I decided to investigate the burgeoning business of older men paying younger women for companionship and sex. I soon began to wonder: could this be a socially acceptable way out of poverty?

I was on my way to my first date with my sugar daddy. I took an Uber, and mused over how convenient society had become. Just the way I can easily find an Uber driver, I can find some financial supporters online. On the same day, my friend also went on a date with a sugar daddy she met on Tinder.

The sugar daddy business – where older men pay younger women for companionship, and typically also sex — is widespread in the online world. The largest U.S. sugar dating website, SeekingArrangement.com, reports that 10 million people registered there in 2018.

Some 3 million college students, about two thirds of them in the United States, registered with the website in 2018, said a company spokesman who asked not to be identified by name.

I wondered whether this type of relationship could become a new, socially acceptable way out of poverty. I decided to investigate, by posing as a sugar baby.

First, I created an account on SeekingArrangement.com, a company that assertively courts female college students to join. Thanks to the well-organized website, it took me only five seconds to open the door to the sugar life.

The next day, I was surprised to see that 20 messages had arrived, even though I hadn’t added much information. I hadn’t even posted my profile picture.

Seeking Arrangements Inbox
Seeking Arrangements Inbox

I decided to meet a man I’ll call “William,” because he offered to meet in a public place during the day. He sounded like the most trustworthy person among those who contacted me.

I was nervous, and tried to prepare for a creepy guy. But at the entrance to the restaurant, I was almost disappointed to see a normal-looking businessman waiting for me. He hugged me and said, “Great to see you, beautiful lady.” He gave me his business card. He was 45, and said he’d had a great career in the chemical industry, and had started his own chemical company. He joined the website six months ago, after his divorce. He said he had a 9-year-old daughter. He’d met more than 10 woman via the website, he told me.

“Why did you become a sugar daddy?” I asked him.

“As a professional adult guy, I don’t want to just hook up young girls from other online dating sites,” he said. “I wanted to support them. Also, college students have directions and ambitions. That’s why I keep meeting them.”

He explained to me that he did not choose girls who just wanted money.

“Connection is the most important,” he said. “If you are dating a guy and go to a bar in New York and spend a night at a nice hotel, what do you expect after that?” he asked me.

“I might sleep with him,” I answered.

“That’s the same thing with the website. Or you go to McDonald’s and pay money, you expect to get food. Again, that’s the same thing what we do. It’s a business agreement.”

He convinced me that sugar relationships were nothing special.

“How much do you usually pay?” I asked.

“Here is the deal. You will receive $500 in a month as an allowance. When we go to see an orchestra and you need a new dress, manicure, pedicure or whatever, these are extras. I’ll pay for them.”

“You go to McDonald’s and pay money, you expect to get food. That’s the same thing we do. It’s a business agreement.” – William, one of the author’s would-be sugar daddies

I dreamt I was in a fancy restaurant with nice outfits. It sounded too good to be true.

We spent almost two hours at the restaurant.

“I don’t want to keep you so long,” he said politely.

When I got into the Uber to go home, he put some money in my pocket.

“Just for the drive,” he said. In the car, I checked my pocket. He’d given me $100. He must have known that the ride would cost less than $10.

By the time I got home, I was confused, because I’d had a good time with him.

He texted me that he wanted to see me again.

I wondered if I might.

Is This Prostitution?

Some people say that sugar daddy/sugar baby relationships are nothing but prostitution.

But SeekingArrangement argues that “arrangements are legal in every country, because an arrangement is about two adults who are honest about their expectations.”

The company was founded by the Singapore-born entrepreneur Brandon Wade in 2006. It is based in San Francisco, and has offices in Ukraine and Singapore.

No one should judge what adults agree to do behind closed doors, the company argues: as long as both parties are willing participants, and their activities are legal, it is their business. Therefore, sugar babies are not sex workers, it contends.

I went into my research wanting to find an argument against this logic.

But William changed my stereotypical image of the sugar relationship. The way he put it, it really did sound “mutually beneficial.”

