*Names have been changed to protect the subject’s identity.
Anna dyes her shoulder-length, naturally black hair a striking shade of turquoise. Her hands shake consistently, her lips rest pursed. She has thick, dark brows that frame her angular face. Anna does not spend her evenings in the ways other 18-years-olds do; Anna is a sugar baby.
When Anna turned sixteen, her parents cut her off financially. This meant she had got accustomed early on to paying for everything on her own. Like a lot of high school seniors, Anna stayed up late, researching ways to pay for college. One night, she came across an article about women in the Ivy League stripping to pay their way through school. She thought if these girls could do it — she could, too.
Anna moved to Manhattan in August of 2015 to attend NYU. The summer before she moved to New York, she discovered Seeking Arrangement, a dating website designed to connect sugar parents with prospective sugar babies. The interface is simple: sugar daddies, mothers, and babies create profiles free of charge, and all parties can view and message one another. A sugar relationship may ensue, in which a baby is paid by a daddy or “momma” for dates, conversation, sex, or all of the above.
After researching sugar babies, Anna decided that becoming one would be easier than working at a strip club. As a sugar baby, she wouldn’t have to work long hours, and she could also have the luxury of choosing whom she worked with. So, with a bill due in November, Anna created an account on the Seeking Arrangement website.
“No one is paying for my college except me, because I work and I live as a sugar baby,” she told me at the time, “that’s how I’m paying for my college. That is all me. I could be doing it for extra cash. I’m not.”
For young women at NYU, the term “sugar baby” is used lightly, even comically. It’s relatively easy to come across female students who joke about becoming sugar babies to pay the bills. I sat in a study room at NYU for an hour-a-day for one week to see how many times students talked about sugar daddies. On Monday night, a student named Claire searched online for plane tickets she would have to buy to travel to her study-abroad location. Laughing, she said, “Imma get myself a sugar daddy! I gotta get them coins!” On Wednesday, another student talked about how she recently made an account on Seeking Arrangement to pay for an expensive textbook she needed to purchase. On Thursday, a third student asked the girl who was sitting across from her if she would like to go get something to eat. The girl replied, “I can’t spend money. I need a sugar daddy for food.” With so many people talking about sugar babying at NYU, it’s safe to say it’s become a new fad.
Anna ultimately received a generous scholarship. Her tuition is covered in full — the only bills left are for campus housing and a meal plan. However, housing and meal plans average out to about $15,000 per year at NYU. So if Anna were to take out subsidized loans, she would graduate $60,000 in debt. People like Anna feel that becoming a sugar baby is their only option. It allows for quick cash, which leaves time for internships, homework, and friends— essentially, the life of a normal college student. And sugar babying isn’t so bad… right?
Seeking Arrangement’s Instagram page features photos of the glamorized life of a sugar baby: dashing older men, loads of cash, designer shoes, handbags, and jewelry. But after taking off the rose-colored glasses and stepping into the actual life of a sugar baby, it becomes rapidly clear that most real-life sugar daddies are extremely misogynistic. The life of a sugar baby isn’t all fun and games (or in this case, Gucci and Prada).
One of Anna’s first sugar daddies was an art dealer who lived in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan. She was paid $500 for sexual relations, and was expected to stay over at his apartment from 10PM to 10AM. “He pretty much fucking treated me like the fucking maid,” Anna said, adding that he made her make the bed in the morning, but not before lint-rolling the sheets first. After they ate breakfast, he ordered her to clean the table and leave everything spotless. “I was just the fucking maid in the morning,” she said.
Anna explained that, in her experience, most sugar daddies “are just looking for ignorant girls… who don’t know any better [than] to just fuck them and go.” She says many sugar babies don’t know any better than to just have sex for pay. In Anna’s eyes, in order to be classified as a sugar baby rather than a prostitute, there should be relationship-esque qualities in the exchange. “[Sugar babies] are basically a live-in girlfriend. That is a fucking luxury service, and a lot of guys will try to cheat these girls out: sleep with them on the first date, and then give them like a hundred bucks. That’s completely wrong.”
She went on to explain some of the lessons she had to learn on her own: “You’re supposed to discuss allowance. They’re supposed to take you out to dinner in public, meet in a public place. You discuss money first, and a lot of them will not be down for that.”
Seeking Arrangement has popularized the concept that sugar daddies are debonair, successful businessmen who simply do not have time to go out looking for women. While this may be true of a select few, the reality is that the majority of sugar daddies need to pay girls to date them because they are emotionally abusive. By hiring a sugar baby, men are essentially paying off the emotional commitment that comes with healthy relationships. Wealth, the glamorization of sugar daddies, and sites like Seeking Arrangement provide wealthy men with an outlet that facilitates and validates obtaining young girlfriends — while this exchange benefits some young women, it also has the potential to be emotionally abusive. Anyone interested in becoming a sugar baby should carefully consider their decision.
Anna says she puts on a new persona when she goes on dates with sugar daddies. She becomes the misogynistic ideal of feminine qualities older men idolize. When meeting a potential daddy, Anna wears short, tight dresses with heels; rather than the hippie style, flared jeans and cropped shirts she opts for on a day-to-day basis. She spends hours straightening the curls out of her blue hair, layering on foundation, outlining her eyes, elongating her lashes, and applying lipstick before going out on dates.
“As a sugar baby, I believe that I should be allowed to be who I am, but you can’t fucking do that. It’s a business. I’m here to make money… It does become hard,” she admits.
Getting paid for sexual acts is an intrinsic aspect of sugar babying for most people in the trade, which creates marked parallels to prostitution. But the term “sugar baby” undoubtedly softens the occupation. By softening the occupation, joking about entering the business becomes a normalized topic, and this makes it easier for people to transition into that line of work.
If you decide to become a sugar baby, remember to stay safe. Meet in a public place, and don’t forget to tell a friend where you’re going and who you’re meeting with.