The cost of education is rising but the value of a degree is also, they say, high. The majority of students think of a postsecondary education as a gateway to a job, income, and a career. And the increasing importance placed on education means that some students are willing to pay their tuition using any means possible.
Seekingarrangements.com serves this market by matching students who need funding with moneymakers who are able to fund their education (and then some). The site boasts the “rare opportunity to finish college debt-free” with the “sugar lifestyle”. When registering, students are able to select what kind of lifestyle expectations they have, from “practical” to “high”.
The Medium contacted Leroy Velasquez, public relations manager for the site, who revealed that although both male and female students are able to register and find “sugar daddies” or “sugar mommies”, the site primarily matches female “sugar babies” with older males. Most females on the site are 19 to 26, while the sugar daddies average around 39 and make about $250,000 a year. The sugar babies receive about $3,000 a month from their sponsors. Since the website launched in 2006, its membership has grown to 2.7 million users.
Information released in 2013 indicates that the school with the fastest-growing numbers of sugar babies is the University of Central Florida, while New York University currently has the most students registered with the site.
In Canada, seven of the fastest-growing sugar-baby schools are reportedly in Ontario, with U of T sitting at number five. Most UTM students we talked to, though, weren’t aware that this site exists. Although most girls were shocked at the exchange of services that the site offers, it wasn’t something they outright condemned.
Hejab Batool is an 18-year-old student enrolled in criminology who doesn’t take issue too seriously with the site. “I’ve never heard about the sugar daddy thing before. I was very shocked, and a [bit] disgusted, because something of this sort isn’t accepted very easily in society,” she says. “ [But] everyone has the right to do what they believe in. If the girls are adults then there should be no problem. But they should always make sure that they’re safe, and should quickly get out of any situation in which they don’t feel comfortable.”
Jam Bravo, a 27-year-old pharmacy student, had a similar reaction. “At first I was very judgmental, but after careful thinking I realize there’s nothing wrong with forming a relationship with someone in that way, as long as both parties are honest about their intentions and what they want out of the relationship,” she said.
Feher Mansoor, a 27-year-old law student at the University of Florida, says, “The sugar-baby [phenomenon] is really just a sign of the times. Tuition is higher than ever. It’s harder to pay for cars, food, [and] clothing than it ever has been as a student. Though the idea of a sugar baby may be morally questionable to some, I see it as women simply being pragmatic about their circumstances.”
Most of the students interviewed saw the situation as something that girls were forced into after struggling with tuition, books, living expenses, and other costs associated with being a student.
When Eran Bath, a 22-year-old double major in English and history, was asked if she could see herself engaging in something like this, she said that “a person, regardless of gender, should be able to use their [body] however they please, as long as they’re aware of and willing to deal with repercussions. However, I think it’s an easy way out. There are options available that don’t require a sugar daddy, but they aren’t as easy […] I’d never do it, but to each his own.”
For Aranie Vijayaratnam, using a sugar daddy to help with tuition fees wasn’t out of the question. “My part-time job as a tutor wasn’t paying enough, and I couldn’t find a second part-time job,” she says. “My parents had already spent over $10,000 on my brother’s deregulated tuition costs; I couldn’t ask them to pay an additional $7,000.”
Vijayaratnam tried Googling what it meant to be a sugar baby, searched forums, and eventually looked on Tumblr. “I found other female students who tagged their blog posts about their experiences with sugar daddies,” she says. “The more I read about them, the more fascinated I became.
“Some blogs have guidelines and FAQs for people who want to be sugar babies,” she continues. “They all suggest starting out on seekingarrangement.com. They also suggest that you live in a metropolis. A person has a higher chance of getting a sugar daddy in a city.” The blogs also recommend telling a close friend where they meet their sugar daddies in case things go awry.
“The [sugar babies] may have started with the same reasons, but as they progress through a relationship with a sugar daddy (or sugar daddies, for some), feelings change, motivation changes,” she points out. “Many of these women married their sugar daddies.”
After reading these blog posts, Vijayaratnam realized that the life wasn’t for her. “My debt still exists, my unfinished online profile still exists, but I couldn’t go through with it. My period of researching the lifestyle was the same time I was diagnosed with mild depression. During my therapy sessions I realized that becoming a sugar baby wasn’t my last resort, but my way of coping [with] something I need counselling [for]. I didn’t want a friendship or a relationship that was driven by financial need,” she says.
“My depression put me in a place where I thought becoming a sugar baby would solve all my problems and make me happy. Counselling made me see otherwise. The only advice that stayed with me from the research is one of the most important rules all sugar babies share: understand yourself.”