Confessions of a Short-Term Sugar Baby
Updated: May 15
An unconventional avenue towards auxiliary income.
By Eliza Burns
I made my Seeking Arrangements profile in a post-drunk fit of existentialism at the Stonewall Inn while the two straight men in the bar stared at my posse from their sticky high-top stools. It was my friend’s idea, prompted by my moaning and groaning about the apparent inability of anyone in New York to offer a livable wage. I selected photos, crafted a bio that was witty yet not threateningly so. Another friend, one with a return offer from Accenture, looked on dubiously.
Seeking Arrangements is a website designed to match sugar daddies and mommies with sugar babies. Recently rebranded to just Seeking, it bills itself as a “luxury dating site for successful and attractive singles.” The disguise is insubstantial; the patrons equally shallow.
In simplest terms, Seeking is a clusterfuck. Laura, a former sugar baby who used the site, referred to it as “a sexual LinkedIn” and to those who frequent it as “the weirdest dudes I have ever interacted with in my life.” Seeking definitely lends itself to a certain kind of person, the kind who needs to hire women to go on dates, the kind who craves power over someone much younger and poorer than them, the kind who hides behind usernames like ArtisticHottie, DapperLegend, and ElitePrince.
Housed on the worst user interface in recent memory, Seeking works like this: There are two categories of membership, “Attractive” and “Successful.” (Because, of course, these traits are mutually exclusive.) Attractive members are typically young women looking to become sugar babies; Successful members are typically older men interested in acquiring one. Sometimes, Successful members are interested in an online-only or platonic relationship, but more often, they are looking for in-person meetings, sexual or at least romantic in nature. In return, Attractive members—sugar babies—receive compensation through one of two structures: pay-per-meet, or PPM, which resembles a kind of freelance escorting, or by allowance. Receiving an allowance, monthly or weekly, usually comes along with a longer-term and sometimes exclusive arrangement. Users can filter profiles by age, gender, ethnicity, body type, hair color, whether they smoke or drink. Successful members are encouraged to include their salary range. Both Attractive and Successful members can view, favorite, and message the other category, although not members of the same category. In my experience, the latter tend to take the initiative and message first. With much persistence.
The morning after I made my profile, when I woke up with last night’s mascara smeared under my eyes, I had dozens of messages. Some were almost comically polite. All were presumptuous. A few, feeling entitled to the body of a woman they would never meet, were aggressively sexual accounts of what exactly they would like to do to me. Most of those came from profiles without any photos; the generic bluish silhouettes that stood in their place took on the ominous aura of an approaching army. When I told one man that I wouldn’t have sex with him after a few days of constant harassment, he told me that I was “whoring myself out” and to “stop kidding myself.”
Because sex work is still illegal in many states and countries, any mention of sugar dating or illumination of what an “arrangement” entails is conspicuously absent from Seeking’s website. Patrons are warned against soliciting sex; officially, the website’s user agreement “prohibits any unlawful use of the site, including escorting, prostitution and human trafficking.” As a result, many of the messages I received were rife with circumlocution and coded language—“mutually beneficial” means “money for your company” and “mentorship” means “intimacy”—or requests for my personal contact information so that they could speak in more candid terms. The man who told me I was whoring myself out was almost refreshingly honest, if not quite correct.
Some of the messages made me concerned for my safety; while my real name appeared nowhere on my profile, my photos can easily be traced back to my personal social media. While I am not naive, I do tend towards carelessness. I know that meeting somebody for a sugar date, especially for the first time, can be extremely dangerous. Even armed with a fake identity and a burner flip phone, Laura found herself in a dangerous situation when her first sugar date roofied her. Luckily, she escaped with the help of a female employee who snuck her out of the club’s back door.
