The kind of sugar dating you’re imagining here is probably nubile. But the reality is that men and women often seek out sex-for-patronage situations as a way to get their utility bills paid.
But what is sugar dating?
Sugar dating is a type of transactional relationship. A person in such a romantic/sexual relationship may receive cash, gifts or other benefits in exchange for being in the relationship with a wealthy man.
Two women who have “dated sugar” — Julia, a recent college grad with a full-time job, and Fancy, a 33-year-old doctoral student. They said …
1. Yes, This Is Sex Work
There are some exceptions to the sex requirement. Fancy has gotten the occasional straightforward “companion” gig. “I had a guy who gave me $2,000 a week just to hang out with him and drink wine and listen to him cry about his ex.” You can debate among yourselves whether such an arrangement should actually pay more.
Fancy takes screenshots of initial interactions with sugar daddies, and always gets some form of written documentation (generally an email exchange). And then she avoids much in the way of messaging after that. “I don’t want to be a part of their life. If things go sideways and they decide to report me to police, I want the least amount of information on their person as possible.”
“Just the nature of these kinds of transactional relationships is really tenuous,” she adds. “It’s obviously much more dangerous for the woman involved … it’s always the providers who get busted, it’s never the clients.”
Before she met potential sugar daddies in person, Fancy made a point of getting their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles. She’d also use apps that allowed her to pay for more thorough online background checks.
She also had to take steps to make sure she wasn’t being exploited. “I would never hang out with anyone, or do emotional labor like texting a bunch, for free,” she explains. “I usually only exchanged five messages to establish that we were looking for the same thing. I’d get some kind of show of good faith upfront, because these guys, a lot of them are just weirdos looking for free sex, and they’ll promise you money down the line.”
“There’s this kind of prevalent idea that female sex workers are just looking to rob guys,” Fancy says, “so the guys on there are already pretty distrusting. It sucks. It’s this whole back and forth trying to figure out if someone’s legit before wasting time and money. It adds another weird layer to an already weird dynamic of online dating.”
4. It Emphasizes The Unseen Labor of Sex Work
“The thing about sex work is that 90% of it is invisible,” says Fancy. “You have to get professional photos taken. You have to always have your nails done, always wear something nice. That’s expensive and time-consuming. A lot of that labor, finding him, all that’s invisible to the sugar daddies. In their minds, it’s like, ‘I pay them so much just to hang out with me!'”
Julia found a way around this by entering into an unconventional (but decidedly sugar) live-in arrangement with a friend. Everything was negotiated in advance. They even had a contract which stipulated what he paid for, the length of the arrangement, and the fact that it was monogamous.
And no, this wasn’t some romantic comedy scenario in which they soon realized they were in actually love. Julia had no interest in extending beyond the original six-month term. That part of it was nothing but a job.
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Julia admits that she sometimes ignored safety concerns in favor of making those pesky ends meet. In one case, a guy pestered Julia so much after the fact that she had to change her phone number.
Fancy was in a better financial situation and could be more selective about partners. Not that sugar dating — or any kind of sex work — will ever be perfectly safe. “Being alone with a man is being alone with a man,” says Fancy, “and they don’t see a difference between a sugar baby and an escort.
Both of our sources recently made the decision to quit sugar dating. Julia got a promotion at her day job, while Fancy decided that the profit wasn’t worth it compared to traditional escorting and stripping. She points out that higher-end escorts tend to charge at least $2,000 for overnight stays. In her experience, that amount is at the upper end of the monthly allowances sugar daddies offer — and for escorts, those overnight stays don’t require the devotion, time, and attention that often accompany a sugar arrangement. So she switched to more traditional full-service sex work.
Not long after Fancy made that switch, Congress put through the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), which have effectively criminalized the online spaces sex workers have long used to vet potential clients and ensure their own safety.