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Student loan debt in the United States totals around $1.71 trillion and grows six times faster than the country’s economy. As a result, college students struggle to make ends meet while pursuing an education to pay off those debts later. Because minimum-wage jobs available to students don’t meet the current cost of living, a growing number of students are turning to a non-traditional method of obtaining resources to make ends meet. This phenomenon is known as sugar dating, a mutually beneficial relationship between a sugar daddy— a wealthy older male interested in providing a financial resource for his partner— and a sugar baby— younger women interested in this type of relationship. 

What is Sugar Dating?

Sugar dating is a transactional dating practice typically characterized by an older, wealthier person and a younger person in need of financial assistance in a mutually beneficial relationship. Sugar dating is posed as a safe, alternative balance of school and working one or multiple part-time jobs. 

What’s problematic about the business model is that it is typically targeted to younger, low-income individuals that may be looking for financial assistance. However, the danger of situations as such is that they often lead to a variety of forms of manipulation and sexual exploitation. 

Sugar dating can involve scenarios of harassment, sexual assault, and the manipulation of financial arrangements to coerce unwanted sexual action— also known as rape. “Sugar dating” isn’t safe, and it isn’t an empowering system— it is inherently exploitative. 

Are There Gender Differences in Sugar Babies?

Although there is little research on the topic, sugar dating has become a cultural phenomenon that has grown throughout the past decade. The relationship between an older man (the sugar daddy) and a younger woman ( the sugar baby) typically proceeds differently than relationships between sugar mommas and their male sugar babies. The critical difference is in regards to intercourse. 

It is more common to see a sugar daddy/female sugar baby relationship focus on sexual relations, while sugar momma/male sugar baby relationships are more about developing a nurturing relationship. Male sugar babies typically describe their interactions with sugar mommas as regular relationships where the partner happens to be a little bit older and have a higher socioeconomic status.  

How is Sugar Dating Advertised?

Sugar dating almost exclusively originates through online means of communication. There are websites and dating applications that promote sugar babies and daddies/mommas to come together to form relationships. They also include paid advertisements, which can be both traditional and digital. Examples of both forms of communication include:

  • Billboards that have sayings such as “Happy 18th Birthday! Meet your New Daddy.”
  • Google advertisements that result from searching up “sugar daddy” or a variant of that phrase.
  • Commercials targeting young, attractive women with the headline “Sugar Baby University: Saying goodbye to college debt and hello to a higher class education.”
  • Incentives to college students for joining their site, such as having access to a premium account for free. 

One reason why sugar dating has become so popular online is that it is easier to meet a large variety of individuals online as opposed to in person. In addition, one can vet through a good amount of information about an individual in a concise profile online. Some websites/dating apps that have catered to these types of relationships include:

  • Tinder 
  • SeekingArrangements
  • SugarDaddyMeet

Tinder doesn’t facilitate these types of relationships. Therefore, there is no risk to the company if their customers are engaging in the trade of sexual intercourse for material gain. Because of this, Tinder has become a popular way for individuals to engage in sugar dating relationships. Besides Tinder, other apps appear to be geared toward sugar dating specifically. 

What’s the Difference Between Sugaring and Prostitution?

The difference between prostitution and sugaring is as simple as the difference between a relationship and a transaction between two people, according to those who profit from it. The glamorous lifestyle promised by sugar websites is actually a pretty dangerous lifestyle. In fact, sugaring is on the same continuum as prostitution and sex trafficking.

Although the two are very similar, there is a key difference. There is no legislation to help monitor this part of the sex industry. That means there are no protections to help sugar babies who may become victims of sexual violence at the hands of their sugar daddies. 

When Can Sugar Dating Become Trafficking? 

Sugar dating is becoming popular among the college scene. It’s important to recognize how sugar dating is exploitative and can become dangerous to the point of sex trafficking. To start off, it’s important to acknowledge why women in college join these types of arrangements. 

Most of the time, these women are disadvantaged economically, like many women who engage in prostitution or other forms of sex work. When they enter a sugar dating arrangement, which more likely than not includes intercourse, money begins to come in, allowing them to pay their debts or take care of their family and themselves.

Once the commercial sex boundary is crossed, the person can become more vulnerable to the manipulations of the trafficker. This places the sugar daddy in the optimum position to be a trafficker. The control dynamic weighs in favor of the sugar daddy. If the sugar baby declines to do something in the “arrangement,” the sugar daddy has the absolute power not to pay the allowance until the sugar baby does whatever he requests. Situations as such are clear examples of coercion.

One experience from a trafficking survivor and survivor of sugaring, Megan Lundstrom of Avery Center for Research & Services said:

“When I met my first trafficker, I had been sugaring a couple of months at that time, and I disclosed to him that is what I was doing at the time to pay my bills. And so from there, there was really no grooming process. That boundary of engaging in commercial sex acts had already been violated. So for him, it was just establishing that trauma bond and then taking over my money. That happens commonly.”

The Carlson Law Firm Cares

Unfortunately, the reality is that any relationship in which there is an exchange of money or material provision may create a power imbalance. With The Carlson Law Firm on your team, you can take your control back. 

We have a team of sexual assault attorneys that can help you out if you have been sexually assaulted. If you are a sexual assault survivor, contact us today to schedule a free and confidential consultation. We care. We can help. 

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