Sex Work or a Real Relationship?
One Sugar Baby’s Story and Whether That Question Matters
Lauren is sick.
She’s lying on her bed with her chocolate lab, Steve. There’s a mug of tea on her bedside table, next to £50. Her hair is a rat’s nest.
“Dave is coming to pick me up and take care of me in half an hour,” she moans. “I’m not even close to ready yet.”
Fifteen minutes later, Lauren is sitting in front of her full-length mirror putting the final touches on her now heavily made-up face. This little blonde bombshell is eons away from the same girl I saw lying in bed in her PJ’s groaning in agony. She slides on her $500 white chiffon pea coat and $1,500 Louboutin boots, and struts down her apartment stairs and into one of Dave’s multiple Tesla cars.
Lauren, 20, and Dave, 50, have a complicated relationship. She sees him as a fatherly figure, one she has always been missing. He provides for her emotionally and financially, like a supportive dad. He is teaching her how to drive and taking her to Disneyworld next month. Dave is many things to Lauren, but the manner in which they met is far from family-friendly.
SeekingArrangement.com is a website where older men seek younger women’s company in exchange for financial assistance. In simpler terms, it’s an easy way for “Sugar Daddies” like Dave to find compatible “Sugar Babies,” like Lauren, for intimacy and entertainment purposes. To some, these arrangements are glorified sex work. Though it may start off as a business exchange, sometimes these relationships grow into something more.
“When we first got into it, it was more of an arrangement. Now feelings are definitely involved,” says Lauren of her relationship with Dave. “We’ve talked about cutting off my allowance a couple times and just seeing each other. This would take out that whole exchange aspect. That way he would have no dominance or control over me.”
But “talked about” is different than actually doing. It seems as though Lauren’s presence makes Dave feel in control—his troubled marriage and children (who are around Lauren’s age) cannot be helped by any amount of money. But buying time with a sweet, kindhearted and beautiful young woman can perhaps make him feel happy, or at least in control, for a short amount of time.
“It could be that her youth and beauty brings him a sense of being alive, beautiful and youthful,” says clinical psychologist Marie-Pascale Martorell. “Being with a younger woman sexually brings him a reassuring sense that he himself is still seductive.” This is called projection—Dave could be looking for something he has lost in Lauren.
Dave is an independent investor, and Lauren’s $1,500 monthly allowance is just the tip of the iceberg of her financial perks. Dave pays for Lauren’s rent, her Uber account, her Hydro bill and her CEGEP tuition.
“We go on a trip every month. I went to the Caribbean three times in two months,” says Lauren with pride. He also bought her Steve and gives her expensive gifts almost weekly.
“When we started seeing each other a lot, I thought it would be fair to get a higher monthly stipend, but Dave didn’t want to give me more money for me to just blow it all on shopping, so he proposed that I get involved in the stock market,” says Lauren. Dave buys her 1,000 shares every month—her money has almost tripled since August.
To a young woman like myself, Sugar Daddy/Sugar Baby relationships seem extraordinary, but contradictory. On one hand, there are the endless benefits. Having Dave’s wallet at her disposal allows Lauren to get an education she may not have sought otherwise. Travel and financial awareness are other forms of education, adding to her knowledge and worldliness. But when we boil it down, it looks like Lauren is trading sex for money.
SeekingArrangement.com advertises “no strings attached ” relationships. Big, bold letters on the front page encourage users to “redefine the expectations of a perfect relationship.” The site provides guidelines for women on how to behave the first time they meet a potential Sugar Daddy, as well as how ethnic Sugar Babies should carry themselves throughout a relationship (called “Guidelines for Brown Sugar Babies”). SeekingArrangement is trying to mould a specific kind of woman for these men—a discreet, beautiful, well-groomed and submissive young girl who will agree with everything they say.
Is this new form of sexual exchange becoming the norm?
It’s trivia night at the Burgundy Lion.
“I love this pub,” says Lauren, sipping her house beer. “Dave and I come here sometimes. It reminds us of our trips to London.”
