An unusual dating website that has been highly successful in the United States is gaining popularity amongst female Australian tertiary students.
SeekingArrangement.com is a dating site dedicated to the pursuit of a very specific relationship. The website differs from more traditional matchmakers, as it not only lists the normal age, sex and location in its user profiles, but also their annual income and desired weekly “allowance”.
SeekingArrangement.com is an online “Sugar Bowl”: a place where young women or men go to meet a Sugar Daddy or Mummy.
The website helps users nurture a “mutually beneficial arrangement” between “successful, wealthy benefactors” and “attractive young guys or girls”. Each arrangement is unique, but most work on the basic exchange of money or gifts for companionship and intimacy.
The increase in young, cash-strapped students using the site to help with living and study expenses has caused some to question how “mutually beneficial” these arrangements really are, with some even expressing concern that the site facilitates exploitation of young women.
Melinda Tankard Reist, an Australian media commentator, writer, blogger and women’s advocate, says that the website is “glorified prostitution”, echoing a common first response to SeekingArrangement.com.
Ms Tankard Reist drew attention to the photos posted on the site, claiming they were highly sexualised and many girls were pulling “orgasmic expressions”.
“It is still about the selling of women, any way you look at it. He has the money, which gives him power and control. The site advertises “12 girls for each guy” which sounds like the fulfilment of male fantasy to me,’ said Ms Tankard Reist
Seeking Arrangement’s spokesperson, Jennifer Gwyn, was quick to defend allegations that the website is a poorly disguised online prostitution rink.
“There are much easier avenues to solicit sex for money, why would you join a website where that is strictly prohibited? Our members are looking for a relationship, not a sexual transaction. This is not a job, but a lifestyle,” said Ms Gwyn.
“At the very root — the basics are similar … but there are also EXTREME differences between a Sugar Baby and an escort,” says Sugar Baby of over three years, Alex*.
Alex further stated that non-sexual Sugar relationships are rare.
“I had one person email me that they only wanted to have lunch and chat with someone,” said Alex. She said that she would estimate that only about one per cent of Sugar relationships don’t involve sex of some kind.
Alex is in her early 30s and studying at an Ivy League graduate school. She lists the positive aspects of a Sugar Daddy relationship as being the mentoring and friendship, also saying that she finds Sugar Daddies to be more accepting of her as a successful woman.
“I’m pretty smart, very driven and ambitious. That intimidates most men, whereas the majority of Sugar Daddies love that. They’d prefer a girl who is going somewhere with her life and they can help her achieve her goals. They are a great source of motivation and support,” says Alex.
Ms Tankard Reist argued that, whilst the site may be safely used by someone like Alex, there are not enough safeguards in place to protect more vulnerable women.
“What about younger women. I saw at least one 18-year-old being advertised. Is she in a strong position to negotiate for herself with a 50 or 60-year-old businessman?” asks Ms Tankard Reist.
Ms Gwyn said that Seeking Arrangement, like all dating sites, has the capacity to be abused. However, unlike other sites, it offers a higher level of guarantee of authenticity to their member profiles, such as memberships that verify income levels or provide international background checks to demonstrate a clean criminal record.
“While all dating websites are not immune to misuse, we take greater precautions than most to protect our members. We offer background verified memberships and encourage all members to get checked. We also offer safety advice on a regular basis, and screen all profiles in-house,” said Ms Gwyn.
Ms Tankard Reist worries that the lack of protection given to young women during the actual meet and greet stage of a Sugar Baby relationship may lead to unsafe and damaging experiences.
“What protections are in place for women? What if he wants to do more than she was prepared for, but she’s now dependent on the money? What if he wants to film her and share the footage?” questions Tankard Reist.
Alex offers this advice to users of Seeking Arrangement: “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Online dating in general is dangerous, so you do what you can to protect yourself when you’re in that meet-and-greet stage.”
Alex says that the four to six-month process of finding a Sugar Daddy is the worst part of being a Sugar Baby.
“I can’t tell you the amount of rude men who just don’t get it and email you expecting you to be a hooker. Once you weed them out, then you get to have an endless string of meet-and-greets just to see if their might be a connection,” she says.
In general, Alex hasn’t had any extremely scarring experiences with people she has met through the website, though she has been on her fair share of bad first dates.
“The guy was SO nervous that he drank a ton before getting there and was just obnoxious. I didn’t stay long,” Alex says of her worst first date.
Ms Tankard Reist calls for the social infrastructure surrounding students and those of lower socio-economic class to be examined to ensure that only those truly after a Sugar relationship, not just the financial reward, access the site.
“It’s obvious that those profiting from the site are pimping the Sugar Baby concept to vulnerable students,” she says. “We need to examine the structural conditions which fuel these kind of sites — the cost of education, lower paying jobs for school leavers, slashing of graduate programs, cutting of support for single mothers making them more vulnerable.”
Seeking Arrangement say that their service is provided to meet a demand, rather than to profit from the exploitation of the young and vulnerable.
“We are selling luxurious relationships, not call girls. Many women dream of having a Sugar Daddy, a Mr Big or Christian Grey, if you will. No one dreams of being an escort. That is a last resort career. This is a lifestyle choice,” says Ms Gwyn.
Alex* documents her experiences as a Sugar Baby on her blog, sugarbabystory.com