Seeking Arrangement: College Students Using 'Sugar Daddies' To Pay Off Loan Debt
"I was thinking about going on Match but I needed help financially," says a 25-year-old student at a trade school in New York. When meeting men online, she sometimes goes by the name of Suzanne. "I guess what finally pushed me over the edge was that I needed help to pay off my loans from school."
Earlier this spring, after Suzanne got fired from her job as a waitress at a diner on the Upper East Side, a girlfriend suggested she create a profile on Seeking Arrangement. Suzanne had grown desperate after falling behind on rent. She also needed to come up with $3,000 for a trimester's worth of paralegal classes.
Suzanne already has an associate's degree in elementary education from a community college in New Jersey. Unable to find a job as a teacher's aide, she decided to enroll in paralegal classes at night. But after losing her job, the extra debt proved more than she could afford. She took out $10,000 in loans to pay for a year of school and promptly went on the hunt for a sugar daddy.
Over the past few months, Suzanne says she's gone on more than 40 dates with men from the site. She's not interested in getting wined and dined every single time. At a minimum, she hopes for at least a modicum of attraction. She's already turned down a man who weighed 400 pounds, as well as the advances of countless married men. Though desperate, Suzanne says a homewrecker she is not.
Following numerous emails and chats on the phone, Suzanne generally schedules a first meeting with a man in a public place -- a crowded restaurant, cafe or bar.
After nearly giving up on finding an arrangement, Suzanne recently met a 39-year-old college professor from Dover, N.J. So far, the two have gone on three dates. They typically meet at his house, where he usually cooks her dinner. Afterwards, they have sex.
"After all the assholes I've met, this guy's a real gentleman," says Suzanne, during a break before class. "At the end of the night, he usually gives me $400 or $500 bucks. It's not bad money for a night." While the men typically pay per meeting, Suzanne is hoping to set up an ongoing hookup. Mostly, she doesn't want the men thinking she's only seeing dollar signs, pegged to when her rent or tuition money is due.
While she does not label herself a prostitute, Suzanne's not one to mince words: "If this isn't what prostitution is called, I don't know what is."
"Under the banner of sugar daddy and sugar baby arrangements, a lot of prostitution may be going on," says Ronald Weitzer, a professor of sociology at George Washington University, where he studies the sex industry.
Weitzer says arrangement websites operate lawfully since simply advertising for a sugar daddy or sugar baby is within the realm of legality. "The only illegal aspect would be if the individual receives some kind of direct payment or material compensation for sex."
Allen Lichtenstein, a private attorney in Las Vegas who specializes in first amendment issues, affirms that in order for an exchange to be classified as prostitution there has to be a clear "meeting of the minds" that the arrangement is a quid pro quo, or exchange of sex for money. Absent an immediate sex-for-pay exchange, the legal waters grow far murkier.
"One could even consider certain marriages where there are unequal financial resources to not be overly dissimilar," says Lichtenstein. "But 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."
But Weitzer views more extended, involved relationships -- say, a monthly stipend or dinner and occasionally having sex -- as ways for both "college girls and sex workers to camouflage what's very likely prostitution."
Weitzer sees college women as particularly susceptible to entering such an arrangement, especially during times of economic distress. "I could easily see people who have been in college at an elite university, who are paying a lot of money and racking up a ton of debt -- perhaps law school or medical students -- being more attracted to something like this, rather than someone who went to a state school or someone with little or no debt."
Weitzer also sees a potential danger for young women getting sucked into making large sums of money and later finding it difficult to abandon such a lifestyle. "The more you make, the harder it becomes to transition away from," says Weitzer, "just like high-end sex workers anywhere."
DOUBLE LIVES AND SPLIT PERSONALITIES
A year ago, Dayanara started dating an older, married executive while working as a summer intern at an investment bank in New York. The relationship quickly blossomed into a sugar daddy relationship, with him sending her a monthly allowance of $5,000 when she returned to Florida International University in the fall. The two would meet up once every few weeks, for a night out in Miami or a romantic weekend in the Caribbean.
Dayanara, now 23, would set some of the money aside for school and living expenses, often sending the remainder home to her parents in Puerto Rico. Eventually, the relationship soured. And after graduating in May with $30,000 in student loan debt and another $10,000 in credit card debt, she grew increasingly desperate.
In May, Dayanara moved back to New York. Rather than look for a job on Wall Street, she began an elaborate online hunt for other hookups. She says she's now engaged in three separate sugar daddy relationships, in addition to working part time as a topless masseuse on the Lower East Side. On her profile on Seeking Arrangement, she describes herself as a M.B.A. student from Bahrain.
An entertainment industry executive she met on the site regularly gives her $2,500 for a night of dinner and sex. Meanwhile, she's paying off her debt and saving for her dream graduate school: a Ph.D. in finance from the London School of Economics.
Her biggest fear is that one of these days she'll run into one of the bankers from her former life. "The decision was a hard one to make because if I do this and get found out, I will never have a career in this industry again," says Dayanara, whose dark eyes and tan skin allow her pretend whichever fantasy her client desires, be it a Spanish, Indian or Middle Eastern mistress.
Six of the eight women interviewed for this article mentioned the longer-term psychological toll of pretending to be someone else. Double lives and dual identities are common for both the women and men involved in sugar relationships. Lately, when Dayanara catches her reflection in a storefront window, she says she sometimes doesn't know which version of herself is staring back.