‘Sugar dating’ can be a powerful lure for cash-strapped college students

‘I personally think sugar dating is sex work. I don’t think there’s any other way of saying it,’ says journalist Nina Dragicevic

It’s an “arrangement.” It’s a form of “networking.” It’s definitely not cash for sex, the websites say — instead, it’s a “mutually beneficial relationship.”

What is sugar dating, exactly?  Secrets of Sugar Baby Dating, a new documentary presented by The Passionate Eye, explores online platforms aiming to connect high-net-worth individuals and young, attractive people. To stay on the right side of the law, the sites often say that they prohibit prostitution and escorting.

The very nature of a so-called sugar arrangement, however, brings together the worlds of money and intimacy — opening up a grey area between dating and sex work that can lure young people in financially precarious situations. And sometimes, those people are cash-strapped students.

Sugar dating in Canadian universities

One such website specifically markets to teens and young adults in college.

Seeking Arrangement has dedicated a section of its website to “Sugar Baby University,” positioning sugar dating as a fun, lucrative way to avoid student debt and boost career opportunities.

The Canadian version of the platform claims that more than 300,000 Canadian students use its services to meet “sugar daddies” or “sugar mommies.”

One UK student talks about the temptation of sugar dating.

According to Seeking Arrangement, the University of Toronto, York University, University of Waterloo, McGill University and Carleton University are the top 5 ‘fastest growing sugar baby schools of 2019’

What is sugar dating?

In the documentary, BBC journalist Tiffany Sweeney creates a profile on Seeking Arrangement’s U.K. site, that promises to introduce “wealthy men to beautiful women.”

In Sweeney’s fake profile, she says she is 18 years old and attending university. She posts pictures of herself fully clothed in casual wear. Sweeney writes a neutral profile and responds to messages in non-flirtatious language.

Sweeney says the aim was to see how sugar daddies would attempt to start a “relationship” without any direction from her.

“In my experience, out of the hundreds of messages that I received, I would say there were only a couple [responses] where the men showed an interest in me, in my fake profile,” Sweeney says. “They would ask me, ‘What are you studying?’ and things like that to show interest in me.

“But the majority were basically like, ‘Do you want to have sex for x amount of money in a hotel room? I can meet you there.’ And they were straight to the point.”

Valentina and Luke: Sugar dating in the U.K.

The documentary features 18-year-old Valentina, a student in London who has seven sugar daddies and brings in thousands of dollars each month. Most of the men are more than 40 years old, and she says the relationships are both emotional and sexual.

“I maintain a relationship with these men,” Valentina says in the film. It’s similar to other forms of dating, she explains, except she is being “financially supported.”

Luke, 22, is a student in Nottingham who created a profile when he struggled to afford food and rent. He went on a few dates with a man in his mid-50s before agreeing to have sex, for which he is paid roughly $100 each time.

“Sometimes afterwards,” Luke says in the documentary, “you kind of do want to just go get back in bed and sort of curl up by yourself — just to make yourself feel better, really.”

The two examples are strikingly different: Valentina appears confident and considers the arrangements reasonable; Luke expresses shame, but he still needs the money.

“Valentina is, like, the top of the spectrum,” Sweeney says. “An elite sugar baby, if you will.

“There are extreme cases where girls have made a lot of money, but I think for the majority, it’s like Luke. They don’t really want to do this.”

Sugar babies are vulnerable to scams and predators

The documentary explores how sugar babies on these websites are susceptible to scams and predators.

One 26-year-old woman living in New York, Chandler, arranged for paid sex with a man she met on Seeking Arrangement. Chandler says the man didn’t pay her after sex, and she eventually went public with her experience — revealing an alleged predator as other women came forward with the same story about the same man.

“There’s a really dangerous side to sugar dating,” Chandler says in the documentary. “Every time you go up to that hotel room, you don’t know what can happen.”

Sugar dating is sex work, says journalist

After interviewing a range of sugar babies and having her own experiences with a fake profile, Sweeney agrees that sugar dating “can be quite dangerous.”

Sweeney says such websites appear to be predominantly used by older, wealthy people who want to have sex with young people, with the expectation that cash will be exchanged.

“When I started making this documentary, I wanted to understand how different sugar dating is to escorting and prostitution,” she says in the film. “I personally think sugar dating is sex work. I don’t think there’s any other way of saying it.”

Watch Secrets of Sugar Baby Dating on The Passionate Eye.

Available on CBC Gem

Secrets of Sugar Baby Dating

The Passionate Eye