With the costs of tuition, room and board and other expenses soaring, students are looking to less conventional ways to find the funds to cover their education. Some young women are using websites targeted specifically at young, female students to find “mutually beneficial” relationships with sugar daddies who will pay for them.
Caroline Kitchener of The Atlantic looked into one website in particular: Seeking Arrangement, which helps “sugar babies”—young women—in cities across the country connect “sugar daddies”—wealthy men.
The website gets straight to the point when it comes to money: It lists the sugar daddies’ net worth on their profiles. Men who make more than $5 million or $10 million per year tend to get the most attention on the site.
However, Seeking Arrangement is perhaps intentionally sparse on details when it comes to what the actual “arrangements” entail. The site advertises “mutually beneficial relationships,” where sugar babies “shower men with attention” in exchange for “the finer things of life.” A major aspect the website doesn’t mention? Sex.
Seeking Arrangements, for all intents and purposes, is an escort service. It refrains from mentioning the sexual part of these relationships to avoid the stigma attached to paying for sex, or so as to not be seen as just another dating website.
The website tries to attract young college women, since they clearly have financial need, and sugar daddies—business executives, Wall Street bankers—tend to look for “intellectual” and educated women.
In fact, Seeking Arrangement reported in 2013 that 44 percent of the site’s 2.3 million registered “babies” were college students. This is no accident: By signing up with an .edu email, users have access to a free “premium” account that others would have to pay at least $1,200 to have.
The website itself even lists the “Top 20 Fastest Growing Sugar Baby Schools,” over half of which is made up of southern schools. Georgia State University sits atop the list, with New York University ranking second for schools home to the most sugar babies registered on the site.
Because the website is host to so many “college baby” users, Seeking Arrangements works to intentionally maintain the illusion that this isn’t a “money-for-sex” arrangement, but that the sexual aspect of relationships just occurs naturally.
Kitchener found that while some sugar daddies use the site to look exclusively for sex, others are looking for sex and “something else,” like company. And they are looking for a sugar baby who will go along with the illusion and pretend that the relationship doesn’t involve a transaction.
There is an illusion playing out for sugar babies too, where young women talk about joining Seeking Arrangement with their friends. When friends or friends-of-friends talk about “tons” of women from Columbia University and NYU using the website to pay tuition and bills, it feels more personal and safe, and less like prostitution. If close to half of the membership on the website was college women, some young women reason with their friends, maybe it really is just about companionship and not about sex.
Despite the serious stigma attached to “high-end prostitution”—or any prostitution at all—there are throngs of college women looking to Seeking Connections. Whether or not sugar babies and sugar daddies see it to be explicitly a money-for-sex relationship is almost not the point. What’s significant is that so many young women pursuing a college education are so strapped for cash that they are finding themselves in “relationships” or “arrangements” to make ends meet, as paying for college may otherwise mean taking out loans.
Today, the trend of students seeking unconventional funding is reflective of the bleak student debt crisis. Student debt has quadrupled in the past decade alone; working a summer job just will not cut it anymore.