Campus, News

Money for sugar: BU students turn to dating for extra cash

Gina is a sugar baby to help pay her tuition. PHOTO BY CHLOE GRINBERG/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Gina is not a student who spends money on frivolous things. Her hunter green Columbia backpack is well-worn and her nails look chipped and broken. Finding ways to pay for Boston University’s tuition has often been at the front of her mind — and she’s turned to dating wealthy, older men to do so.

“School is always going to be No. 1 for me, but paying for it will always be No. 2,” said the student, who will be referred to in this article as Gina for privacy reasons.

Gina was a freshman in college when she signed up for a SeekingArrangement profile as a so-called “sugar baby,” a term the site uses to describe “attractive people looking for the finer things in life.” SeekingArrangement is one of several sites that seek to connect these people with similar goals to “sugar parents,” or “successful men and women who know what they want … money isn’t an issue, thus they are generous when it comes to supporting a sugar baby.”

Gina is one of more than 300 sugar babies at BU registered on SeekingArrangement, according to Josette D’Espyne, a spokeswoman for SeekingArrangement. This makes BU No. 27 on SeekingArrangement’s list of fastest growing sugar baby schools in the nation, D’Espyne wrote in an email. Other Boston area universities, including the University of Massachusetts and Northeastern University, also made the list, at No. 48 and No. 68, respectively.

In a series of interviews, The Daily Free Press found that BU students become sugar babies for a variety of reasons — to pay for college, go on trips, buy expensive clothing or to have someone who’s looking out for them. Three BU sugar babies who were interviewed said that although spending a few hours with an older companion for a few hundred dollars seems easy enough, the sugar babies know they could — and sometimes do — find themselves in dangerous situations. Despite the risks, the sugar babies continue to date older people as a way of earning money.

Gina said she first met up with a man in his 40s who works in tech, who she found through SeekingArrangement. Their first date seemed almost normal to her — they went to a coffee shop and had polite conversation. Then he paid for her drink, as well as her company.

“Right off the bat, he gave me 80 bucks just for having coffee with him,” Gina said. “I was like ‘OK, this could work.’”

Her relationship with this man eventually became intimate. He paid up to $800 a month to meet with her in a hotel room and have sex. Still, he wasn’t a steady source of income for Gina — he had a wife, and was often traveling for business.

For others, like Stephanie, another BU student who requested her identity remain anonymous for privacy reasons, the site allows them a bit more luxury.

In short, Stephanie is polished — she has a structured leather purse cradled in the bend of her arm, and what she says is a $300 ring on her right hand. She, unlike Gina, goes on casual dates where only touching is allowed. She claims she has never accepted less than $300 for a lunch date.

Stephanie has been on SeekingArrangement since she was in high school, but said she still doesn’t feel completely safe using the site. She markets herself as a “girlfriend” on SeekingArrangement, and has never agreed to sex with a sugar daddy, fearing it could turn dangerous. However, she said if it were not for the laws around prostitution, she would consider it.

Being a sugar daddy isn’t illegal until there’s money on the table for a direct exchange of sexual activity. But Alison Bass, a former Boston Globe reporter and professor who has done extensive research on sex work, said there’s often little difference between being a sugar baby and a sex worker, other than societal perception.

Regardless, Bass said, with “sugaring,” comes a power structure.

“If the woman is doing it of her own free will and she is over the age of 18, then of course there’s a power dynamic, but she is consenting to it,” she said. “Is there danger? Yes. Some men feel like they could do whatever they want because they’re paying.”

Stephanie said she takes precautions before she decides to meet with a sugar daddy. She will usually find information about a potential sugar daddy’s work and personal life by using their name, phone number or email to find their profiles on LinkedIn or Facebook.

She first joined the site to pay for a trip to Spain while in high school. She went on lunch and dinner dates and says she received up to $1,200 per date just for offering sugar daddies her companionship. Since then, Stephanie said she has used the money she’s made being a sugar baby to fund trips to Walt Disney World and to fly her friends into her hometown in Pennsylvania.

“Do I consider myself vapid, interested in 45-year-old men? No,” she said. “But will I play the part for $1,000? Yeah.”

