Image of a wealthy sugar daddy counting his sugaring budget for the sugar baby he is sugar dating
September 7, 2020

Sex buyers want to normalize Sugar Dating. That’s regressive and dangerous.

With sugaring, an aggressively regressive system has been normalized in our society to the point that we have mainstream publications advising well-off men on how to exploit young women for sex. In Summer 2020, a Men’s Health article discussed the concept of “sugar dating” in disturbingly neutral terms – including what a sugar daddy looks for in a “sugar baby,” and how popular “sugaring” has become with unemployment on the rise from COVID-19. In the article, sugar dating is depicted as just another choice for women and is coded as “taking control of one’s life” and “being your own boss.”

In history and reality, there is nothing empowering about a human being believing their body is something that they have to sell to survive. Women with financial means or good job prospects aren’t choosing to sell their bodies as a means for supplying the male demand for sex.

Sugar dating, also referred to as “sugaring,” is defined as “a dating practice where a person receives money, gifts or other financial and material benefits in exchange for company, which commonly also includes sexual intimacy.” “Sugar babies” are usually women and “sugar daddies” are usually men—especially wealthy, privileged men who use their position to demand sex.

So why isn’t this “arrangement” — wherein men are quite literally providing financial remuneration to acquire sex — considered prostitution and, thereby, illegal? In our modern instances, sugar dating companies like Seeking Arrangement have “positioned themselves to bypass laws against prostitution and sex trafficking by stating these types of transactions as ‘mutually beneficial’ and ‘dating with benefits.’

Seeking Arrangement’s founder and CEO, Brandon Wade, said in a 2012 interview that he believed “Sugar babies are glamorous. Prostitution and prostitutes, that’s very sleezy.” A female pre-law student who was also interviewed said it this way: “You’re giving sex and you’re getting money, so at the end of the day, that is what it is, but with a twist.”

The “twist” is that sugar dating is oppressive, manipulative, anti-feminism, and nothing more than a “bougie” version of the age-old exploitation of prostitution.

To make the reality crystal clear, compare the above statement from the pre-law student with this definition of prostitution:

Screenshot of Oxford definition of "prostitution"

In an age where many are working hard to truly empower women, liberate women from oppressive societies/systems, and build younger generations up with “girl power,” the hypocrisy of corporations attempting to market the prostitution of people as “dating” is astounding.

Sugar dating companies like Seeking Arrangement have positioned themselves to market a service they depict as glamorous, uplifting, empowering, life-changing, financially liberating, and consensual despite the severe risk — especially to young women — of deception, coercion, and physical, mental, and emotional abuse that accompany all forms of prostitution.

These companies know their targeted audience and work hard to take advantage of their niche “market”: young, impressionable females who have broken through the college barrier, are struggling financially, just starting off on their own, seeking employment, and are overwhelmed by a mountain of student loans. One of many examples is Sugar Baby University, Seeking Arrangement’s sugar dating website for college students, which decided to celebrate its five-year anniversary by encouraging students to sign up with their school email for a free premium account upgrade.

Julie Bindel, a reporter for Truthdig, spoke with a young woman from Minneapolis who had first been trafficked at the age of 15:

To escape her pimp, the young woman went to a brothel. Women at the brothel told her to register on Seeking Arrangement because it was “way better to date these rich guys who sometimes don’t even ask for sex from one week to the next, especially if they’re married and do lots of business travel, but they pay your rent and bring you gifts.” This woman was paired with a sugar daddy who rented her an apartment where he would visit her every day for sex. He demanded and expected his sexual desires to be met regardless of her physical or emotional wellbeing. One day, when she was severely under the weather, her sugar daddy demanded sex with the threat that she’d be homeless by that evening if she didn’t comply.

Dirty Dozen graphic for Seeking Arrangement (National Center on Sexual Exploitation)

Her story of manipulation and coercion isn’t an anomaly in the world of sugar dating.

