In my freshman year of college I started to hear the term “daddy” everywhere. It was used often when referring to any older man. We began to call out favorite celebrities “daddy” to show how much we cared about them. It was suddenly added onto anything we could stick it on—T-shirts, hats, laptop stickers, memes. Online dating apps and “daddy” obsessions ushered in the new realization that we could hook up and become rich all at the same time.
But even though it felt like it began in college, the concept of a “sugar daddy” has been around since human beings have been in the pursuit of wealth. In 2006, SeekingArrangement was founded, making it possible to connect with rich and willing daddies in a matter of seconds. Suddenly you didn’t need to be a Playboy bunny or an obsessive groupie to reap the benefits of rich men.
But it was also partially a joke. The whole “daddy”-“sugar baby” trend was sometimes just a notion propagated by college kids as a way to point out how tragically broke they were. Still, it seemed fun, like the nervous excitement of going on a blind date mixed with the satisfied happiness of realizing it’s payday.
Maggie* and Bethany* joined SeekingArrangement together in an attempt to make money. “I hate being poor and I also am horrible at typical jobs,” Maggie says. But still, even a well-paying, unorthodox job like being a sugar baby has its downsides. “It was super time consuming,” Maggie says. “I also didn’t consider the emotional toll of near-constant sexual exposure.”
She mentioned having to constantly be by her phone so she’d be available to receive all of their messages and calls. Her favorite sugar daddy was from Australia because the time difference prevented him from being too annoying. Still, I asked them to divulge the goods.
“I got a Macbook,” Bethany says.
“I benefitted only monetarily,” Maggie says. “But one sugar daddy stole my credit and now I can never own a house.”
For some, having a sugar daddy can mean more than money and gifts. “I started talking to J because I wanted to escape the life I was living,” says Max*, another college student who had an experience with a sugar daddy. “I saw him as an opportunity to escape. It was my freshman year and I didn't know what I was doing. I wasn’t out to my family … I felt this constant discomfort in my suburban life.”
Max dreamed of going to the city, but having no means to make the move himself, he used his youth to appeal to rich, older men on the internet. He figured this would give him the time to think and re-evaluate his life while letting him live out his dream. It seemed like the perfect plan. “Older men are kind of fetishized in the gay community and that definitely made me feel like what I was doing made sense. [This relationship] was, in some way, idealized in my mind and in the eyes of others in the gay community.”
They’d talked for a couple of weeks before Max was invited to his beautiful apartment in Brooklyn Heights. But Max’s experience with J made him realize that sugar daddies aren’t always as glamorous as they seem. “I was just like ‘Wait, this is a lonely and sad man just looking for a companion,’” Max says, “‘And here I am being some artificial one because I want to escape? What the fuck am I doing here?’ After I left I was pretty done with that idea, that concept, which led me to him originally.”
Miranda* had two dates with sugar daddies her freshman year of college. The first was a lawyer in his late 50s who Miranda described as being “weird,” but not enough to make her feel unsafe. She’d made 80 dollars from a 45 minute dinner and left untouched (minus a hug at the end). After the dinner she ghosted his emails and never heard from him again.
Miranda’s second experience was with a sugar daddy who was much younger. His profile made him appear not only rich, but also incredibly enthusiastic about the idea of spoiling a sugar baby. “I really thought I would get so much money out of this guy,” Miranda says. But the moment she met up with him at his apartment, Miranda knew something was wrong. “Eventually I started to give him a blow job,” Miranda says. “In the middle of it, he tells me he doesn’t want to spoil me anymore because he thinks it’s weird. I was coerced into performing a sexual act under false pretenses.” After manipulating and violating her, he let her leave without further issues.
Some relationships with sugar daddies don’t require anything sexual at all, but still, being a sugar baby is a form of sex work. There is a certain level of vulnerability sugar babies must put themselves through in order to successfully comply with all of a sugar daddy’s needs. “It’s not worth giving men total control over you to make a quick buck when you lack the proper resources and experience to prevent your clients from overstepping their boundaries,” Miranda says, now aware of the risks behind being a sugar baby.
At the end of the day, sugar daddies are lonely middle aged men who are using their wealth to gain the affection and attention of someone younger than them. Their wealth makes them appear charming and dynamic, but their intentions might not always be so pure. In Miranda’s case, they might not even be sugar daddies at all. College kids are the perfect sugar babies. They’re young, they’re legal, they’re broke, and they’re eager. Most of the time college kids don’t realize the risk they are taking when they pursue a sugar daddy. But, it is a relationship based on mutual exploitation and the repercussions of that might be permanently damaging.
I still think a sugar daddy could be nice. The sugar daddy of my dreams—one that isn’t creepy or exploitative and wants to fund my art while giving me money to go shopping. I don’t know if I’ll ever take the time to find him, but I’m sure some sugar baby is reveling in his cash. The idea of a sugar daddy is still pretty glamorous if it’s done in a way the maintains respect between both partners. Still, as a broke young person, it’s important to rationalize the risks before diving in too deep. You might be better off fantasizing over one of your celebrity daddies.
*Names have been changed
Illustration by: Nicolas Sugrue