Sex For Tuition: Gay Male College Students Using ‘Sugar Daddies' To Pay Off Loan Debt
NEW YORK -- Three years ago, during his junior year at New York University, Kirk met with a financial aid officer to plead a familiar case: his inability to manage the yearly payments on his $50,000 tuition bill.
Once again, the school official reminded Kirk that in order to register for next semester’s courses, he needed to come up with another $8,000 -- or risk expulsion.
Kirk nearly divulged his secret to the loan officer, finally letting her know exactly what he had resorted to in a desperate attempt to finance his education. Midway through college, Kirk had begun turning tricks in order to pay for school.
“Once and for all, I just wanted her to understand what the expense of NYU was really costing some of us,” says Kirk, now 23, who graduated a little more than a year ago with a degree in theater and film. “I felt like telling her: You really have no idea what some of us do in order to stay here."
And the escort work didn’t end when Kirk left NYU. He has continued selling his wares on what he describes as “virtual street corners" -- websites where young gay men seek out the companionship of wealthy older suitors.
After personal ads on Craigslist drew little in the way of reliable income, Kirk went on the hunt for a "sugar daddy." He currently has a profile on a website called SeekingArrangement.com. Kirk’s lithe, bare physique figures prominently in most of his profile photos, while others showcase his dark, chiseled features. He describes himself as a bachelor’s degree-holding non-smoker and social drinker who’s on the hunt for a “patron/daddy/boyfriend.” While the price of Kirk’s companionship is listed as negotiable, he generally charges about $200 an hour.
Kirk is hardly alone in his decision to sell sex in order to pay for school. Late last month, The Huffington Post chronicled the uptick of debt-strapped young women similarly searching online for suitors or wealthy benefactors who, in exchange for companionship, sex, or both, might help with the bills.
But the willingness to date for money is not limited to beleaguered young women struggling to pay off debt. An increasing number of gay male students have also taken to the web in the past several years searching for wealthy benefactors. While young gay men exchanging sex for money certainly predated the financial collapse, recent events have pushed some students to consider engaging in risky behavior that in more robust economic times might have been unthinkable, according to several owners of websites that broker such hook-ups.
The rise in the number of straight and gay college students moonlighting as "sugar babies" occurs at a time when the life plans of many 20-somethings have taken a brutal detour. Earlier this summer, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that half of recent graduates are underutilized -- whether they are jobless, working part time, or working in a job that doesn’t require a college degree and therefore tends to pay less.
In addition to a lackluster job market, a historic number of recent graduates are also struggling to pay off an overwhelming amount of student loan debt. The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that over the past 20 years, the average annual cost of college has more than doubled. Nineteen million currently enrolled college students now face an average cost of $15,876 for one year of in-state tuition at a public university or $40,633 for one year at a private institution.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s quarterly report on debt recently found that delinquency rates for student loans are on the rise, with 11.2 percent of borrowers more than 90 days past due, compared with 9.5 percent of student loan borrowers during the same quarter in 2009. Further, between the first quarter of 1999 and the first quarter of 2011, student loan debt increased by a whopping 511 percent, with borrowers under the age of 30 bearing the biggest financial brunt.
While many 20-somethings embarked on their dream of a college education when a decent-paying job was virtually guaranteed as part of the package, the rules have now changed -- and a new generation is coming of age during an era of limited options.
Gautam Sharma, the 39-year-old founder of SugarDaddyForMe.com and GaySugarDaddyFinder.com, estimates that between 60 to 70 percent of his sites’ sugar babies are either currently enrolled college students or recent graduates. Of Sugar Daddy For Me’s 3 million members, Sharma says that about 2 million are sugar babies. Men seeking a gay sugar daddy account for about 80,000 of the site’s members and of these, about a quarter list some combination of “school,” “college,” “university,” “money for school,” “student debt,” “college debt,” “tuition,” and “college expenses” in their profile.
Another site, SeekingArrangement.com, which boasts over 800,000 members, has seen a sharp increase in users that it defines as “college sugar babies.” The site's 41-year-old founder, Brandon Wade, estimates that about 35 percent of its members are college students and 90,000 are gay male sugar babies. In 2007, the site said it had 5,239 gay male sugar babies who were also enrolled in college. Today, that figure stands at 35,682.
Kirk tries to abide by a few basic ground rules when getting sex for money: he refuses to perform oral sex, always wears protection, and will only have sex as a top, never a bottom. Whenever possible, he tries to avoid having sex with supposedly straight, married men looking for a “discreet” hook-up.
“I don’t want to feel objectified because of an exchange of money for sex. I want to feel equal and empowered, but I’m also really explicit that I’m just there for the money,” says Kirk, who estimates that he’s received money for having sex with more than 100 men in the last few years.
Kirk acknowledges that he’s benefited from the largesse of his various encounters. One sugar daddy paid for two years’ worth of rent on an apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, while another cosigned an additional loan for school. A recent hook-up yielded a new iPhone.
For the time being, Kirk says he sees working as a part-time prostitute as a practical solution to climbing out from beneath a mountain of student debt. Kirk also works as a server at a Manhattan restaurant four nights a week and auditions for theater and film work during the day. On free nights, he regularly trawls the web, looking for a generous sugar daddy willing to take on the burden of helping him pay off his hefty loans.
But with tuition money due each month, and an endless stream of voice mails from student loan creditors, sex work is starting to feel like something Kirk can’t afford not to do. The clock is ticking and Kirk knows that he won’t be young and gorgeous forever.
“IT’S PASSION ALL NIGHT LONG”
“How many of you sugar babies are hungry, but not for food?” the emcee croons to a packed crowd of hundreds at the Hudson Terrace, a rooftop lounge on 46th Street in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen. “Remember, guys: You’ve got to be generous. You’ve got to make it happen. It’s passion all night long.”