The reason why I created the profile, however, remained. I started seeking an arrangement partially because of a desire to keep up with my wealthier peers. At an elite institution like Columbia, where 13 percent of the student body are one-percenters, it can be easy to feel left out of what are billed to be quintessentially New York experiences because of their price tags. While I am under no illusion that I am underprivileged, I am trying to break into an industry where I’ll be lucky to earn $48,000 as an entry-level employee. Compared to my friends in consulting and finance, not to mention those with family money, it’s easy to feel left behind in a wake of expensive bottles, Ubers, concert tickets, and Moncler puffers.
Whether or not I am justified in seeking a sugar arrangement as a product of the upper middle class is a subjective call. I bet there are better essays out there about it. But the sentiment of not being able to keep up in a monstrously wealthy environment is not unique to me. Jane, a low income student at Columbia moving to the city from a rural area, found her first year at school—the 2020-2021 school year, when Covid restrictions limited on-campus housing to students without suitable learning environments at home—extremely difficult. Adjusting to the New York City cost of living was one obstacle. “I quickly realized that I spent my money a lot faster,” she told me. And when more students began pouring onto campus in the spring of 2021—a significantly wealthier influx—it only exacerbated the problem. “Making a lot of friends that came from those demographics was really hard because they would invite you out to clubs that had higher fees to get in, or they’d ask you to dinners that were more expensive,” Jane said. “I thought that dabbling in the sugar dating scene might get me those experiences.”
Laura told me a similar story. She started sugar dating during her first summer in the city, when she was working a low-paying service job. “Being in the city and being at this school, you’re surrounded by a lot of really wealthy people, and you’re also surrounded by really competitive people … it’s tempting to be surrounded by that kind of wealth if you’ve never had it before.”
Ellie, another Columbia student, cited slightly different motivations. She told me that she didn’t know anybody else who was sugar dating when she started during her sophomore year. “I thought it would be a cool thing to do so that I could say that I had done it, which, looking back, is silly,” she told me. “But I think that’s the way that I approached a lot of my life when I was 18, 19.” She found that it was a good way to make money and to enable her, for example, to try stellar restaurants which she could not have visited otherwise. Still, Ellie largely echoed Laura’s disdain for the men she went on dates with, adding that she spent much of the time “commiserating” with the waitstaff.
Sugar dating is not always centered around a sexual relationship. Laura described the men she went on dates with as sexually pushy, but managed to avoid having sex with any of them. Ellie told me frankly that she didn’t have sex with anyone she wouldn’t have slept with otherwise. Her modus operandi is to “extract a few dinners” before ghosting them. Jane met a man on Seeking who claimed he was just looking for a friend, and saw him for about a month. The money she made lasted through the semester and the summer, a sum she described as “a level of casual, disposable income that I had never had before.” But Jane also admitted that his openness to a non-sexual relationship was an anomaly, and that he eventually indicated an interest in something more, something she was not willing to offer.
I “dated” one man for a few weeks, meeting up only once but staying in touch over text and promising another date, a promise which I inevitably broke. Before our date, he sent me a bottle of YSL perfume which, for better or for worse, has become my signature scent. I wore the perfume the night of our date, a whiff of trepidation on my wrists and in the sweat pooling under my arms. He was a banking executive who sported clothes that fit him awkwardly and an unsuccessful attempt at a combover. He was pretty nice. We ate $300 omakase and drank equally expensive sake out of tiny crystal goblets and I let him put his arm around the back of my chair when we got to a dimly-lit whiskey bar. I thought it was very obvious what we were doing there.
After the whiskey bar, I pretended that I had a dance class early the next morning and he called me an Uber home, one of those giant Black SUVs with tiny Poland Spring bottles sitting neatly in the cupholders like a pair of fabergé eggs. The next day, he sent me a hefty gift card for a hotel spa, which I used in February to get a four hundred dollar facial and float around in a sweet-smelling saltwater pool where they served herbal tea and candied orange peel. I had my taste of luxury, and it was sweet.
What I didn’t account for was the amount of labor that went into mere correspondence with these men. Ellie put it best: “There is so much bullshit to filter through.” Safety measures like fake names, contact information, and sometimes backstories add another, purposefully invisible, layer of effort.