And it seems a growing number of young people feel the same way. SeekingArrangement’s D’Espyne wrote that since 2016, the site has seen a 19 percent increase in users.

Carmen Rowe, a doctoral candidate in sociology at BU, has focused part of her research on sugar babies. She interviewed 16 women engaged in sugaring, and all but one were either starting college, in college or recently graduated.

“[W]hile not a representative sample, it reinforces this sense that sugaring may be particularly a trend among young college women,” Rowe wrote in an email.

She explained that BU’s tuition increase might be a motivation for someone to become a sugar baby, especially because sugaring offers college students the potential to earn more money than typical jobs might.

“Tuition and student loan costs are a major concern facing college students and recent graduates, and these costs [are] continue to rise,” she wrote.

Targeted advertisement, like SeekingArrangement’s “Sugar Baby University” online campaign which promotes the idea of sugaring to pay for tuition, may also be a factor in the popularity of the site among college students, Rowe wrote.

Rowe explained that when SeekingArrangement uses targeted advertising toward college-aged women, “there is certainly a financial incentive to it – tuition and student loan costs are a major concern facing college students and recent graduates, and these costs continue to rise.”

BU spokesman Colin Riley wrote in an email he had “no comment” on the subject of sugar babies at the university.

Gina said she primarily pays for her tuition through scholarships, and even has a “regular” job as a concierge. But that does not cover all of her expenses — including food, housing and textbooks — so she signed up for a SeekingArrangement profile when she was 18. Now, Gina said she sees multiple sugar daddies. Although she said the money is good, she’s aware of the precarious nature of her work.

“I know what risks I am in, in terms of physical safety,” she said. “I have to trust these men, and if something wrong happens, there are not really any options other than not contacting them again.”

Alexis Germany, a spokeswoman for SeekingArrangement, wrote in an email that sugar babies who have been assaulted or have been in dangerous situations should contact law enforcement, and that the company would provide any assistance necessary.

SeekingArrangement is similar to any other dating platform out there, Germany added.

“We have created a place for like-minded individuals to connect, but like any website we cannot control what happens offline,” Germany wrote.

SeekingArrangement caters to young people who are in financial need. Sugar babies are provided a free basic account with full access — something that sugar daddies have to pay a monthly fee to access.

Some sugar babies like to present themselves as goal-driven, and though they tell their sugar daddies they need money for tuition, they actually spend it elsewhere, Rowe wrote. This technique was promoted by “Let’s Talk Sugar,” a website that is linked throughout SeekingArrangement, by advising sugar babies to be “goal-diggers” and not “gold-diggers.”

Stephanie said that although she has used the money she earned on the site to pay off her student account balance at times, it wasn’t her initial motivation. She meets with sugar daddies to earn supplemental money.

Gina put The Daily Free Press in contact with one of her sugar daddies — a 39-year-old tech worker. He wrote in an email that he has been on the site for four years, and that he does not look for sugar babies who have vices he considers negative.

“[I’m looking for] someone who is doing this for a positive reason; they aren’t in a desperate situation looking for money, feeding an addiction,” the sugar daddy, who asked to be kept anonymous for privacy reasons, wrote.

However, he added, some men on the site have intentions to harm.

“There are guys out there moving through the world with enough money to do whatever they want; they move through escorts, massage parlor girls, sugar babies with the same disregard for the person; it’s all about what they can do to or with that person using their money and power,” he wrote.

While men make up a smaller portion of sugar babies — 17 percent in the United States according to the numbers provided by SeekingArrangement — they still look for sugar daddies and “sugar mamas” in similar ways.

Michael once made $500 on a date. PHOTO BY CYNTHIA FERNANDEZ/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Michael, a junior at BU who also requested anonymity for privacy reasons, said he was 17 when he found himself alone and broke and trying to finish high school, so he became a part of that 17 percent.

His senior year of high school, Michael found himself unsupported by his family. He was trying to find a way to make ends meet when he encountered a woman who was visiting the area on vacation, and “one thing led to another.”

Michael said he left with $500 — this was the first time he was paid for sex. The woman came back a second time with her husband and another $500, he said, and encouraged him to continue accepting money for sex.

