“’Sugar babies are escorts,” said Tammy Castle, a professor at James Madison University whose research includes analyzing the content of escort websites. “[The administrators of the Seeking Arrangement] are trying to avoid the negative stigma of prostitution by advertising this as just another dating website, but money is exchanged for arrangements that may include sex.”
In 2013, Seeking Arrangement announced that approximately 44 percent of its 2.3 million “babies” are in college. This is a trend that the website encourages—if babies register with a .edu email account, they receive a free premium membership (something the guys have to shell out as much as $1,200 for). Seeking Arrangement creates the illusion that the sexual element of these relationships isn’t forced, but organic. No one associated with the website wants to admit that what it’s doing is facilitating sex-for-money exchanges. The large number of college women on the site helps preserve this illusion, for both the daddies and the babies.
“Dating a college woman fulfills these guys’ wildest dreams. They want someone highly educated who is eager to learn,” said Parinda Wanitwat, director of the documentary Daddies Date Babies, which profiles several college sugar babies living in New York City.
In almost every message Amanda receives on Seeking Arrangement, sugar daddies comment on how intelligent she sounds in her profile. Amanda has met more than 50 men through the site. All of them are well-educated, the majority are business executives.
When she first signed up for Seeking Arrangement, Sarah, another sugar baby who recently graduated from college, was surprised by how many men sent her messages. Sarah has a curvy figure and is originally from Southeast Asia. She expected the men to be interested in girls who were skinny, blonde, and white—“sorority Barbies.” “That’s just not me,” she said.
And yet, Sarah got a lot of attention on Seeking Arrangement. So did Sophie, a 27-year-old graduate student in New York City. She describes herself as an intellectual with pretentious glasses and curly brown hair.
“I look like what I am, and the men like that,” Sophie said. “They want someone who doesn’t look like a bimbo.”
On Seeking Arrangement, intellect is important—maybe even more important than looks. If the sugar baby can understand what the “daddy” does at work and engage in topics he finds interesting, he is more likely to feel he’s in a real relationship. “The guys eventually want to feel like, ‘That girl likes me for me,’” Amanda said.
While some men on the site use it exclusively for sex, the majority want sex and something else. They want someone to come along on business trips, go to company events, and meet their friends—someone who understands and appears interested in what they have to say. Most importantly, they want someone who will help them pretend that the relationship is not a transaction. Only one sugar baby I interviewed said she discussed her fee upfront, on the first date. The rest said they preferred to let the issue of compensation “come up naturally.”