Lily Cruz* started sugar dating six years ago, and in that time has seen many men who held a wide variety of jobs. “Most were executives, though a few were lawyers, worked in IT, or the creative arts.” Many of her sugar daddies pay per meeting, but she’s also been offered monthly allowances that average out to $1,500 for two to four nights together per week.
That variable nature is at the heart of sugar dating, a relationship in which young women date (typically older) men for fun and profit. Cruz finds these arrangements to be a good source of additional income, but nothing more. In her experience, the sugar daddies tend to be “flaky.”
Tessla Coil started sugar dating after graduating from Princeton in 2011. Her education and upbringing helped her feel comfortable on these dates, as she felt like she shared common ground with the men. “I was used to the byproducts of wealth,” she said. “I felt entitled to their money and being treated a certain way, and they felt entitled to my attention.”
The reasons why she started sugar dating were mostly financial: She wanted to start earning money right out of college. And her sex-positive attitude made this choice more accessible. “I thought that I had been having enough sex for free,” she says. “I didn’t really buy into the social ideas about how I was supposed to behave.”
Young adults like Cruz and Coil — especially college-aged or recent graduates —see sugar dating as a way to harness their sexuality in service of financial security. One website, Seeking Arrangement, even connects sugar babies with sugar daddies (and mommies). Unsurprisingly, the sugar daddies’ profiles prominently feature their income and budget.
On the whole, these sugar daddies are well-established, with each sugar daddy boasting an average net worth of $5.2 million in 2015. In order to facilitate the exchange, the sugar babies’ profile lists their lifestyle expectations, which dictates their allowance. On average, sugar babies receive an average of $3,000 a month.
The relationships begin like any other. Seeking Arrangement spokesperson Angela Jacob Bermudo says an initial meeting between a sugar baby and daddy serves as a first date — but, aside from favorite movies and books, the couple also discusses the details of the arrangement. That can include how often they will meet, what assistance the sugar babies will receive, or what type of relationship each person wants.
Bermudo says the type of relationship can vary. Some people might be looking for mentorship or a reliable date for events. Others might want something more consistent, like weekly dates.
When Coil was sugar dating full time, she “was able to support myself, more or less.” Not all the benefits are purely monetary, though. Bermudo says sugar babies can get mentorship opportunities and jobs out of these relationships. She has also seen sugar babies start businesses with the help of their sugar daddies. And they can experience a wealth of new opportunities, like dining at five-star restaurants and flying first class. “It really is a lifestyle change for a lot of women,” she says.
It’s not all fancy meals and vacations abroad, though. Cruz’s experience hasn’t been entirely positive — she stopped after one man attempted to extort and assault her — but she started back up again about a year ago because of the money. She’s currently in a relationship with a man who pays her per meeting. Thanks in part to sugar dating, she says she is financially stable: “I have a savings built up.”
In exchange for the money and gifts, the daddies get companionship. “You have somebody that is devoted to you, that is void of any of the usual hang-ups … in traditional relationships,” Bermudo explains.
While the average North American sugar daddy on Seeking Arrangement is 45 years old, the sugar babies are much younger. There are a reported 1.134 million student sugar babies, who range in age from 21 to 27 years old. The high number of students likely stems from the free premium memberships offered to babies with a .edu email address, which otherwise cost about $70 a month for sugar daddies or mommies.
Coil has been involved with around 12 men, who were typically in their 40s or 50s, though a few were younger. Cruz’s two current sugar daddies are both in their mid-40s. In her experience, most sugar babies prefer dating daddies who are 50 or older.
Cruz usually seeks out married men, “just so I can have those boundaries,” she says. Single men demand more of her time — but, no matter what their marital status, men inevitably get emotionally attached. Having a wife just means there’s at least one barrier.
Unlike escorting, Seeking Arrangement makes no mention of any physical perks, and Bermudo asserts that the site functions just like any other dating website. “There’s no denying that when two people do enter into a relationship, that sometimes it can become sexual, but it’s not part of the give and take of the arrangements,” she says.
This makes these relationships hard to define. While Cruz considers herself a sex worker, not all sugar babies do. For Cruz, the key difference is that sugar babies have to make the man feel like it’s more than just a transaction. Because of that, “It’s more emotionally exhausting,” she says. She likens it to the first month of dating, where you dress nicely and put your best foot forward no matter the situation.
But sugar relationships can be more meaningful, too. Bermudo says some relationships can last for years — and that some couples even end up getting married. This success is unsurprising, because in some ways sugar dating is easy. Men get to meet young and beautiful women without jumping through the hoops that traditional dating often requires.
Bermudo says this mirrors society as a whole: “This is very modern. We’re a have-it-now, instant-gratification nation. We want the perfect relationship, the perfect girlfriend at the snap of a finger without having to work too hard for it.” Sugar dating provides this in the form of pre-made relationships that are still intimate and long-term. For men who are accustomed to paying for everything else, why should dating be any different?
This article series is exploring the ins and outs of paid sex in its many iterations. Do you have any thoughts on sugar dating? Does it sound appealing? Share your thoughts. For a deeper look inside the provocative world of paid intimacy, catch the new Starz series The Girlfriend Experience on April 10th. Watch the trailer below now.
Nandita Raghuram is a Senior Writer at Studio@Gawker. She tweets here.
*Some names have been changed.