Sugar, spice and everything nice: a peer into the life of a college sugar baby
With lowered eyes covered in eyeliner sharp enough to kill, Luna* is hard at work. She's stationed at her sewing machine, stitching patches onto a leather jacket with her rescue dog, Izzy*, watching from her lap. She's wearing large platform shoes, a devilish lace-up top and a microscopic pleated skirt. Luna has just come home from a day at her part-time job, working at a clothing boutique. "Can I smoke?" she asks casually.
She crawls into bed and lights up, still clad in platform boots. I take a seat on the floor between her Sailor Moon and Care Bear stuffed animals, on a mountain of shag carpeting. Izzy runs back and forth between us.
Mirrors line the walls of her fantastic pink and purple den. Her home consists of two rooms and doubles as a sewing workshop where bright fabric samples, nostalgic photos of friends and a pink ball gag hang for inspiration. Here, she stitches up glittery bras for her online shop and Instagrams out killer selfies paired with sex-positive mantras for all to read.
But it's not her Etsy sales, retail gig or Instagram persona that pays for her workspace or covers her rent. Luna, on-again, off-again SMC student, dates rich men for money. "Luna" is her stripper stage name. Among her other forays into sex work, she is a sugar baby.
The definition of a sugar relationship varies depending on the source. Some consider sugar daddies as a mutually defined relationship where a "sugar daddy" or "sugar mommy" pays a "sugar baby" money to spend time with them on their terms. Some sugar relationships have blurrier terms, where the daddy provides the baby with luxury goods or experiences instead of straight monetary payment, sometimes called "Splenda daddies."
Luna is just one of the many young college girls forging relationships with the rich and elite. According to SeekingArrangement.com, the self-proclaimed “world’s largest sugar daddy website,” nearly two million students have joined their site as of January 2016.
The number of young girls Seeking Arrangement is in such abundance that the website has created a benefits program for student babies called Sugar Baby University, with on-site perks to bolster students' profiles. The program advertises sugaring as an alternate to college loans and low-wage jobs as means for paying for school.
"FAFSA and grants can be a nightmare — that’s if you are approved," Sugar Baby University's website says. "With SeekingArrangement.com’s Sugar Baby University, students from all backgrounds and income levels are welcome. No minimum GPA required. Join today and get your education paid for by a generous sponsor."
“There is a lot aside from the monetary gain,” Brook Urick, Seeking Arrangement’s Public Relations Manager, says. “Most of them are looking for mentorships outside of school. For example, a medical student can talk with doctors. So there’s a lot of mentorship.”
Luna agrees: sugaring is time spent well compared to working minimum wage.
"It's a customer service-related job — which I am good at — that has flexible hours and doesn't require a college degree, and makes more money than minimum wage so I can afford to live on my own," Luna says. "And that's why I do it. It was mostly an economics and convenience decision."
There are no set prices: sexual trends, the caliber of a baby's profile and the buyer's preference dictate how much a baby can request and how much a daddy's going to want to put out financially.
"Everybody, for complicated reasons, makes different amounts of money," Luna says. "Simple things make a big difference in your income. If you're blonde, you're probably going to make more money... If you have big boobs, even if they're a little fake, as long as they're not ridiculously fake, they're gonna make you more money. Big butt? More money. Little waist? More money."
Luna says at the start of her time "sugaring," she had short hair, which as "a rule of thumb in sex work in general, unless you're really, really good at working it — typically short haired girls make less because heterosexual men are dumb, especially in LA," she says. Luna now has long hair, which "is great because money."
Luna began sex work after her first quarter at UCLA, when she became a stripper. After dropping out of UCLA, she wanted to move out independently without financial assistance from her parents or otherwise. Luna's sugar baby career began about six months after she began stripping.
"When I went back to UCLA in the fall, after having taken a couple quarters off, I got into sugaring because I needed something less time consuming than stripping that wasn't always so late at night, but was cohesive with school as well," Luna says.
But not all girls enter the sugar world after engaging in sex work. With magazines like GQ and Cosmopolitan normalizing the stories of sugar baby experiences, girls who would never consider themselves sex workers use the site in the same fashion that one uses a regular dating site.
Frenchie*, an SMC student and novice sugar baby, says, “I’ve been on two coffee dates with the same guy. I liked it. The guy was really nice. He didn’t pressure me into doing anything. We just met up and talked.”
Coffee seems to be the consensus on a typical first sugar date. Luna also recalls going on many dinner dates in her initial months as a sugar baby.
“We went to fancy restaurants. One time a guy ordered takeout and we watched a bunch of movies." Luna lists dates off the top of her head while scratching Izzy's head. "One time, we went to see a movie, we went shopping for stuffed animals, we went looking at antique furniture for him. Another guy, we went to the bar that he owned and walked down the boardwalk. Just date things.”
Luna abhors the claim that sugar daddies are only signed up because they are ugly. Out of the approximately ten guys Luna has been out with, she insists most of them have been attractive. They don't pay for girls because they have to. They pay for girls because they want to.
Sugar daddies aren't trying to meet your family or deal with your emotional baggage. They pay because they want stress-free fun, unconditional attention, and casual affection from attractive young girls.
"Besides attention, guys on that site are usually looking for something specific to do with youth," Luna says. "Youth manifests itself in a lot of different ways and sometimes they like the taboo of it and sometimes they don't and that manifests in different ways. Youth. That's it."
As evident from the success of sugar relationship websites, it's clear that sugar daddies enjoy treating girls to luxurious nights in exchange for the ability to talk about themselves, leading the conversation in whichever way they want. This could be anywhere from sharing wall street stories over wine or gushing about their passion for boating while actually boating.
And though sugar daddies are notorious for taking babies on extravagant dates, the opulent experiences aren't primarily why the girls do it. Most sugar babies are just in it for the money.
“I was able to buy a really fancy sewing machine this year, and I was also able to save up for life insurance, which I’m in the process of getting approved for," Luna says. "I get to save money in a tax-free way, which is good for the future and retirement and shit.”
And as for question that is often first on people's minds: in the long term, do you have to have sex with the sugar daddies?
"In short, if you want to do it for a while, probably," Luna says. "For the first few months, I was on Seeking Arrangement, I personally had a rule for myself where I didn't want to have sex... It's super rare to find a situation that's satisfying for both parties where you aren't having sex or sexual contact. And that works for some girls, but it's a lot more limited and it doesn't really make it so you can have a real-ish relationship, which is hard for everyone to keep going with. It is possible in the short term.”
To put it bluntly, opponents equate this sort of dynamic to prostitution. But according to the sugar babies themselves, this is not the case. The relationships consist of more than just a physical connection. Sugar daddies provide monetary assistance, mentorship and fun experiences in return for emotional attention and affection from attractive babies. And seeing as the supply and demand for the relationships is only growing, maybe this dynamic works.
“Sugaring makes me feel cute and empowered and stable,” Luna says. “I like going on dates already. I like to go have fun and get fucked and dress nice. And I like to not worry at the end of the month that I’m not gonna have money.”
*Names changed to protect the privacy of the interviewees.