James Tells Me He Feels Chemistry

I met another guy, a 50-year-old business executive I’ll call “James.” We met at a bar in New York. He told me he’d joined the website 10 years before, after his first wife died.

“It worked very well,” he said. “I met intelligent girls from the website. It’s just a good tool to meet new people.”

He stopped using it after he remarried. But his second marriage did not go well, and he and his wife are separated now. He then returned to the website.

“I don’t use other dating sites. I wanted to pay money, because I’m married,” he told me.

I questioned how paying money justified having a sexual relationship with young girls.

James did not equate sugar relationships to prostitution, either.

“Because I don’t pay money only for sex,” he said. “I just want to have a good time with young ladies. I don’t force anything on them, even though I paid for that. A chemistry is important, you know?” he said.

After few drinks, he said he felt the chemistry between us. He put his arm around me and kissed me.

What I saw happening was that a wealthy guy was saying something sweet to me, and wanted to give me financial support.

“It is pretty bizarre having a non-emotional relationship with anyone who gives you lots of money for just sex. But I thought it was such a show of my womanhood, and not caring what anyone thinks of me.” – “Josette,” of her “sugar baby” gig

Though I left the bar regretting that I had not refused his kiss, I realized that I had become interested in becoming a sugar baby. It was not as bad as I’d expected.

I talked about my sugar daddy experiences with a close male friend.

“It’s different from prostitution, because they don’t just pay for sex,” I told him. “A connection is more important. This is just same as other dating sites, right?”

“Hey, to say he has a connection in one day is ludicrous,” my friend said. “The guy just wants sex, and it wouldn’t work without sex.”

His words jolted me from my daydream.

I texted William, to test my friend’s theory.

“If I said I want to go on a date with you without the physical relationship, would you still pay for me?”

“Lol. The whole point of a sugar baby is the ‘sugar,’ he answered. “I’m very disappointed in you. Good-bye.”

Then, he blocked my number.

That’s how it works. Even though he talked with me in romantic terms, I realized then that he saw me only as a sexual object.

I grew distrustful. I didn’t understand what James meant by “the connection.”

I interviewed “Josette,” who joined the website as a “sugar baby” two years ago.

“I can understand that feeling,” she said, of my negative experience with “William.” “It is pretty bizarre having a non-emotional relationship with anyone who gives you lots of money for just sex. But I thought it was such a show of my womanhood, and not caring what anyone thinks of me.”

“Do you really trust your sugar daddies?” I asked her.

“Sure, if I see some kind of cash before the sex, absolutely,” she answered.

“Did you recommend this to your friends?” I asked her.

“Hell, yeah! Its quick money, it isn’t for everyone, but for those who are open to it, it’s a great thing to experience.”

I saw her point: if one gets used to being seen as just a sexual object, having an unemotional relationship would not have negative psychological effects.

But I don’t think it is worth being used. It was hard to say no to offers from my sugar daddies, but I knew that the empty relationships, and the money, would not make me truly happy.

The spokesman for SeekingArrangement.com analyzed the reason for the website’s popularity.

“I think sugar relationships are popular because people are tired of traditional dating,” she said. “Also, the reason people choose sugar relationships is for the convenience. For instance, a sugar baby in college doesn’t necessarily have time or want a traditional, broke, college boyfriend. They are looking to date outside their socioeconomic status, and aren’t able to meet those men on campus.”

Not as Sweet as it Looks

But even if, at first glance, these arrangements don’t look like sex work, they also constitute an abuse of power.

Besides the emotional risks, there are risks of meeting scammers, of contracting a sexually transmitted disease or of getting pregnant. And these relationships sometimes hurt people.

“Please, don’t get involved in this anymore,” another friend soon implored me. “Do you really need the money? Why don’t you get a normal job, or ask your parents for money then? It’s your choice, but I’m just so sad.”

I didn’t want to disappoint her. So I deleted my Seeking Arrangments account.