I Went Undercover As A Penn State Sugar Baby
When most people hear the term “sugar daddy,” they picture an older man, usually wealthy, who dates younger, usually attractive women. What most people don’t realize is that being a “sugar baby” to one of these men is a lucrative, booming business – especially among college-aged women.
As a student at Penn State, I’ve heard whispers around campus that some women used match-making websites to earn extra cash. It was never something I took too seriously, until I started to research these websites myself.
I came across several websites geared toward matching up sugar daddies and sugar babies. The most popular was SeekingArrangement.com, a website that brands itself as a gateway to find a “mutually beneficial relationship.” The idea is simple – connect wealthy men with young women who are willing to sell their time, and possibly more.
The idea of the “sugar daddy” has been around for centuries, but the idea of the “sugar baby,” at least as an official title, is relatively new. SeekingArrangement was created by Brandon Wade, a prominent internet entrepreneur, in 2006. The website now boasts more than 3.6 million users, 2.6 million of them sugar babies. SeekingArrangement didn’t create the idea of a sugar baby, but it helped boost it onto an international level — reaching roughly 139 countries.
According to the site, college students make up the vast majority of sugar babies. On SeekingArrangement.com’s list of “Top 20 Fastest Growing Sugar Baby Schools of 2015,” Penn State ranks 17th.
I was shocked, but at the same time it made complete sense. College prices are the highest they’ve ever been. As a student, I’d felt the pain of dropping hundreds of dollars for one textbook. From an outsider’s perspective, it seemed like easy money. At the same time, I had so many questions. How exactly did these relationships work? Could this be considered prostitution? What kinds of men were using this site in the small town of State College?
I decided to use my status as a young blonde college student to go undercover as a sugar baby. Because the site technically doesn’t allow the solicitation of sex for money, it says it is legal. I created a profile on the site within a couple minutes, adopting the name “Sugar Satine” as my alias. The site required a brief physical description of myself – my height, body type, hair color – and a description of what I was looking for in my potential sugar daddy.
The site worked much like any of the other dozens of other dating websites I’ve seen before. You could narrow your search of sugar daddy profiles based on income, age, and location. Most of the sugar daddies I looked at were high income, making upwards of $500,000 a year – at least they said so.
User photos blurred to protect identity.
I branded myself as an “adventurous college co-ed” and waited. Within two days, I had over a dozen messages.
They came from men of all walks of life. Married men looking for a fling on the side, New York City real estate brokers, businessmen visiting town for the weekend, and young entrepreneurs. Ages ranged from mid-20s all the way to the late-70s. Some asked for dates and some outright asked for sex. Some offered contracts for long-term relationships and others just wanted to spend a day with me. Many of their messages emphasized discretion, and most of them were married. They all had one thing in common – they were willing to pay me just for my company. I felt like I had uncovered some sort of secret sex ring in small-town Pennsylvania.
Many of the men were pretty direct with their desires…some would say sleazy. In one particularly colorful message, a man offered me more than $1,400 a month to be my maid. That was the creepiest end of the spectrum.
But for the most part, the men were pretty polite. At least, as polite as you can be when offering to buy someone’s company. I sorted through each of their profiles extensively, making sure I picked one that would clearly respect my boundaries. One guy’s message stood out in particular.
“In State College for two days on business, and wanted to know if I could take you to dinner?” the message read. It seemed innocent enough.
The message belonged to a 55-year-old man in a well-paying job from an Asian country who visited town on business frequently. We’ll call him Frank. Frank was highly educated, a multi-millionaire, and described himself as having “poor social abilities.” Compared to all of the other men, he seemed lonely, rather than creepy or sex-crazed.
We arranged to meet at a restaurant downtown. I wanted to be somewhere public and extremely visible in case anything went wrong. I let my friends know my whereabouts and told them I’d check in on the hour. With that, I went to go meet my sugar daddy.
When I arrived at the restaurant, Frank had already gotten us a table. As I walked over to sit down, I could already see he was visibly nervous. A thin layer of sweat covered his forehead, and he pulled on the collar of his immaculate white-collared shirt repeatedly. His voice shook as we went through the usual small talk.
