Issue cover by Tara Thomas/Art Director

The Sweet Life of Sugar Dating

How dating for financial benefit is becoming a college-age trend

By Matthew Gozzip Staff Writer

“Welcome back to class my shining students,” bellowed the professor, attempting to jolt the drooping heads of a half-filled lecture hall awake. It’s another dreary midweek morning course situated under the sharp glow of flickering fluorescent lights well past their half life.

Most of the students in the front row yawn and stretch except for one woman with an undeniable cheerfulness. She prepares her materials to a rhythmic hum, gliding her fingers across notebooks with a dexterity most people can’t muster this early in the day. In the midst of the unpacking, the woman rearranges her bag, inadvertently revealing a pair of brand new headphones with a mysterious envelope attached to them.

“What did you all do for the weekend?”, asked the professor. The woman beamed with a thousand watt smile, reminiscing on the impossible chain of events that lead to her semester tuition paid off in a matter of a months.

No one knows that this woman,  alias “Jazi”, is a rising member in the world of “sugar dating,” a style of dating in which wealthy people pay for the companionship of someone else under set guidelines. It may seem like an odd proposal at first, but “sugar” is quickly becoming a more commonly used ingredient to kickstart people’s dreams.

References of “sugar daddies” and “sugar mommas,” the slang term for benefactors, are fabled in pop culture references but mostly operated in the realm of urban myth. However, participation in sugar dating has grown exponentially over the past decade with the creation of sugar dating websites, notably the industry vanguard

There are over 10 million members on Seeking Arrangement alone, eight million of whom are beneficiaries known as the female “sugar babies,” and the male “sugar puppies.”

Increasing enrollment in these websites is powered by a distinct demographic: college students. According to latest data released from Seeking Arrangement in 2014, a staggering 44 percent sugar babies on the site are in college, a number that continues to inflate annually.

And the growth isn’t just concentrated in certain areas. There are schools in every region of the country with sugar baby communities including Arizona State University, New York University, The University of Alabama, University of Minnesota and University of California, Berkeley, all of which are among the top 20 schools in student growth rate for 2017.

“The arrangements I’ve been in are genuine matches where we benefit ‘with’ each other, not from. When I first talked to my friend about arrangements, I realized ‘what’s the difference between this and dating, except I’m getting paid?’ said Jazi.

Jazi, 22, is a communication studies major at Long Beach State University and is set to graduate within the next year. Although she is academically accomplished, Jazi constantly grapples with financial constraints on top of studying, working and balancing a social life under a shrinking time window as post-grad looms large.  After a particularly frustrating break up, Jazi decided to look into sugar dating as a wide-reaching solution to all these issues.

“Sugar dating played around in my head for a while but I finally decided I needed a change”, said Jazi. “I realized that this could be a real option. I have a background in understanding relationships, and I know that I’m a good communicator that a set of skills to sell. In terms of companionship and interpersonal relationships, why not try to monetize my abilities?”

What was intended as an initial trial run on Seeking Arrangement quickly evolved into an arrangement that Jazi was interested in. Following the disclaimers of the website, Jazi created her new alias and set up an email account and phone number to insure security.

Four months later, Jazi has been in two sugar relationships with younger sugar daddies. The arrangements were fortuitous for Jazi and her partners because of their ability to meet a reasonable arrangement.

These allowances are why so many college students have begun to flock to sugar dating websites. School is getting more expensive and doesn’t appear to be getting affordable anytime soon.

As previously mentioned before, creating conditions for arrangements is an important part of any sugar relationship, unlike conventional relationships. In conventional relationships, there is no explicit communication of needs, desire and expectations. It requires a large time investment to clarify these things and even then there might be misinterpretations. In arrangements, this social obstacle is lifted and the two parties directly talk about what they desire, instead of guessing. Formal terminology aside, arrangements operate under structures more similar to a “friends with benefits” style relationship.