These men are dedicated, at least outwardly, to the idea that we are not engaging in a transactional relationship, that the romance is not manufactured by the cabernet and caviar. Laura recognized a similar performative element to her dates: “He would pay for anything and everything. All I had to do was … pretend to be someone I wasn’t.”
Many of the men who reached out to me on the site said that chemistry was important to them. Of course, this meant that they wanted to make sure that they were attracted to me, and that I could pretend I was attracted to them. This kind of performance, even done over incredible food and drinks, is exhausting.
Compounding this exhaustion is the fact that most of these men are pretty insufferable. While they claim to value discretion, they also think they’re invincible. Jane’s sugar daddy was a doctor who spent half an hour of their first date elaborating on the blatant corruption he observes at his place of work. My date, a high-powered lawyer, showed me confidential work emails. Paired with the innately imbalanced power dynamic that accompanies any sugar relationship, this openness about their work lives results in a volatile propinquity, a sort of mutually assured destruction should one party tattle.
Despite the continued expectation of “the bimbo performance,” as Laura put it, another trend that Ellie and I both noticed was the premium that our dates put on our educational and intellectual capital. Attending an Ivy League university was an attractive trait to the men on Seeking; it allowed them to separate themselves from classist and elitist ideas of what a sugar baby or a sex worker is, to shrink further behind the armor of supposed mentorship. Ellie agreed: “It seems to lend me some sort of credibility … where they think I’m a ‘different kind’ of sugar baby because I’m educated.”
I am not ashamed of being on Seeking, but there exists a real possibility of repercussions due to the stigmatization of sex work and adjacent streams of income. On one hand, Jane told me that she was comfortable sharing this part of her life with fellow low-income students, a few of whom trailed her first date as a safety precaution; on the other, she admitted that she felt others couldn’t understand her motivations. It took me months to find sources for this article, mostly because few people wanted to lay bare this part of their lives. I attach my name to this article with the fear that, even with my abbreviated experience, it will negatively impact my future career.
None of the people I interviewed sugar anymore, and they all stopped for different reasons. Ellie met her current boyfriend on Seeking and no longer goes on dates with other men from the site. Jane cut off communication with her sugar daddy when she returned home for the summer, preemptively avoiding any attempts on his part to push the relationship further. Laura ended things with her more long-term arrangement after a series of altercations during which he refused to defend her to disrespectful friends and publicly fat-shamed her while shopping on Prince Street.
I personally stopped pursuing an arrangement because of concerns of how engaging in sex for money as an inexperienced non-professional would affect my future relationships, whether my finances would become dependent on the whims of another person, about the time it takes to maintain these relationships, and whether I could balance that effort with a full course load, a job, and time spent with people I like a whole lot more.
But what really freaked me out about sugar dating was the way it held up a mirror. My willingness, however brief, to perform for these men revealed a frightening truth about the way that material excess had become central to my happiness. My own frightening flippancy about being disrespected, objectified, potentially kidnapped, trafficked, assaulted—this had very little to do with sugar dating at all and more to do with self-worth. Laura described her own relationship with sugar dating as reactionary, self-destructive, and sensation-seeking behavior stemming from prior negative experiences with men. Her words resonated with me. Some sugar babies, like the three I interviewed, were good at setting boundaries. Others, like me, would probably not be.
Sugar dating makes good money; for many, it makes unprecedented money. Taking safety precautions and having a support system—both things I didn’t do—can make your experience much better. Examining your motivations carefully, dealing patiently and seriously with your base instincts and reservations, knowing that there are consequences to placing power in the hands of men you know will push your limit—these practices are also essential.
But the mental toll of Seeking and the sugar dating that it facilitates is still palpable. Some, like Ellie, find a happy ending. Other former sugar babies make it clear that they do not condone sugar dating; it is not something to be ashamed of, but it should not be approached frivolously either. In another succinct turn of phrase, Laura expressed that sugar dating is not a “fun-giggle-girlboss” endeavor. “You’re not tricking him,” she continued, “he knows exactly why he’s there.”