Confessions of a college sugar baby
A Canadian university student says she's benefited greatly from becoming a "sugar baby," and that people who condemn relationships that may involve an exchange of money between young, college-aged women and financially stable, older men are wrong to call it a sex trade.
The second-year University of Windsor student, who asked CTV Windsor to identify her only as "Jennifer," says becoming a sugar baby was one of the best financial decisions of her life. Jennifer says her sugar daddy has given her approximately $2,500 in financial support since they started seeing each other in January, and that their relationship does not involve sex.
"I'm very thankful for him," Jennifer told CTV Windsor. She said her sugar daddy's support has helped her address many of the financial challenges that come with being a student, such as paying her tuition, her rent and her phone bill. However, she does not want to be publicly identified, because she says people don't understand the nature of the relationship.
"They don't really know what it really is," she said. "Their mind is still going back to, 'He's paying you. He's paying you.'"
Jennifer is one of 27 so-called sugar babies at the University of Windsor, and one of several hundred in Canada, according to the matchmaking website SeekingArrangement.com. The dating site primarily matches young, financially-strapped women with older, financially stable men who are seeking companionship. The site says it helps people find "mutually beneficial arrangements," in which both sides lay out their "goals" and "starting points" at the beginning of the relationship.
The SeekingArrangement website prominently features "sugar babies" and "sugar daddies," but also includes sections for "sugar baby males" and "sugar mommas."
Jennifer is one of the many women in their early twenties whose matches through the site help pay for school expenses.
SeekingArrangement launched its "Sugar Baby University" ad campaign early last year, with racy videos featuring several young, attractive women in school settings. The women in the videos are shown sipping wine with older men, and getting paid large sums of cash. The videos suggest becoming a sugar baby is a "better" way for young women to pay for their education.
"Attending college means you have a choice. Take out loans and eat ramen, or get a sugar daddy and live the life you've always wanted," a model in one of the videos says. "Sugar Baby University: Where beautiful, ambitious people graduate debt-free."
Dusty Johnstone, a women's studies professor at the University of Windsor, says she understands the thinking behind the sugar baby practice, though she has some accountability concerns about the website. She said she worries that some women who use SeekingArrangement might be "potentially vulnerable to exploitation," or even violence.
She also drew a distinction between becoming a sugar baby and becoming a sex worker.
"This idea of spending time with somebody and having economic support in exchange for that is not the same thing as sex trafficking – but they are still on kind of the same continuum," she told CTV Windsor.
Johnstone said students are likely embracing the sugar baby lifestyle because of societal pressure to get an education, despite the high cost of going to school.
"We are telling students, 'You need to have an education,' but we are not providing sufficient economic resources for many students to access that in a way that's really attainable," she said.
The SeekingArrangement website compares the sugar baby/daddy relationship to a business partnership. "In business, partners sign business agreements that outline their objectives and expectations," it says on the website. "Likewise, romantic relationships can only work if two people agree on what they expect, and what they can give and receive from each other."
SeekingArrangement spokesperson Brook Urick says gifting is a part of those expectations.
"In the relationship they're expecting to be gifted, and I think that's something that a lot of women and men are expecting in their relationships," Urick told CTV Windsor, in a phone interview. "Some of these relationships include sex. Some of them don't include sex."
Urick has appeared in several online videos for SeekingArrangement, in which she gives sugar babies advice on how to perfect their profile, how to "dress for daddy," and how to behave in relationships with a "married daddy" or a "divorced daddy."
Jennifer says she has never been paid for sex, and that she simply has a strong friendship with her sugar daddy. She added that her sugar daddy supports her choice to speak to CTV News about the relationship.
Jennifer says she signed up on the SeekingArrangement website in December, and received several messages a day from potential sugar daddies who were interested in her dating profile. She said she was "taken aback" by how respectful the men were, and that she expected they would be more sexual with their advances.
She also says she's not afraid to let a sugar daddy know when his sexual advances are unwelcome.
"That kind of separates it from the whole escort business," she said.
She met her current sugar daddy through the site and spoke with him via text and email for a month prior to their first date. She said that first date was "very nerve-racking," but the two of them got along well. Her sugar daddy asked about her financial struggles, and she told him she needed money to pay for school. At the end of the first date, he gave her some money, she said.
"It was about $500," Jennifer said. "Pretty good for the first date."
She added that the money "wasn't for the date. It was for what I needed it for."
Full-time students in undergraduate university programs paid an average of $6,191 in tuition fees for the 2015-16 school year, according to Statistics Canada. Ontario had the highest weighted average undergrad tuition fees, followed by Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia.
The University of Windsor declined to comment when reached by CTV Windsor.
With files from CTV Windsor