As the cost of college skyrockets, and students and recent graduates get buried under "piles of student debt and a job-scarce, lackluster economy," more and more of them are turning to "sugar daddies," says Amanda Fairbanks at The Huffington Post. Sites like SeekingArrangement.com, SeekingTuition.com, and SugarDaddyMeet.com allow young, mostly female students to post "sugar baby" profiles and hook up with a "sugar daddy" for "mutually beneficial relationships," which often involve a trade of money for companionship and sex. Is this a new way for today's 20-somethings to pay for college? Here, a brief guide:
Is this for real?
Apparently. Seeking Arrangement founder Brandon Wade, 41, says he's seen a 350 percent jump in verified college-going "sugar babies" since 2007, and he now actively advertises his site as a way to pay off student loans. "College students are one of the biggest segments of our sugar babies and the numbers are growing all the time." And several academic studies back that up. The rise in sex-for-tuition arrangements is "really the perfect storm of debt and a down economy, not to mention a generation of middle-class women coming of age who were raised to believe that their sexuality isn't something to be afraid of," says British sociology professor Ronald Roberts.
How exactly do "sugar daddy" sites work?
"Sugar daddies" and "sugar mommies" pay anywhere from $50 a month to $2,400 a year — which puts you in the elite, profile-boosting Diamond Club at Seeking Arrangement — to offer their largesse to "sugar babies," mostly under-25 women, who post their profiles for free. The sugar baby and daddy usually chat before meeting, and their "dates" can include lavish meals out or shopping sprees — and sometimes, sex. In some longer-term arrangements, the sugar baby gets a monthly stipend.
How is this different than prostitution?
It isn't, says Jenée Desmond-Harris at The Root. Don't let the "sweet names" fool you. Nonsense, says Las Vegas attorney Allen Lichtenstein. "Any relationship that is an ongoing one that's not purely about sex but may have a sexual aspect to it, you can't really classify as prostitution. It would simply cover too much ground." Right, and a Las Vegas lawyer is "obviously the most qualified judge of morality," says Colleen Stufflebeem at Death + Taxes. These sites are "getting away with blatant prostitution," period.
OK, but is there anything wrong with these arrangements?
No, it's just older, successful men "paying to break the ice" with younger women, says Seeking Arrangement's Wade. And "if you're an attractive person, time is very valuable because you get a lot of attention and asked out a lot of the time. This is an opportunity for you to be compensated." Gross, says Stufflebeem. And what's really "uncomfortable" about the "sugar" arrangements is that "while the 'babies' are consenting, they're likely doing so more out of desperation than enjoyment."