“The arrangements I’ve been in are genuine matches where we benefit ‘with’ each other, not from. When I first talked to my friend about arrangements, I realized ‘what’s the difference between this and dating, except I’m getting paid?’ said Jazi.

Sugar beneficiaries begin the arrangement definition process by establishing an expected financial compensation for services they are comfortable with such as going on dates or attending formal events. Arrangement “allowances” fluctuate based on experience and the basic requirements that are listed on the profiles of members. The average allowance hovers around $2,500 dollars a month for a standard sugar relationship.

Sugar benefactors then counter with their own expectations, what they desire out of a suitable companion. Physical intimacy is not a requirement in an arrangement, in an important distinction that separates it from simply being an iteration of a call service or escort, though there have been troubling behaviors of members before that will be addressed later on in this piece.

“It’s nice I’m getting control over my finances and having the power to negotiate what my time is worth with someone who thinks I am valuable in multiple ways,” said Jazi.

Jazi’s first arrangement was a $1,000 monthly allowance, awarded in cash and gift cards since most exchanges are not performed electronically for security purposes. For relative comparison, semester tuition for a full-time student (seven or more units) at LBSU currently stands at $3,400, a sum significantly less intimidating when paid off through allowances. Though it seems marginal compared to other exorbitant allowances, Jazi paid off a large amount of her semester tuition, easing one of her biggest concerns as a student.

“There are two ways you can go about this. This is a job for people, their main source of income in a non-traditional way. Another path, my path, is a college student with crippling debt. After graduation it’s going to be hard to find a job, whilst finding a position that is what we truly want to do as a profession. These allowances aren’t just direct relief - it is money I can actually invest instead of use to repay loans.”

These allowances are why so many college students have begun to flock to sugar dating websites. School is getting more expensive and doesn’t appear to be getting affordable anytime soon. According to Federal Reserve, student debt suprassed credit card debt in the past few years, reaching $1.5 trillion. Looking at this issue more specifically for graduates from California colleges, the average student debt for the Class of 2016 is over $22,000.

Several California colleges appeared on Seeking Arrangement’s top 100 list of  largest sugar baby communities in 2017 including San Francisco State, UCLA, USC and UC Riverside. LBSU doesn’t have enough sugar babies to register yet on the list but the neighboring state school, Cal State Fullerton, recently placed 78th on the list with 237 sugar babies. It’s only a matter of when, not if, the sugar dating community expands locally.

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Those with preconceived notions about sugar dating may picture a sugar daddy as a disgusting old man, only looking for some action at the expense of a young, helpless woman. The relationship has often been equated to prostitution as well, although that isn’t always the case.

“Being a sugar baby, you will get to know your partner intimately”, said Jazi.

“They are an actual person to you in a relationship. Call girls, escorts and prostitutes are focused on sex and limited parts of the relationship. Those are empowering things too and they aren’t wrong. Arrangements instead offer a more emotional connection in being a companion, while still feeling empowered.”

Most relationships in the sugar business are marketed as being mutually beneficial. While babies are given allowances and pampered, sugar daddies are also trying to find an arrangement that is more than just sex.

“The arrangement part of this should feel less transactional and more holistic/organic,” said “Sugarfixed,” an experienced sugar daddy and active participant in sugar dating forums such as the SugarLifestyleForum subreddit. “For me, the appeal of sugar dating is that it's not a pure business play, but rather more about making connections in conjunction with helping to support those connections.”

Sugarfixed uses Reddit and other forums to advise babies on multiple aspects of the community since it is such a complex social landscape. Benefactors often feel like they’re supporting their beneficiaries personal causes in exchange for attention in their companionship, the collaboration online as part of the support.

As stated on Seeking Arrangement, women who join have an opportunity to find a mentor. Babies are often encouraged to find a partner that they can benefit from in more than just direct financial compensation. Depending on who the baby aligns themselves with, they can learn new things from benefactors who are usually experienced and successful in their respective fields.