We spoke of the poor weather, and our hometowns, and my studies. It was almost as if we were dancing around the fact that he was a man more than 30 years my senior who was attempting to buy my affections.
Conversation was difficult, to say the least. How much do a 55-year-old from overseas and a 21-year-old college student have in common? Not shockingly, pretty much nothing, though I was surprised by his kindness and his intelligence. When I heard the term “sugar daddy,” I always imagined a creepy old man who grabbed girls’ butts on the street and bought cars with the money he inherited from his rich parents, but he wasn’t that at all. He was actually pretty nice in a, “you’re a pleasant person but old enough to be my father and it’s weird” kind of way.
After two awkward silence-filled courses and a cup of coffee, he offered me a contract. It was simple, he said. I would receive $1,700 in cash a month to spend time with him when he was in town on business. He clarified the contract would ensure that I would be paid, not so that I couldn’t escape the relationship should I chose to do so. He seemed nervous as he made his offer, like he was worried he hadn’t offered enough. After a short pause, he hurriedly added that if our relationship lasted six months he would buy me an expensive piece of jewelry. Something from Tiffany’s, just like the girls in movies, he said.
I was once again baffled. Not only by the sheer amount of money he was willing to pay me for doing essentially nothing, but by the fact he didn’t want sex. He didn’t want to parade me around at parties as his trophy girlfriend. He really just wanted someone to spend time with him and pad his ego. He wanted companionship and he was willing to pay for it.
This wasn’t Frank’s first time using the site. He had two sugar babies before, but they didn’t work out for some reason or another. I didn’t want to pry, but maybe that’s why he wanted a contract? I asked him if he knew any other men that used the site – he didn’t. He found the site when he was browsing the web for dating websites targeted at wealthy men. I slurped down another cup off coffee out of nervousness, before telling Frank I wouldn’t be able to accept his offer.
“I just don’t think it will work out,” I said.
I couldn’t even think of an excuse that wouldn’t hurt his feelings, but I obviously couldn’t take the man’s money for the sake of journalistic ethics, so I just left him with that. He seemed disappointed, but not offended. I thanked him for the dinner and left the restaurant in a hurry. He never contacted me again.
By the end of the date I actually felt pretty bad that I couldn’t help the guy, but I was still disturbed by the normalcy with which he treated the situation. What if he did want a sexual relationship, like so many of those men who messaged me did? What if I was one of the barely-legal women in this town that was desperate for cash? The whole situation just felt so overtly wrong.
The Internet has made meeting people easier than ever, but this brings about its own problems. Not all of these men are dangerous — in fact, many of them are background checked by the website. But the fact that so many women (163 Penn Staters signed up for the site in 2014 alone) are using this site is startling.
This isn’t just a trend in Pennsylvania colleges, either. There are 16 other universities above Penn State on that list of schools, with University of Texas coming in first. Arizona State University, New York University, Kent State University, and Georgia State University take the other top spots, respectively. SeekingArrangment.com claims there are more than a million college students using the site in order to pay for college tuition. It even offers free premium memberships to users who sign up with a .edu email address. Roughly 73 percent of these college students are undergraduates, and 27 percent are at or above the graduate level.
Though I was lucky in the sense that my sugar daddy was non-threatening, not all sugar babies are so lucky. In this video, a popular YouTube user describes how her long-term sugar daddy locked her in his basement full of guns after she tried to end the relationship. Another YouTuber, Josie Kurowski, ended her sugar baby lifestyle after she discovered her sugar daddy was a member of the mob.
Of course, these are just a few examples. There are plenty of safe and functioning sugar daddy and sugar baby relationships, but many aren’t.
Sites like SeekingArrangement.com have realized that college students, most of whom are extremely concerned about their economic future in an age of crippling student loan debt, are increasingly desperate to find more income. According to the site, the average compensation for being a sugar baby is $3,000 a month – way more than the average student can make working part-time. With essentially a click of a button, these women are given access to the men who are willing to pay it, whether that’s for sex, companionship, or something else. And so long as there’s easy money, sites like these will continue to grow.