This income is what turned Michael on to the idea of becoming a sugar baby. After he graduated from high school, he found out he could find sugar parents online through Craigslist.

He began watching movies with an older man for $300 a night. Eventually, he was paid $500 per visit, but the friendship had turned awry. The man would incessantly contact Michael and leave him packages of clothes at his family’s home until Michael cut him off because he said he had begun to feel unsafe.

Michael eventually applied to BU, where he began looking for Boston sugar parents through Craigslist and OkCupid, he said.

“I’ve tried [SeekingArrangement], there aren’t many women there, it’s mostly men and nothing else,” Michael said. “SeekingArrangement doesn’t work for guys unless you’re gay.”

On OkCupid, a traditional dating site, Michael met his current sugar mama, a 42-year-old businesswoman. She took interest in his goals and education and decided to help him financially, including paying for him to attend workshops at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he said.

“It’s almost motherly, like a weird mentor,” Michael said. “She’s grooming me to be something.”

He said he’s also currently seeing a sugar daddy — a retired Harvard professor — up to four times a month for casual dates.

Michael has used the money he’s made to help pay his tuition and buy textbooks. One couple even gave him the computer he uses. He has used the money he makes being a sugar baby to pay his student account balance and other expenses like books and plane tickets to and from orientation.

In November, SeekingArrangement updated their terms of use agreement to include that the company would not be liable to damages of any kind, including negligence, that arise from disputes between users. The terms also claim that SeekingArrangement is not responsible for any “bodily injury, emotional distress … resulting from communications or meetings with other members of the service.”

Gina is one of more than 300 sugar babies at BU. PHOTO BY CHLOE GRINBERG/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

In response to the new terms of agreement, Gina said that if someone on the site hurts her, there is not much she can do other than report the user.

“I accept that there are certain risks in meeting these individuals and although they should be held accountable for any wrongdoings, it is not realistic in this sort of situation since reporting to the police could put myself at risk as well. Rich people often get away with quite a lot and this shows that,” she wrote in an email.

When contacted about what caused the changes in the terms of agreement, Germany said that they will still cooperate with the law, and that “Our updated terms of use are in line with industry standards.”

But Gina still encouraged people not to become sugar babies unless they have to.

“You can have nice sex with boys your own age. It’s really easy to write these people off as hookers and say that I have no morals or self-esteem,” she said. “Maybe to an extent that’s true, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Easy money is easy and it can get addictive.”

 





15 Comments

  1. This was awfully long-winded to basically say some BU students are prostitutes.

    • The best sugar daddies and sugar babies dating site is http://www.sugardaddyallowance.com

    • Hi – is that really all you got from this?

      You didn’t garner any new knowledge about struggles and vulnerability that students who approach sugaring or sex work face? You didn’t see any new discussion about re-defining of traditional monogamous relationships? You completely missed the notion of power dynamics and how the violence which these students are at risk for is perpetrated by the fact that society expects (and find it acceptable that) ‘prostitutes’ or those involved with the sex industry to experience violence? To be honest, i’m spooked that “tHe DUdE”missed all these points.

  2. Great article! It reveals the very truth about the trending sugar baby lifestyle in an unbiased way. I love your writing style, Cynthia. If you see this comment, can you get back to me at [email protected]. I’m looking for content writers and bloggers who can be long-term win-win partners.

    • Stop preying on people in financial difficulties and get out of our online space #exploitation.

  3. that’s really a lot of cash,
    see more statistics here: https://1milliondating.com/dating-statistics/

  4. Hmmmm… dating? Is that what you kids are calling it these days?

  5. I’m sorry but times have always been hard….looks like just an excuse…if you can not afford the tuition there are plenty of cheaper colleges to attend. The problem with our youth today is they feel they are entitled …No One is Entitled…There have always been IVY League Colleges and Colleges…both give you what you put into it…Call it what you want now a days but it still comes down to sex for money and in my day it was called prostitution which is illegal….

