By Megan McDonald
College students often find themselves in financial stress juggling tuition, loans, rent and daily expenses. In a digital age with digital options, some female students take advantage of the internet and social media to receive money and gifts in exchange for companionship with affluent men, who style themselves as sugar daddies. This is part of a well-established online phenomenon called sugar-dating.
“My sugar daddy likes to send me a couple thousand dollars a month to pay for schooling or other monthly expenses,” says one young woman at the University of Arizona. She wants to remain anonymous, so we’ll call her Student A. She is among women who participate in the major activity of sugar-dating, in which females register to find relationships with older, often affluent men.
“He will even send me expensive gifts every so often,” Student A said. “It’s expected out of me to meet with him every now and then for dinner or coffee, to catch up and hang out.”
She is quick to answer the obvious question: “No, I don’t participate in any sexual favors — but he does like to spoil me.”
The phenomenon is popular, as attested to by the proliferation of sugar-dating websites offering relationship-seeking for all ages and situations. On social media platforms such as Instagram, female students commonly receive propositions in messages from men wishing to pay them for relationships – mentoring and networking opportunities or social engagements in which the older male is seeking a young, attractive companion. These relationships often go no further than the casual “meet-up-for-coffee” date, but sometimes could entail something as lavish as a trip to the Bahamas — all expenses paid.
Student A, who is 22 years old, says she never thought of looking for a gift-giving relationship, but when she was forced to become financially independent in college, she decided to create a profile on Seeking Arrangement, a popular sugar-dating website that claims to have 20 million members worldwide, half of them in the United States. It claims a registrant ratio of four females to every male. Membership is free for college students. Although she has received help through financial aid and scholarships, she said she was living paycheck to paycheck.
”When you hear the words sugar daddy and sugar baby, people automatically start judging,” she said. “Since society has added this huge negative connotation to these types of relationships, I feel as if I have to keep my relationship private. The only people who know about my relationship are my friends who are in these relationships as well.”
On Seeking Arrangement, Arizona ranks No.9 in state activity in the United States. Arrangements are flexible and determined by members.
Adelia Acker, 21, who has 17,000 followers on her Instagram profile, said that will post her Venmo name on her biography or Snapchat story from time to time to collect payments from her male followers.
“I’ve gotten $400 since December from people I’ve never spoken to,” Acker said. “There was one guy who captioned his payment, ‘are you looking for a sugar daddy?’ and I just liked the payment without responding. Clearly I’m not looking for anything, I just need money.”
Acker said she believes that some men on such online sites have a desire to feel financial power over young women.
A good-looking college girl on the Internet can find some financial advantages online, but there are obviously some matters of concern. A young woman who we will call Student B has been on Seeking Arrangement for two years and says there are ups and downs. When her University of Arizona friends mentioned their success with their sugar-dating, she was eager to see what it was all about. Her first relationship was quite successful, she said.
“He was more of a mentor to me,” Student B said. “I would tell him my life goals and passions and he would give me advice on different topics. He wanted to see me succeed and in return, he would pay my rent and send my friends and me on trips to the Bahamas.”
Student B kept that relationship secret and regarded it as a positive means of self-betterment, but she found others that were troubling.
“I figured I would try to get another sugar daddy in order to receive more money,” she said. “But a lot of the messages I got made me uncomfortable. There were guys asking for sexual favors and like role-playing, and that was just crossing the line for me. I’m sure a lot of girls do follow through with these things — or else, why would I get so many messages about sex?”
Most relationships on sugar-dating sites appear to be between young woman and older men, but affluent older women seeking a range of relationships with younger men are also represented.
But college students are a big prize. Seeking Arrangement even has a section “Sugar Baby University United States” showing a “student debt clock” as it clicks ever higher. The copy says “As tuition prices and the national student loan debt increase, so do the number of college Sugar Babies,” and then lists the top 20 universities and colleges where the most students registered on SeekingArrangement during 2018.
Georgia State was No. 1 on the 2018 list, which had no Arizona university in the top 20. However, on the top 20 list for 2017, Arizona State University came in at No. 1in the country, with 352 new “sugar babies,” for a total of 1,361. The University of Arizona was No. 13, with 179 new sugar babies, bringing the total to 583.