Former sugar baby and current Deakin University student Jacolyn*’s venture into “sugar daddy” dating websites saw her earn $3000 in a weekend, a lucrative arrangement with an AFL football player and the freedom to quit her job to focus on high school.
The trade-off? Cash for companionship.
The contentious relationship between “sugar babies” and “sugar daddies” extends somewhat into a legal grey area; neither sex work, nor ‘traditional’ dating. “Sugaring” typically invites the young and attractive into negotiation with a sugar daddy, and “sugar daddies” are most regularly frequent-flying businessmen lacking time for traditional relationships.
Jacolyn*, 17 at the time, says she had four sugar daddies overall whom she found on Australian website SugarDaddyMeet.com. Some she saw more often than others, depending on the money.
“I was sugar babying on and off for months, basically whenever I was poor.” she says.
“Having a sugar daddy while being at school helped a lot. I quit my job in Year 12 to focus on my schooling. I was able to help my parents out as well, and buy all my friends gifts.”
She likens sugar babying to a regular job; in seeing at least one sugar daddy two or three times every second week, Jacolyn amassed what seemed a small fortune – $6000 – to attend private lunches and dinners, and be chaperoned on shopping sprees, to which she’d make $400 to $500 each time.
“I think people are misinformed,” she says. “They assume if you’re seeing someone for an arrangement then you have to be having sex with them, like it’s prostitution. If I’m not having sex with him, I don’t see a problem.”
Though there were “definitely men with fetishes” who expected sex from her, Jacolyn says she made sugar babying her own with an AFL football player from the site without ever being coerced into sex.
“The youngest daddy I had was 21, and a footballer. I had to keep that arrangement quiet for obvious reasons.” she says.
“He was on the website under a false name, so when he told me who he was I thought it was a joke. Then he sent me a picture of him with my name on it, so I decided to meet him.”
“The way he looked, he could have any girl. So I’m not really sure why he was on there, but I do know he had some sort of fetish involving buying pictures of girls,” she says.
According to Seeking Arrangement, a 20-million plus user dating website created in 2006, transactional relationships that exchange companionship for material goods empower women to “seek relationships that satisfy their preferences”.
The website says hypergamy, or the act of prioritizing wealth or social status in relationships, is a “healthy and natural human phenomenon which can lead to long-lasting mutually beneficial relationships” and is “one solution to the complex problem of mate selection”.
Seeking, formerly Seeking Arrangement, boasts 177, 500 Australian university student members, who receive $3000 a month on average from sugar daddies; a number which has risen a staggering 42 percent in the last year.
Bella*, a 19-year old Swinburne University student, used to be among the student members when she used Seeking Arrangement for “a few months” to supplement her income whilst studying. She’s dolled-up in every way possible; in a tailored outfit, diamond earrings and flawless makeup, she’s dressed exactly how her former sugar daddies wanted.
She said the men she met had agreed upon non-sexual arrangements – but she garnered strange requests in lieu of sex.
“The daddies I met were very particular about what I would wear,” she says. “One particular man had a calf fetish, so I was asked to wear a very short dress and high heels, and to have my nails manicured. He said it did a lot for him.”
“We were in a hotel room and he sat there feeling my calves. I was only there for 15 minutes because he asked me to take my dress off, even though we had a non-sexual arrangement.”
She recalls her cultural background was a key factor in securing certain sugar daddies.
“A lot of people approached me with Asian fetishes given my ethnicity.” she said. “So, I thought I might as well capitalise on it.”
Now a media student, she said she had a particular daddy who owned a successful cosmetics clinic, who offered her unlimited lip filler, facials, spray tan and beauty treatments.
Keeping her relationships discreet, she says, was paramount for both her and her prospective partners whom she met first in bars; one man offering “$250 per week for an hour of [her] time”.
“Discretion was a big thing. The first man I met had a big puffer jacket with a hood on, and he met me in a lift incognito,” she says.
“We weren’t a convincing couple at all,” she said. “Given how he had me dressed at 4pm on a Wednesday, it was obvious his demeanour said ‘I’m doing something wrong’.”
Despite the glamorous events, the lucrative allowances, holidays and gifts, there remains a dark underside to the world of sugar babying. Chosen for erotic appeal and relied on for emotional labor, sugar babies face the possibility of psychological damage and coercion into sex.
One expert believes the nature of transactional ‘sugar’ relationships is inherently sexual; regardless of any practiced sexual component, the act of sugar babying exists in a legal grey area that errs on the side of prostitution, devoid of any regulation or rules.
“There is clearly a connection between systems of prostitution that we would usually recognise as such – for example escorting, or brothel prostitution – and the structure of ‘sugar baby relationships’,” says Dr Meagan Tyler, Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow at RMIT.
“It plays into the existing power dynamics of heterosexuality,” she says. “Men are culturally constructed as being dominant and in control, and women are constructed as existing to meet those needs.”
Dr Tyler warns that, “even if that access is not always explicitly to perform sexual acts of any kind, [arrangements] most definitely have a sexualised element.”
“Men gain sexualised access to women that they feel they could not without an element of economic coercion, and women gain access to material things that they likely would not have the wealth to access otherwise. It’s a perfect example of patriarchal capitalism,” she says.
Dr Tyler says she believes that the leveraging of a sugar baby’s erotic capital and the ambiguity between arrangements and sex work can lead to irrevocable damage later.
“We recognise other forms of sexual coercion, even men repeatedly propositioning women, to be harmful, and contributing to a culture where women are gaslit into not trusting their own boundaries, wants and needs,” she says.
“So, if we think that is damaging, we can’t accept sugar baby arrangements as harmless”.
She’s the typical girl-next-door; but her look is for a very specific type of man she caters to.
Emma*, a former sugar baby and current escort, learnt the pitfalls of the sugar baby lifestyle over a period of six months where she gave what she describes as a “girlfriend experience”.
“I had decided by the end of it that there was too much emotional labour for not enough gain, which is what brought me into escorting. I’ve found it much more profitable,” she says.
“There was a certain level of expectation from the men that I met for sex and physical return. At the same time, I think these men feel jaded given the demands from sugar babies.”
“With escorting, I can give a clear indication of how much my time costs and what my price is”.
She recalls after her first arrangement, $1000 a month for dinner and sex, a confronting experience with one man led her to pursue escorting full time.
She says, “I had a bad experience where a sugar daddy wanted to pay me $10,000 to have sex with my brother. I told him I didn’t have one, so he asked me to come with him to watch someone else do it.”
Emma believes at its core, the relationship between sugar babies and sugar daddies is that of a “rent a girlfriend” experience; a no-strings-attached agreement where money can buy happiness.
“It’s like having a girlfriend for a night,” she says. “A girl who is totally infatuated and in love with you, a girl who won’t start a fight or get upset.”
“And then she’ll leave, and you don’t need to look after her when she’s sick, meet her parents, or do any of the parts of having a girlfriend that aren’t fun.”
*Names have been changed to protect privacy