We’re celebrating because we just decided to go on a trip to Toronto together, even though I can’t afford it at all. Lauren said she would help me with money, and that she needs to get out of the city. How could I say no?
“Okay folks! Welcome to trivia night,” says the MC. “Tonight’s topic: 18th century pirates.”
Lauren and I look at each other and laugh.
“Well, we’re completely screwed,” I say.
“Too bad Dave isn’t here,” says Lauren. “He knows so much about history. He has a Bachelor’s.” Her darkly lined eyes light up and her pretty face breaks into a wide smile. Her hands drop down to her phone. She looks at it briefly, sees no new messages, and slouches a little.
Dave and Lauren’s relationship is supposed to have an expiry date after four years.
“Knowing the way we get along, I want it to go longer than that. If we get to four years I don’t think we’re just going to stop at four years,” says Lauren. “Even though that’s what’s right—and I should be going off and finding a husband after five or six years, that’s just not something I see for myself. I just see the way him and I get along. Obviously him and I will never get married. He wants me to move on with my life after.”
The ideology of “traditional gender roles” is what allows relationships like this to exist.
Lauren has it ingrained in her mind that women and men have a different way of thinking, and that men’s only motive in life is sex. Or power. Or both. This is part of the reason why she says she feels no shame about her role as a Sugar Baby.
“What girls want is materialistic things, and that’s just natural,” says Lauren. “It’s biological.”
According to psychologist Martorell, Lauren is both right and wrong. Generalizing the biology of men and women, Lauren is treating herself as an object with no purpose other than to be materialistic.
“It’s a justification, but there is no real scientific ground—it is only a belief which is useful for her as a defense, which allows her to deal with what she is doing with her life. This belief may bring her inner coherence,” says Martorell.
If all women are materialistic and all men sex- and power-hungry as Lauren says, why doesn’t every young attractive woman use SeekingArrangement? Moreover, why don’t all men?
Women who use the site are also those who need the money, but don’t want to call themselves sex workers. McGill University had the second-highest number of SeekingArrangement users in 2014, suggesting that many young women use Sugar Baby money to help pay for school. Alice, a 19-year-old daughter of strict accountant parents, turned to the website when her school-jumping caused them to cut her off financially. Sasha, a friend of Lauren’s in Toronto, has two Sugar Daddies and a boyfriend. She chose to use SeekingArrangement to get out of prostitution and still have money. The girls who uses the site come from different places, but there is usually an immediate need for cash.
Lauren has met many potential Sugar Daddies on SeekingArrangement.
“It took a while to go through all the creeps and find somebody that’s reasonable who’s interested in more than just sex. Like, someone who’s interested in building a relationship and intellectual [growth]. It really went up [financially],” she says.
She started with an ex-cop in real estate, then a business owner, followed by a partner in a law firm and finally Dave, an independent investor.
“So it really varies, from very wealthy men to average Joe’s,” she says.
On SeekingArrangement, some men will be blunt, asking “Do you like sex?” while others will send a long spiel about how they are looking for someone they would like to get to know, ending with words like “intimate relationship” and “discreet.” These cover-up words scream, “I am married! I don’t want my family to find out! Have sex with me for money!”
SeekingArrangement offers a clean, user-friendly interface to communicate with potential Sugar-partners who are serious about building a relationship. But is this just a fancy online brothel that makes it feel okay to want to have sex with women the age of their children, and even fall in love with them? Is this new form of sexual exchange becoming the norm? As Sugar Daddies and Sugar Babies become more common, it feels like society’s morality is shifting before my eyes, and perhaps not in the best way.
Lauren is excited.
“Did I tell you?” she says as she walks through the door and drops her leather backpack on the floor. “Dave said he can get me an internship at this B&B company he invests in!”
This is good news, since she is studying hotels and hospitality in CEGEP.
“This is going to be a great start for me,” she says.
I smile and congratulate her. Maybe Lauren’s dependence on Dave is finally leading to her own independence.