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Sugar babies are modern, practical and educated people that are slowly redefining the image of sex workers in the cultural consciousness.
In fact the sugar dating phenomenon has now become so mainstream that media including the Wall Street Journal, CNN and the BBC have all done features on it.
It has been suggested that the main catalysts for its surge in popularity are the huge rise in the cost of student debt alongside the increasingly unequal distribution of wealth brought about by the economic crisis.
A common first thought is that the subculture of sugar dating is nothing more than a modern version of prostitution, disguised in a way to make it more socially acceptable.
But that is to put it down. These sites have hundreds of thousands of users – many of them university students or other highly educated young women – who use these platforms to earn seriously big money.
What is more, the phenomenon provides compelling evidence that not all workers in the sex industry are either ‘tragic’ or ‘victims’.
What few completely fail to mention is the sexual freedom of a young woman to jump in bed with whomever she wants.
And so, being curious to talk to find out from the sugar babies themselves what motivates them, I created an account on sugardaters.co.uk.
Since then I’ve had some pretty revealing conversations with sugar babies regarding their motives, feelings and experiences – and there responses were massively varied.
Some did not even see themselves as working in the field of sex, some felt that sugar dating is a ‘grey area’, but others have simply replaced the word ‘whore’ with the term ‘sugar baby’.
When I pushed them on this, I got some interesting responses. One replied: “I do like to have a lot of sex, so why should I not get paid for it?” While another said: “Why should I work in a cafe for three euros per hour, when can I get 800 euros if I do it with a banker?”.
Other girls spoke very strongly about how their life as a sugar baby had given them the opportunity to travel, a chance at an artistic career, paid the costs of their studies, allowed them to dine in fine restaurants and to avoid living in damp, cramped college rooms.
One girl revealed:
The selection was great – although at first I came across many rough and strange men. But once I started to dedicate more time and get more familiar with every stage, things started to get better.
You can find all kinds of men – married, separated, free, bitchy, shy men looking for friends, others who are looking for sex, and others who are looking for a companion for city breaks.
It became obvious how exciting these exchanges can be for both parties, with one sugarbaby telling me:
When someone is willing to pay 1,000 euros to have sex with you, you have no need to be told that you are beautiful. You become a sexual luxury object and this is very interesting.
It is impossible to encounter this experience with your boyfriend, because the romantic relationships is overflowing with emotions.
Through talking to these women, it became clear that – if sex is involved in the exchange – it’s an experience that is vastly different from having sex for love or fun.
The girl continued:
Unlike when you’re with a boyfriend, when you’re with a sugar daddy you know your lover isn’t fantasising about someone else while they’re with you.
When someone pays, it’s because they want you. And this is a very strong emotion.
The conversation made me wonder if maybe all women feel like this at some point in their lives but can’t access the experience due to their values.
But more than that, these women are using their own bodies as a means for true freedom:
We can have sex for love, we can have sex for money, we can have sex for fun, we can have sex for any reason – provided that it is always our own decision.
Although the women I spoke to all feel perfectly comfortable with their choices, there remains a moral panic, often manifested through a media deriding both sugar daddies and sugar babies.
The relationships are labelled as ‘wrong’ – simply because they are not – for want of a better word – normal, and there remains an insistence that the sugar dating industry is simply seeking to justify prostitution.
But have sites like SugarDaters inspired thousands of women who, under other circumstances, would never consider ‘sex work’? Or is it something that would’ve always happened that the Internet merely made more visible?
No sugar baby is forced to work in the sex sector, many just realise this is the quickest (and easiest) way to make money as well as gain experiences that would otherwise remain firmly out of reach to them.
Although the wider world remains offended by prostitution, is it not more offensive when the world passes judgement on what someone does based on the freedom of their own choices and convictions – especially in the case of women’s bodies?
If one thing is certain, it’s that the women I spoke to are tired of constantly hearing that they themselves don’t know what’s best for them.