Seeking Arrangement is a sugar dating website that describes itself as creating “relationships on your terms”; terms which the website conveniently does not explicitly define, placing themselves in the gray area of facilitating online commercial sexual exploitation. Sugar dating is marketed as relationships in which young, attractive women can meet “experienced men” who will provide everything from mentorship to all expenses paid lavish vacations. In this system, men are encouraged to engage in no strings attached relationships with beautiful young women. Meanwhile, “sugar babies” are told that this experience will empower them and benefit them both financially and experientially.
In most cases, “sugar dating” is just another term for prostitution.
Research has found that “the majority of sugar dating and other similar sex for money ‘mutually beneficial arrangements’ are illegal, as they are forms of prostitution, and state prostitution statutes should reflect this reality, regardless of the wealth of the parties involved.”
The men, the “sugar daddies” who feed the demand for “sugar dating” are there to gratify their own sexual entitlement.
One young woman who signed up for Seeking Arrangement described being pressured into sexual activity:
“It’s not just 55-year-old guys with a bit of cash they want to spend on spoiling a 20-year-old. That’s the pipe dream they sell you. It’s a lot of men with really strange and dark fantasies… “You get the idea that it’s not really sexual, as that’s the image portrayed in the media. When I went on it, I thought I wouldn’t really have to do a lot. I didn’t realize the level that was expected. I thought, at the worst, I would have to send some photographs and do some webcam-ing, I didn’t know how explicit it was going to be and just how awful it is. It’s a load of men with really obscure fantasies and fetishes. A lot of it is about inflicting sadistic stuff on girls and students who are vulnerable. It’s all pretty extreme…Through me being on there, I was recruited into the sex industry…Just because we are adults, it doesn’t mean we are not vulnerable. Men still prey on you. The predators and the pimps prey on 18 to 25-year-olds that they know are financially desperate.”
“Both prostitutes and sugar babies are bought by men willing to pay them to be sexually available, and they’re both damaging acts,” says Kathleen Barry, PhD, author of The Prostitution of Sexuality. “Unlike [prostituted persons], sugar babies have a delusion about their autonomy. They believe that paying their tuition without loans or carrying a Prada bag makes up for whatever they’re giving away. These young women may act with bravado, but they often feel shame. The power inequality mostly benefits the daddy,” she says, “leaving the ‘baby’ as powerless and dependent as her namesake.”
Seeking Arrangement’s facilitation of sugar dating is taking advantage of socioeconomically vulnerable populations.
In April 2020, it was reported that “World-wide [Seeking Arrangement] has seen a member increase of 74% compared to this same time last year. In Massachusetts that number is even higher at 86%.” This increase has a telling concurrent correlation with 6 million Americans (over 181,000 in Massachusetts) filing for unemployment claims around the same time. Seeking Arrangement promotes itself to those who are vulnerable in this way, notably those who are also increasingly pressured by economic context to accept sexual contact in the sugar dating relationship so that they can pay rent or buy groceries to live.
Further, Seeking Arrangement targets college students who are struggling with student debt with advertisements and free premium accounts, in order to provide sexual gratification to more socio-economically advantaged men.
One young woman who uses sugar dating to pay for college, commented on the overwhelming student debt facing her and her peers, she stated, “Maybe if the American college system wasn’t as corrupt, then there would be a lot less people doing it, and I wouldn’t have come across it.”
Another former sugar baby and college student stated: “Without a doubt, you are putting yourself in an extremely vulnerable position. There is a reason the men have chosen SeekingArrangement over eHarmony.com and that is to have sex with younger girls.” In the same article, one sugar daddy said, “I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that having a very young sugar makes an already exciting experience even hotter.”
Make no mistake, sugar dating is prostitution with a thin veneer of relationship and it is vital to push back against the normalization of such an exploitative trend.
Tell DOJ to Investigate SeekingArrangement
Please contact the Department of Justice and ask them to investigate SeekingArrangement for facilitating sex trafficking and prostitution.
Contact the National Center on Sexual Exploitation
Have you, or someone you know, been negatively impacted by SeekingArrangement or sugar dating? Email us your story at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the email please indicate if you want your story to be private to NCOSE or if you are willing for it to be shared publicly, and also whether you want it to remain anonymous or whether you would like attribution.
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It can be painful to share stories of sexual exploitation or harm, and sometimes it’s useful to focus on personal healing first. But for many, sharing their past or current experiences may be a restorative and liberating process. This is a place for those who want to express their story.