    • -I disagree that no one is entitled to anything, but hey you’re entitled to your own opin- oh wait

      -A lot of people value a high class education and don’t see a ‘cheaper college’ as an option. The resources BU provides, their research labs, faculty, connections, etc. enrich a student’s education in ways that value it way over your underfunded, frat-focused, $1,000,000-a-coach mom and pop state school.

      -I’m not the type of person who would ever do this. I’ve made my own choice: I’d rather be in debt to banks for years, and I cover my daily expenses by working on campus. I’m also not going to judge those in the article for making their own choices because frankly I don’t know their life.

    • Hi,

      First, chill with this ‘entitlement’ stuff. The ‘youth today’ work hard ever single day to not lose their minds in this horribly violent, poverty-striken world which all the other generations before us have created.

      Second, I wanted to write you on the ‘prostitution which is illegal’ thing your wrote. You need to be more careful, because, for instance, pornography (inclusive of industry titans like pornhub, as well as individual performers who do ‘cam work’) is completely legal but happens in front of a camera. In those financial exchanges, people are being paid to have sex with one another, and are relatively unregulated. Further, ‘prostitution’ as you called it shouldn’t be illegal, and here’s why:

      The illegality of sex work makes working conditions violent and extremely risky.

      – Financial exchanges with sex for money have always been a thing, and criminalization just makes the practice stigmatizing and risky. Further, if people have to move to sex work for money or to maintain resources to survive (i.e. housing, food), they will and by outlawing this practice we end up putting them at more risk.
      -Sex workers can be denied payment for their services without any ability to seek financial retribution.
      – In the event that workers experience violence (i.e. theft, stalking, sexual assault) while on the job, they can’t report it or obtain justice.
      – Police and other law enforcement groups have a history of sexually harassing and assaulting sex workers, while also committing violence (via arbitrary arrest, ticketing, etc.) towards them.

  6. “Not someone to spend money on frivolous things” then proceeds to do precisely that.
    Way to sell out for your morals, “Gina” – of course not your real name because people would call you out on that, wouldn’t they?

  7. Ik snap dat je hier niet op kan reageren, maar ik vind het hebben van een sugar daddy helemaal niet verkeerd. Sugar daddies zijn er nu eenmaal en ik vind dan ook dat het moet kunnen. Het is toch een relatie met wederzijdse toestemming? Ik vind dat alle meisjes moeten kunnen bepalen wat kan of wat niet kan in sugar daddy ervaringen. Een sugar daddy is iemand die jonge knappe meisjes betaald voor hun gezelschap, en dit bedrag kan aardig oplopen. Sugardaddy is geen taboe maar een noodzaak voor veel jonge meisjes.

  8. This only my own personal opinion.
    I think this form of “prostitution” is downright dangerous and outright illegal in any country of the world. Young women(and boys) put themselves in harm’s way,because there are a lot of mentally unstable
    individuals who take advantage of these girls’ needs. That’s why we always see those horrible news on the newspapers! If you know what I mean: working girls killed by their “Johns”. In short, it’s too dangerous!

    • Hi Toni,

      I agree with you about the danger, however, ‘prostitution’ and sugaring are only dangerous because of it’s illegality and social stigma. We need to support students (or anyone, frankly) who are working in this field so they have resources in place should they need them. Additionally, we need to work on breaking down the “I paid for this so I own/control you now” kind of mentality which society gives to people (particularly men) and instead uplift a message of “your body is yours and no one is allowed to violate that.”

  9. Cynthia – thank you for this article. I am profoundly grateful for you elevating these folks voices, and letting them state their experiences. Please keep us updated with this story (and, if they’re comfortable, the people within the story).

    Gina and all folks sugaring – thank you for you. I’m so sorry your labour is abused and that you remain as an at-risk population. Two on-campus resources are SARP and the Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism. After some fact-checking, SARP provides services to anyone who has experienced sexual trauma, regardless of the context in which it happens – they can be reached through patient connect and have a 24-hour hotline . The Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism is a student-run collective that serves as a resource center and can be found in the basement of the GSU (confidentially reach out to them at [email protected]). We are stronger together, and if you need anything at all, I’d reach out to those resources. Regardless of all this, I hope you both make bank these last few months before the semesters ends and find time to take care of yourselves too. Much love and support, good luck!