessed by men at any time.
“These women might feel a sense of empowerment, but in all reality, they aren’t doing any good for the women in society and the women in their culture,” she said. “They are being performative for money and for men, which is a form of oppression.”
ASU Women’s Coalition vice president Shelby-Lynn Dunkel, who is a global health and women and gender sophomore, said it is important not to judge the sugar babies as a whole because each woman likely has individual reasons for getting involved in an arranged relationship.
“If you love it and you’re being respected and it’s an equal relationship, then great, go for it,” she said. “But most of these women are doing this because they are desperate for money.”
Finance freshman Corbin Shouse said the age difference and money exchange involved in arranged relationships makes them akin to prostitution, and he does not understand how wealthy men have trouble finding women to date.
“It’s pretty creepy, and if you’re a rich guy, it should be easy to find women,” he said. “I guess you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, but that’s a pretty convoluted way to get a date.”
Erika Rubio, historian of the Women’s Coalition, said arranged relationships are dehumanizing for women because it turns them into “objects that men purchase.”
The psychology sophomore said the men involved in the relationships are driven by the idea that money can make up for their lack of social skills and buy them anything, while the women may not see the future effects of being a sugar baby.
“It definitely has to change the way you see yourself in some way,” she said, “because you were like, sort of a prostitute for however long it was that you did this.”
The “P” Word
Heather said she has been called a glorified prostitute and has lost at least one friend over the nature of her relationship. However, she said she is not troubled by these consequences.
“The fact that a woman can be confident and take control of her dating life and her sexuality and say, ‘This is me, this is what I want, take it or leave it’ and actually get it,” she said. “That is very empowering.”
Kelsey said she does not care what people call her and is not worried about being judged, because in the end she has to live with the choices she makes.
Depending on how you look at it, many women could be called prostitutes, she said.
“You could call a stay-at-home wife a prostitute because her job is to basically please her husband,” she said. “He provides her with money or clothes or food or whatever, and if he comes home and is like, ‘Baby, let’s go up to the bedroom,’ she is kind of expected to do it.”
She also said it is comparable to going on a first date “when a guy drops his money on you, and he’s looking to get into your pants.”
Women and gender studies professor Rose Weitz said the growing “sugar babies” trend indicates gender relations as much as it does the current economic situation.
She said sugar babies are making a considered choice based on the fact that there aren’t many ways of obtaining reasonable income for a reasonable outlay of time. However, she said they should consider the after effects of being engaged in a “form of sex work.”
“Once you’re used to earning $200 an hour, it’s hard to focus the mind on doing volunteer work for free or working as a nurse for $20 an hour, or even working as an accountant for $40 an hour,” she said.
Weitz said many of these women rarely consider the stigma that can follow them when they are ready to move on with their lives.
“You fall in love with somebody, or you meet someone and you are really attracted, but at what point do you tell them, ‘Oh by the way, I paid for college by being a sugar baby’?” Weitz said.
Perilous or Profitable and What Lies Ahead?
Kelsey said she is currently seeing someone her age, and he does not have a problem with her trying to enter an arrangement with a sugar daddy.
She said she keeps this relationship a secret from prospective sugar daddies, but one of her more ambitious admirers found out via Twitter a day before she was supposed to fly to Florida to meet him.
She posted something about the man who is her age and it ended with #inlove, she said.
“(The sugar daddy) freaked out on me and went bat sh-t crazy and was just like, ‘Oh, you’re playing me,’” Kelsey said. “I was like, ‘No I am a young girl, I post stupid sh-t online.’ … Like, get over it.”
She told the sugar daddy she did not feel safe coming to Florida anymore.
Jacob said many sugar babies graduate with little to no debt, money in their bank accounts and connections to business professionals gained through their relationships with their sugar daddies.
And though many people may compare it to prostitution, there is a marked difference, Jacob said.
“Sugar daddies are looking to cultivate the women they have invested in,” she said. “This isn’t like prostitution, which is kind of like a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am. Here, it is about the relationship and about the connection. … It’s a lifestyle.”
Because of her relationship, Heather has met several attorneys who have already offered her internships at their firms, she said.
She and her sugar daddy have agreed to continue their relationship for the foreseeable future, at least until she graduates, Heather said.
“He’s looking for something in the flesh now, and I happen to be it,” she said.
However, Heather said they both agree that their relationship has an expiration date.
“I am looking to eventually get married, and he is not,” she said, “so this is a way to satisfy my needs for intimacy and companionship for now.”
Heather’s sugar daddy declined to comment.
Kelsey said she looks forward to having a successful, college-educated confidante in her life since no one in her family has gone to college.
She said she would not have sex or do what a man says just because he “flashes a bunch of money at (her),” but when she finds the right sugar daddy, there will be chemistry and true attraction.
“They kind of work like normal relationships,” she said. “It’s just I get, like, a monthly allowance.”
However, Kelsey said she will not do this forever and will probably stop once she graduates college and gets a steady job and source of income.
“Down the line, I will tell my mom,” she said, “after it is a few years behind me.”
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @NPMendoza