The average Canadian student is expected to have upwards of $25,000 in debt by the end of their undergraduate degree. Students who then pursue a master or postgraduate degree can be expected to have debt in excess of $40,000. With tuition increasing by 3.1 per cent on average each year, students are becoming more and more inventive in finding ways to raise additional funds to pay off debts that part-time jobs simply can’t fill.
Many students have turned to “sugar” to help cover the cost of tuition, these individuals being called “Sugar Babies”. A “Sugar Baby” is a person who partakes in a specific transactional relationship with a “Sugar Daddy” or “Sugar Mommy”. The transactional nature of the relationship can include the sugar baby receiving cash, gifts, benefits or other additional valuable items in exchange for their time and company from their “Sugar Parent”.
The act of being a “Sugar Baby”, or “Sugaring” is completely legal in Canada provided that sexual acts are not exchanged in the relationship. While sugaring is legally involves no sexual acts, it can be deemed as a type of sex work as many who start in sugar babying can lead into performing sexual acts in their role as a sugar baby.
Sugaring has been more and more apparent in mainstream media since the creation of SeekingArrangement.com in 2006 by MIT graduate Brandon Wade. However, the website has seen a large surge in university and college students signing up, with many expressly stating it is in an attempt to help cover the cost of studying. There are currently 2.5 million students through Seeking Arrangements with 8.2 per cent of their student’s users, roughly 205,000 attending Canadian university or colleges. This increase in users lead to the creation of “Sugar Baby University” which is a platform solely directed at students. By enrolling in the Sugar Baby University platform, students receive free premium membership on the Seeking Arrangements site. They advertise that sugar babies can earn roughly $2,400 a month and advise that they find one or two consistent sugar parents to help them pay their way through university.
To gain a more in-depth understanding of the process, we spoke to two different Brock University students who had acted as a sugar baby to understand what led to them to the act and what their experiences were with it. Both of our sources asked to remain anonymous as they are both still active students and therefore will be referred to as Student A and Student B.
Both students utilized SeekingArrangement.com as the platform for which to explore sugaring, though came to it through different paths. Student A found the app through a friend who had consistently used it for networking purposes. She had considered sex work previously and hoped sugar babying would be a safe way to explore that aspect. Student B turned to sugaring as a last resort, having found themselves with no way to cover their payments. They were working three different minimum wage jobs and still had a “debilitating amount of debt looming over them” After researching unorthodox methods of making some extra cash online they came to find sugaring.
Regardless of how each student found the company, they were both motivated by a need for income to help them cover university-related payments. Both students detailed the sign-up process as simple and efficient. When a potential sugar baby signs up to SeekingArrangement.com, they include their personal information and upload pictures of themselves.
“It was almost like setting up a Tinder profile except I had to set my pictures to private so no one could reverse search them. It’s small elements like that, that remind you what you’re doing is not the norm, other than that the entire process feels completely normal, just like online dating except you’re being paid for it”, said Student B.
Once both students had signed up for the service, they then had to define the relationship they were interested in and what they were willing to provide.
“[It seemed] clear-cut and transactional on the surface, with most conversations including a discussion of expectations close to the beginning. There are allowances, which are regular funds given weekly/monthly,” said Student A.
It’s in this section where the lines between sugar baby and escort can merge.
“You might be asked for a “pay per meet”. This isn’t technically allowed on the site, as it’s essentially just the direct trade of sex for money,” commented Student A.
Desired relationships can be “No strings attached”, to “discrete”, and “short-term” or “long-term” arrangements.
The final step in the process is “arrangement” which is where you become fully active on the site and are able to send and receive messages. Both students found this to be an overwhelming experience.
“I had to put my phone on silent the first day because of the obscene amount of notifications. I think I got about 80 messages that first day,” said Student A.
While the level of attention can be gratifying and both students enjoyed the initial attention, it quickly became overwhelming with several members sending threatening messages to both students when they failed to respond to all the potential sugar parents.
