Once upon a time, what a young woman needed to get her college bills paid was a daddy. That was 30 years ago and more, before tuition went through the roof.
Now what more and more coeds are looking for to help them pay for that bachelor’s degree is something quite different: a sugar daddy. A rich man who is willing to provide support in return for romance, companionship, adventure and, not necessarily but usually, sex.
It’s one of many unintended consequences of the rise in college tuition—and the uncertainty of the job market—that the number of female students seeking older men to become involved with in return for a guarantee of financial support is rising, at least according to figures from SeekingArrangement.com, perhaps the best known of the websites that broker such relationships. SeekingArrangement.com also has room for sugar mommies and the young men (or women) who hope to be their companions.
But the growth that’s attracted attention is in the number of young women looking for connections with mature—and, not to beat around the bush, wealthy—men. Men, that is, with the means to offer them $1,000 to $5,000 or more per month in support, or $500 and up per meeting.
SeekingArrangement.com, started up in 2006 by MIT grad Brandon Wey (known as Brandon Wade on the site), has made news lately by reporting significant growth in the number of college women who are signing on. In the five years beginning in 2007, according to Wey, the number of coed sugar babies soared from 38,303 to 179,906. The site has widely circulated a list of the 20 colleges that have the most members. Most of them are Southern schools, though no. 2 on the list is New York University, with 285 sugar babies registered in 2012.
But a longer list—the top 75—shows UMass as no. 61.
In response to a request for information, SeekingArrangement.com sent the Advocate figures on the number of members at several local colleges. For UMass, the site reported 93 total members with 48 “new,” meaning that they had signed on within the previous year; for Smith, 26 members with nine new; Hampshire, 24 members with eight new; Mount Holyoke, 12 members with four new; Amherst College, 4 members with one new.
“It’s human nature for successful people to want younger and more attractive partners,” SeekingArrangement.com assures prospective members, garnishing its pitch with a Twinkie of pop anthropology. “It’s also natural for younger men and women to seek out more experienced, sophisticated, wealthy and generous partners, specifically those who have the means of providing them with comforts and luxuries... While some society may have laid down a set of unsaid rules about what is morally acceptable (be it an acceptable age gap between lovers, extra-marital affairs, or pre-marital sex), who is to say what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? In the past, Kings, Shahs and Emperors have had multiple lovers or concubines. In many cultures, liaisons between the wealthy, generous and the beautiful were even considered an art form. The French had courtesans. The Japanese had geishas. And in today’s society, we now have sugar babies.”
And lest a man less well-heeled than Donald Trump feel insecure about becoming a sugar daddy, the website assures prospective members, “...you don’t need to be a millionaire to be a sugar daddy—you just need to be generous.”
A sample posting from a sugar daddy comes from “Thomas,” 48, who wants a “Girlfriend-Personal Assistant.” Thomas, from Dallas, lists a “budget” (the amount he will offer a sugar baby) of $1,001 to $3,000 a month—less than the “Perpetual Partier” from Boca Raton who offers $10,000 to $20,000 a month, but still a windfall for a college co-ed if the expectations it comes with aren’t onerous. One thousand to $3,000, a month, for example, is the amount requested by prospective sugar baby “Bianca” (“Treat Me Like an Angel and I’ll Take You to Heaven”) from Concord, Calif.
For young women to help themselves through school by doing sex work on the light side is nothing new. Stripping is certainly not unknown, even in the Valley, as a way of keeping the tuition bills paid; exotic dancing and posing for nude photos have helped put some through school.
But those activities are easier to rationalize than having sex with an individual for a specified amount of money. On the other hand, both coeds and experts disagree about whether becoming a sugar baby amounts to prostitution. SeekingArrangement.com puts an elegant face on the issue with its exhortations to members to be frank with each other about their expectations, and its reminder that neither side of an “arrangement” should demand intimacy unless or until the other side wants it, too. And it’s not utterly impossible that here or there an arrangement could develop into a genuine love relationship; stranger things have happened.
Still, some sugar babies have reported feeling degraded by trading sex for money, even when a sense that they are meeting social and psychic as well as sexual needs for the sugar daddy is part of the mix. Others have complained about feelings of bifurcated identity, of leading a double life, especially if they use a false name and create a special persona calculated to attract a wealthy older person of the opposite sex. As one young woman told author Clarisse Thorne, “Some of them use words like ‘magical’ to describe me, but the person they’re describing is not really me.”
Explaining to parents how tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of bills are being paid can be a problem, too. And some women worry about their safety as they board planes or enter hotels to meet sugar daddies in distant locales for the first time.
It’s all yet another result of the rise in college tuition, along with the appalling proliferation of student loan debt. It’s a consequence that college officials who oversaw that rise, all the while persuading themselves that all would be well as long as money was available for grants or loans to students, no doubt never imagined. As university presidents take home ever-higher salaries, young women struggling to pay their way through school ask themselves how much they can trade off before the only thing left to bargain away is their self-respect.
Even on the pragmatic side, those who explore the sugar daddy route are up against odds: the ratio of hopeful sugar babies to sugar daddies on SeekingArrangement.com is roughly 10 to one.•