What is “sugar dating”? And how exactly does it relate to “sugaring”? Does it have anything to do with these “sugar babies” and “sugar daddies” you keep hearing about? Is “sugar dating” actually a form of dating? Is “sugaring” prostitution?
These questions and more are becoming increasingly prevalent as websites and apps attempting to promote the practice of “sugar dating” as an alternate form of relationship are growing in size and number.
What is Sugar Dating?
The basic premise of “sugaring”/”sugar dating” is not necessarily new, although the updated marketing and metaphorical “packaging” of the concept conspire to make the problem feel new and uniquely troubling.
Regardless of semantics, the premise of sugar dating involves wealthy individuals—who tend to be older and male (though that’s not always the case)—using cash, lavish gifts, and/or help with debt as a means to facilitate and stimulate their demand for sex and intimacy via less-than-wealthy individuals who tend to be younger and female (though, again, that’s not always the case). Businesses such as SeekingArrangement, RichMeetsBeautiful, Sugarmodels, and others then attempt to jointly capitalize on the needs of the younger, lower-income individuals and the demands of the older, higher-income individuals in order to pad their own bottom line.
One of the many problematic aspects of this business model is that the “arrangements” are targeted toward—and often intentionally mislead—the younger, lower-income audience and puts them in situations where the natural end game is a variety of forms of manipulation and sexual exploitation.
While companies promoting “sugaring” try to project themselves as simply being another kind of dating site that features fun, safe, no strings attached relationships, the reality that is coming to light as a result of the increase in “sugar dating” is an ugly one filled with harassment, sexual assault, and the manipulation of financial arrangements in order to coerce unwanted sexual action—also known as rape.
In spite of that, though, the general public is still largely in the dark about the inherent problems with sugar dating and tends to treat it in a very cavalier manner.
In fact, as one of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s former interns found out firsthand, even major universities and those in the media have fallen for the thin veneer of “respectability” when addressing the phenomena of “sugaring” and failed to review or acknowledge earnest research and nuance that addresses the very real dangers associated with sugar baby-sugar daddy arrangements.
To make matters worse, many individuals are hesitant to acknowledge the inherent harms in arrangements that they see as a being simple, mutual, relational understandings between consenting adults rather than interactions that are inherently manipulative and exploitative. Accordingly, some individuals have a hard time finding sympathy for the exploited individuals and are unmotivated to advocate for change that would protect the young, low-income individuals that are targeted by companies that promote “sugaring.”
To address those some of those perspectives and some of the other misconceptions that surround “sugaring” and “sugar dating,” our Vice President of Advocacy and Outreach—Haley Halverson—joined a panel of other experts to break down the phenomena, its harms, and to do a Q&A on Texas Public Radio. The program contains an excellent review of the issue as well as several questions and comments from individuals who called in to the show that provide examples of current attitudes toward “sugaring” that are fairly prevalent.
Is Sugar Dating Safe?
The reality is that any relationship predicated on the exchange of money or material provision for sexual intercourse creates a dangerous power imbalance and is not a relationship at all.
Sugaring, like prostitution, preys on a vulnerable population and inherently develops a system wherein the bodies and dignity of the vulnerable are exploited to feed the insatiable demand of the rich and powerful.
“Sugar dating” is not safe and it is not an empowering system—it is inherently exploitative.
This is particularly troubling when paired with the fact that it is being marketed as the exact opposite and the young and vulnerable targets are being misled. It is vital that coverage of “sugaring” appropriately address the inherent dangers of the arrangements in questions in order that action can be taken to proactively protect the vulnerable populations that these businesses and individuals are targeting for exploitation.
We cannot afford to view sugar baby-sugar daddy arrangements as simply another form of dating and thereby turn a blind eye to the exploitative realities that they entail for those involved and the worldview of normalized exploitative systems that they reinforce for our society.