Student B is male and was searching for a Sugar Mommy. He quickly found a local woman looking for a long-term companion and began solely messaging her. Initially, he was concerned about pressure from her to perform sexual acts, yet was pleasantly surprised when he realized she only sought company.
“She was lonely and felt the men of her generation no longer found her attractive, she needed someone to listen to her and to tell her she was valued,” said Student B.
While he appreciated the relationship he had with his first Sugar Mommy, his growing financial burden forced him to search for a second sugar mommy. He began talking to a woman who at first seemed similar to the previous relationship, however, she quickly became possessive.
“She would call me in the middle of the night demanding to know if I was with someone, I was always too afraid to tell her if I was.”
Student A experienced a similar emotionally draining partnership in which she would spend hours on the phone with a man who “demanded hours upon hours of phone calls and conversations, with a frustrating amount of emotional labour and insisted that I not spend time with friends as I should have wanted to spend it with him instead.”
Sadly this is not uncommon. Due to sugaring not being viewed legally as a form of sex work, it is not governed with the law as other forms of sex work. Therefore, many students are subject to emotional or physical abuse. It’s important to note that many students including both interviewed, created positive arrangements with people. However, both experienced issues. With finances becoming an increasing issue, both students explored deeper into the sexual side of the sugar baby arrangement. Student A hesitantly agreed to perform “cam work,” though insisted on being paid upfront.
She was convinced to send some material before payment and the receiving Sugar Daddy promptly disappeared. She felt utterly debased.
“Not only did he steal my service, but I also understood he violated my consent. I did what I did strictly under the condition that he would send me money, and he willfully disregarded that. I felt violated. Worse still, I felt like I couldn’t talk to the people in my life about how utterly gutted I felt for fear of them blaming me. I should have insisted on getting the money up front. ‘I shouldn’t send nudes to married men even for money’… It’s easy to say that when you’re not desperate,” said Student A.
Student B considered looking into a more sexual side of the arrangement having spoken to other sugar babies who told him of the additional cash benefits. However, after some deliberation, he chose to offer purely companionship. A large part of this decision came from his starting a personal relationship with his now long-term girlfriend. Both students pursued personal relationships whilst working as a sugar baby.
“It’s my job, it may be unorthodox but at the end of the day you have to view it purely as a job. I’m emotionally connected to my sugar mommies as a companion, but I would never allow myself to develop romantic feelings, it gets too messy then,” said Student B.
A large part of these students’ ability to work as sugar babies while committing to personal relationships was due to an understanding and respect from their circle. Often those who work in the sex industry can be discriminated against due to the nature of the job. Student A emphasized that her struggles with sugaring was due to the stigma that is attached to sex work. She often felt preyed on by men who were looking for escorts and used the site to try to find them. Student A believes that breaking down the stigma against sex workers is the only way sugar babies can be protected from entering into dangerous situations born from desperation.
“Sex work will always happen. We shouldn’t strive to shut it all down, but to support sex workers, who are an incredibly targeted group for violence,” said Student A.
While reflecting on their time as sugar babies, both students emphasized they had had good and bad moments. Student B is continuing to act as a sugar baby and sees himself continuing until at least graduation, if not longer, to help with financial burdens. He also feels a responsibility to continue the relationships he has made as he now has sugar mommies dependent on him for emotional support.
“I’m not ashamed to be a sugar baby, it’s my choice and I choose to keep doing it. I’m very upfront about it with my partners and friends. However, honestly, if I wasn’t financially dependent on it I can’t say I would continue. You sell a little of yourself each time you open the app and I don’t know how much I’m willing to give away,” said Student B.
Student A has since ceased sugaring having earned roughly $2000 over a period of three to four months.
“Eventually, I did meet a lovely man who was everything I wanted in a Sugar Daddy. I still keep in contact even just to check in, because he works in a field I’m interested in and has plenty of great advice. While she has chosen to stop sugaring, she has nothing but respect for those who choose to pursue it but cautions them to understand the full aspect and consequences of the job,” concluded Student A.