The Sweet n’ Low Down: What’s A Sugar Baby?
“Sugaring” involves an individual, the sugar “baby,” entering a relationship in exchange for some sort of material pay-off provided by the sugar “parent.” In contrast to escorting or other forms of sex work, sugaring often involves establishing a regular relationship that includes both physical and emotional intimacy. Payment is not just limited to hard cash; sugar parents offer their babies expensive gifts, vacations, and even mentoring and career advice.
Sugaring has been popularized across the country by individuals looking for an easy way to make a quick, and often substantial, amount of money. While there are no definitive statistics, sugaring is prevalent on university campuses, and it’s no surprise as to why. In recent years, Seeking Arrangement, the world’s largest sugar dating website, has shifted their advertising campaigns toward students, namely young women, emphasizing that sugaring can alleviate student debt. The company’s spokesperson, Kimberly De La Cruz, told The Bull & Bear in an email correspondence: “This campaign was launched as a relief to those who are impacted by rising tuition costs. College students are a large demographic of our Sugar Baby members, and the benefits for those who are successful are countless.”
One page on the site offers a ranking of the growing number of “Sugar Baby Universities.” McGill ranked 7th in Canada with a total of 611 sugar babies, 88 of whom signed up in 2017 alone. According to Seeking Arrangement’s numbers, there are thousands of sugar babies in Canada alone, not accounting for the babies who sign up without declaring their university affiliation.
One page on the site invites students to sign up, stating, “With SeekingArrangement.com’s Sugar Baby University, students from all backgrounds and income levels are welcome. No minimum GPA required. Join today and get your education paid for by a generous sponsor.” The site offers “sugaring” to students who are “looking for new ways to pursue a degree while maintaining their quality of life.”
Climbing Sugar Mountain: Undercover on Seeking Arrangement
In an effort to get in touch with this community of student sex workers, The Bull & Bear News team made a profile on Seeking Arrangement. Though it’s free to sign up as a baby, Sugar Mama and Daddy profiles cost money, ensuring that only those who can afford it sign up to the site. Profiles of “sugar parents” include annual income, net worth, and several “tags” to describe what kind of arrangement the individual is seeking, including, “friends with benefits,” “life of luxury,” “no strings attached,” “discretion,” and “romance,” to name a few. Pictures and self-descriptions must be approved by the site before they are made public, however the News team’s profile, which indicated only age and occupation, received dozens of messages even without a profile picture.
The Sugar Rush: Beginnings and Motivations
A McGill student and occasional sugar baby named “Georgina” uses What’s Your Price to meet and date wealthy men in return for money. “I definitely met some really interesting people, people who were very influential. I never met anyone who I was creeped out by. I always would talk to someone first [on the phone or by text] to make sure that they weren’t a weirdo. I would be clear that I wasn’t in it for sex, and I wasn’t doing it with people who were in relationships. So those were my two rules at first.”
I would be clear that I wasn’t in it for sex, and I wasn’t doing it with people who were in relationships. So those were my two rules at first
Though Georgina’s primary means of earning money were sugar dates, she sometimes engaged in escorting. “There was one guy who offered me two thousand dollars to give him a hand job, and I was like, ‘I can’t say no…because that’s just so much money and it’s [only] a hand job, so I can just close my eyes and pretend it’s not happening.’” Georgina has slept with two other men she met on the site, both of whom she had been on several dates with and felt comfortable around.
Another McGill student and sugar baby, “Michelle,” stated that she started sugaring out of financial necessity. After three dates, she had made $1000, and said that this amount “would be able to keep me afloat until my mom would send me more money.” Michelle never engaged in physical intimacy with patrons, and her experience primarily involved going out to restaurants with the men she met. Despite the lack of physical intimacy, she was still “disgusted at some of the messages I received or things these guys said to me. But I had to keep a straight face so they would still pay me. Overall, I would never do it again just because of how it made me feel, and I felt like I was adding to the patriarchal culture.”
I had to keep a straight face so they would still pay me.
An American citizen, “Georgina” remarked that one of the biggest barriers to successful sugaring in Montreal is that sex is worth a lot less here than in bigger cities. “People give less money [in Montreal]. At home or in bigger cities that are wealthier, people are willing to give a lot more. If I had sex with someone here I’d make probably $700 Canadian, but if I had sex with someone at home, I wouldn’t take less than $2000.”