Personal growth and finding mutually fulfilling relationships are components that the community seemingly takes very seriously, as many benefactors feel that the relationship shouldn’t be limited to just sex for cash. Relationships should be formed among like-minded individuals, where they can both gain something valuable from their partner.

“Given the choice, we’d rather have our money go towards your rent, tuition, student loans, bills, or even groceries not Louboutins or Chanel purses”, said “Enygma44”, another sugar daddy that contributes on the SugarLifestyleForm subreddit. “Sure, we love to surprise you with gifts,  dinners, and trips, but helping you achieve your own dreams and goals is even more fulfilling.”

This is specifically emphasized in Seeking Arrangements’ blog, in a post titled “8 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Entering the Sugar Bowl.” The post reads, “You are actively seeking a relationship on your terms that aligns with someone else’s terms, and that’s it.”

Just as in regular relationships, both the men and women can choose whether or not they want to go into business with one another. If a woman doesn’t like what a man is offering, she can look elsewhere to someone who will meet her demands, and vice-versa for the men.

Arrangements work primarily because of strong communication and natural chemistry, less of a formal transaction and more of a genuine appreciation for each other.

“The main challenge started when I sifted through all the profiles to see who I could connect with,” said Jazi. “Some profiles were scammers or sought after sex at a discounted rate [compared to prostitutes] nothing more. I want to be a companion to someone. [Sugar benefactors] are people who are busy all the time and don’t have time for regular dating but want the comforts of a relationship. We are here to give them that.”

When does the sweetness sour?

While there can be benefits to a sugar relationship, there are also legitimate reasons to be weary of how they work.

A major debate has arisen on whether arrangements are ethical and if sugar dating normalizes the economic disparity between men and women already. This system reinforces some of the oppressive attitudes in patriarchal structures.

Sugar dating distracts attention from other systemic issues, such as the fact that sex work is being increasingly marketed as one of the few viable options to fund an education.

In an article about sugar baby growth from the Free Times in Southern Carolina,  Professor Drucilla Barker of the Women and Gender Studies Department from the University of Southern Carolina dissected the patriarchal structures that keep arrangements from being an ethical option.

“I understand perfectly and have no moral judgement of the choices of young women to do this,” said Barker. “However, I am making a serious ethical judgement about a system that loads people with this kind of debt burden that they would have to result to essentially what is prostitution to get out of their debts.”

Sugar dating distracts attention from other systemic issues, such as the fact that sex work is being increasingly marketed as one of the few viable options to fund an education. Selling sex is up to a person’s discretion, but if sugar dating becomes the primary mode of financing the pursuit of one’s dreams there are more glaring issues with how expensive education is.

Jazi and many sugar babies do directly benefit financially from arrangements but oftentimes have to be secretive about them or they risk persecution from a society that still stigmatizes anybody who is in a sugar relationship.

“It’s made me think about the stigmas in sex work and whether this is ethical”, said Jazi. “This is a system and structure in place that is oppressive, in many aspects. Arrangements are a form of sex work and I’m not sure if I will ever be able to talk about arrangement without endangering my reputation. The patriarchal structures of men providing and women being reliant on them is upsetting. Still, being able to still pursue what I want within this broken system is something I choose to deal with to be able to succeed.”

Seeking Arrangement denies that they are an escort service since they only provide a matchmaking service and want to “level the playing field.” Many disagree that sugar dating is a mutual form of respect.

“I think that’s the biggest crock of BS I’ve ever heard in my life,” said Barker. “They don’t enter it from a level playing field. The procuror of sex, in this case the man, enters it with a really large advantage in his income and wealth.”

Sugar dating may never be perfect, and it realistically doesn’t have to be. For beneficiaries like Jazi, this alternative has opened doors that otherwise wouldn’t exist, but as the lifestyle continues to grow, a slew of issues will follow. While increases in debt continue to cripple young Americans, college students will be willing to overlook any downfalls in favor of paying their bills and securing a better future.



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