Reddit contains threads of anonymous women (and men) speaking out about their experiences of sugar dating. Sometimes they request advice on how to safely escape the sugar dating lifestyle. One user wrote, “I’ve had the same sugar daddy for two years. He pays my rent and bills, and transfers $3,000 into my account on the first of the month. I am just DONE with having to text him all the time and make up reasons why I can’t hang out. It’s never enough time to him, he always wants more but from my perspective, I dread the dates and countdown the minutes until I can leave. I literally can’t stand pretending to like him and faking intimacy anymore.” Another user wrote: “I was in a similar situation for over three years. Honestly it was such a breath of fresh air to not have to deal with him anymore. He sucked the energy from me and my whole family could feel it. I felt stuck because I felt like I depended on him but once I broke out of it, I realized I can do so much more without the emotional burden of constantly texting and calling and making sure he was okay.”

Yet another Reddit user stated she has been a sugar baby on Seeking Arrangement for the past four years but was afraid that the way sugar dating on Seeking Arrangement has been painted was incorrect and dangerous: “ALL sugar daddies expect sex in exchange for money. It’s [commercial sexual exploitation]. There are other aspects involved – fancy dinners, dates, shopping etc., if you find a good guy. But sex is the common denominator. If you make an account on the site expecting to find an old guy to send you $3,000 for foot pics, you will be disappointed. The site is FILLED with scammers. Men that lie about their net worth, who they are, their profession, etc. They will try and coerce you into sending naked pictures or giving them sex before they show you a cent. It’s dangerous and it’s NOT to be played with. You can really get hurt.”

Still another Reddit contributor titled her forum “Advice on getting away from Seeking Arrangement.” She wrote: “Hi all, I keep experiencing instances of violence and fake cash using Seeking Arrangement. Also, guys were a no show, would take off condoms during sex, or show up just to make excuses and try to talk me into sex for free (even though we agreed on an amount beforehand). I’m trying to transition to something else but have been so lost.”

Young woman smiling into the camera while holding up a glass of wine (image representing a sugar baby on a date with a sugar daddy to tie into topic of sugaring and sugar dating)
The Dangers of Sugar Dating and Sugaring, Explained

More disturbingly, sugar dating led to the disappearance and murder of 23-year-old Mackenzie Lueck in 2019. After a brief trip home to California, Mackenzie—a student at the University of Utah—arrived at the Salt Lake International Airport. She was last seen at 2:40 am taking a Lyft from the airport to a park to meet an unknown man. Several days later, after a missing person’s report had been issued, charred human remains were found at the Salt Lake City home of Ayoola Adisa Ajayi. Ajayi claimed that he had been burning wooden pallets, but investigators discovered that the remains were Lueck’s.

Ajayi had recently created a profile on Seeking Arrangement, the same website where Lueck had been listed as a sugar baby. The investigation did not confirm that she discussed plans to meet Ajayi on Seeking Arrangement. But it seems Ajayi had posed as a sugar daddy and lured Lueck to their meeting spot, promising money or lavish gifts in exchange for sexual interactions. One of the most disturbing parts of this case is the way the Internet has portrayed Lueck to be the victim of a crime that was of her own doing. Many Internet users and websites have exposed exploitive images of Lueck and painted her as the culprit of her own death since she was the one with a Seeking Arrangement profile and made the decision meet a potential sugar daddy.

Seeking Arrangement states that their site is where “beautiful and successful people find mutually beneficial relationships.” What they don’t say, though it would be more accurate, is that a sugar dating relationship is a relationship filled with underlying expectations, threats, dependency, and debilitating control. Sugar dating is not “mutually beneficial.” Sugaring “relationships” are toxic, degrading, and mentally and physically dangerous. There is nothing liberating about it at all. Sugar dating is yet another clear view of gender inequality. In 2020, society is allowing companies like Seeking Arrangement to help wealthy men target vulnerable populations of women for sexual exploitation.

Enough is enough. Spreading awareness and education about the dangers of sugar dating is imperative. Use our online action below to send a message to Google about helping curb the sexual abuse and exploitation that Seeking Arrangement perpetuates and also share one or more of our articles that expose the dangers associated with sugaring.

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Madison Van Oss

Madison Van Oss

Legal Assistant

Madison is the Legal Assistant for the Law Center at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Madison supports the Law Center and its quest to bring justice to survivors of the sex trade industry through civil and criminal litigation. Madison brings with her a master’s degree in Homeland Security, several years of professional experience in the corporate world, as well as strong desire to protect and defend individuals against sexual abuse and exploitation.

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