Both women emphasized that their identities as sugar babies were kept completely separate from the rest of their lives. Georgina said, “I disassociate during [sex]. I don’t remember really having sex with these guys. But yeah, I made a ton of money and that was what I was doing it for and they knew that. And that was fine with them.” Michelle echoed the sentiment, claiming: “I think I tried to separate the two lives as much as I could and put on my student cap and then a different hat for the dates.”
But this strict work-life separation isn’t a universal experience. For Montreal-based camgirl Burr Suicide, her work is her life and vice versa. “I see [my chat room] more as online friends. I couldn’t keep up a facade, I couldn’t lead them on and suck them dry making them think I’m single and helpless. … I want to be an example and transparency is key. I have never and likely will never separate myself from my job.”
Georgina’s experience reflects the realities of the modern sex work industry. In the past, the work itself is what built a sense of community and collegiality amongst sex workers. Nowadays, online sites like Seeking Arrangement cater to the individual, allowing people to seek sugar partners without going through an agency or middle-man. While this allows sugar babies a degree of independence and privacy, it also contributes to the secretive, isolationist nature of sugaring. The discreteness inherent to these sites makes it difficult for any sort of larger community to form. Georgina told The Bull & Bear that she’s never met another baby, but rather that sugaring and escorting are activities she does alone, and sugaring sites provide no avenues through which babies can meet one another.
Undoubtedly, a key reason for the lack of viable social networks amongst babies is the shame associated with sugaring, which dissuades many babies from going out of their way to find others. Michelle remarked, “I keep it as private as possible. I was even hesitant about answering these questions for a publication.” Similarly, Georgina said “I don’t want there to be a reputation, or [for] guys my age to expect things from me. If I’m close with someone or someone talks about it, I’ll bring it up, but I usually won’t bring up the fact that I’ve hooked up with guys. I’m really selective with who I tell.”
The Bitter Behind the Sweet: Initial Fears Going In
Michelle described how her need for money motivated her to overcome fears related to sugaring: “When I first started out, I was very scared [that] I’d get caught, [or] scared they’d harm me in some way, but ultimately my need for the money provided outweighed those fears. I didn’t have time to get a job, so this was an extremely easy way to make money.”
Though some people sugar out of necessity, for others it has more to do with being able to afford a certain lifestyle. Georgina described her reasons for using the site, explaining, “[Sugaring] was just a good opportunity to make a ton of money because I’m always broke. I have money and my parents support me for food, education and housing…but I’m a shopping addict, so I got a really beautiful Chloe bag that I normally wouldn’t be able to afford.”
For others, like Burr Suicide, sex work is about being in control of one’s work environment. “I started full time camming because I wanted to excel at it. I didn’t want to work in a factory or milk cows any more. I wanted to be my own boss, make my rules and take control of my life.” Burr also stated that since pursuing camming as her full-time job, she “eat[s], sleep[s], think[s] and breathe[s] work… How I can bring new content forward, new videos, new snap shows, what I will wear, what I will talk about. It’s always on my mind. To truly disconnect, I find entirely impossible. I have not had a real day off in two to three years now.”
I wanted to be my own boss, make my rules and take control of my life.
Unlike Georgina and Michelle, Burr was much more public about her work. “I didn’t really hold back. When I did an interview for MTL blog, I posted it to my Facebook… And now it’s not a secret and I’m quite comfortable talking about it.” When asked about students in the Montreal sex work industry, Burr said, “I understand the appeal of it. It’s good money and something that comes natural to humans. So I can assume a small percentage [of students] has or is doing some form of sex work. Even I, being a cam model, plan on going back to school with the money I’ve made from camming.”
An anonymous volunteer at a local centre for survivors of sexual violence told The Bull & Bear that the organization’s sex-positive, pro-sex worker mandate is especially important because, “[it] means you believe in and commit to respecting and protecting your community members who decide to, or have to, do sex work. It means you commit to listening to their voices and needs, to empowering them and respecting their autonomy all while offering support and education-based services that minimize risk and maximize respect.” Organizations with this type of mandate are rare, and sugar babies and other sex workers on campus continue to lack an outlet through which they can support one another. This, coupled with the isolating nature of an online space that prohibits their interaction, means sugar babies continue to lack the means to find a community.
Ultimately, the life of a sugar baby isn’t always sweet. While it can be an easy way to make a quick buck, it can also come with some significant emotional and psychological costs. These costs are exacerbated by the difficulty of finding a solid support network due to the inherent discretion and secretiveness the job demands.
Some interviews and messages have been edited for clarity.