Purple Magazine
— S/S 2016 issue 25





As I’m sure you know, a sugar baby is a young woman who is financially pampered by a typically older man in exchange for “companionship.” It’s clearly an age-old dynamic, though it has become far more mainstream in recent years, now facilitated through sugar-dating websites that connect sugar daddies (and, occasionally, mommas) to babies, who in turn go on to form “arrangements” that range from genuine romance to “the girlfriend experience” to pay-by-the-hour sex meetings. In essence, sugar culture is a modern, hyper-visible version of prostitution that has been dressed up and repackaged in such a way that it’s become nearly socially acceptable. And this is not a small subculture. These websites boast literally millions of subscribers, many of whom are women at top universities. Sugar babies are making bank… and having fun in the process. As a result, these women are inadvertently acting as proof that sex workers are not always, not inevitably, desperate victims who need to be saved.

As of 2014, more than 1.4 million students had signed up to the most popular sugar site, SeekingArrangement.com, and that number is growing rapidly. On average, 2,000 new students with an email account belonging to an American university sign up to the site every day. Here’s a fun fact: as of 2015, there were over 1,000 women signed up to Seeking Arrangement with an NYU email address. The number of female students at New York University is roughly 27,000, meaning that one in every 27 female students at NYU is ostensibly exchanging sex for money in some capacity. The sugar phenomenon has been reported on everywhere from The Wall Street Journal to CNN to GQ to the BBC. Most reports have cited the increasing burden of college tuition as a primary catalyst (on average, American students today graduate $35,000 in debt). Others say it’s the result of wealth inequality and the crushing costs of cities like NYC, LA, and SF for young people. Others blame the websites themselves. However, what I think is perhaps the most interesting stimulus is the radical sexual freedom of the modern young woman, who fucks who she wants and might as well get paid for it, too. I truly believe that the sugar baby is, mostly, modern, practical, educated, and sexually free. And she is reinventing the image of the sex worker in the cultural consciousness.

Over the past few years, I have met and interviewed over 50 female sugar babies. Some don’t consider themselves sex workers at all, feeling that sugar arrangements fall into a gray area, as opposed to clearly transactional, pay-by-the-hour sex. Other women are happy to interchange the term “sugar baby” with “prostitute.” When asked why they do it, many reply with some version of “I have a lot of sex anyway — why not get paid for it?” Or “Why would I work at a coffee shop for $9 an hour when I could make $800 by sleeping with a banker who’s not even that bad?” Many talk animatedly about how being a sugar baby has enabled them to travel, support an artistic career, help pay for school, eat at fancy restaurants, and basically avoid living in a shithole in Bushwick with seven roommates.

Our own bodies can be a tool for freedom. We can fuck for love, or we can fuck for money, or we can fuck for fun, but it should always be up to us to make that decision. And fucking for money can be more exciting than fucking for love, and fucking for fun can be more fun than fucking for money, and sometimes fucking for fun can turn out to be not so fun, because you expected it to be fun and then it was sort of boring. But these are all valid experiences.

People discount sex work as simply being a submission to money or being only about power. But it’s more than that: it’s a sexual experience in itself, which is different than having sex for love or for fun. Connecting money to sex is actually exciting, but this is something that nobody ever wants to talk about. When someone is willing to pay a thousand dollars to sleep with you, you don’t need to be told that you’re beautiful. You become a luxurious sex object, a living currency, and for some women that can be a huge turn-on. It’s impossible to have this experience with your boyfriend. When someone pays so much money for some time with you in bed, it’s because obviously they want sex, but also because they choose you and want you.
And that’s a powerful feeling. All women intuitively know this, but most women won’t have access to this experience because their moral values make it impossible. And that can — subconsciously or not — be very frustrating.

There has been plenty of finger-wagging and moral panic in the media recently. Last year, GQ published a particularly judgemental article that interviewed six daddies and babies, all of whom were mocked and shamed, the thesis being that sugar relationships are somehow “wrong,” simply by virtue of not being “normal.” Others believe that these arrangements — as with all types of sex work — exploit women. Many have accused the sugar-baby industry of trying to justify prostitution, and Seeking Arrangement’s founder, Brandon Wade, has been widely deemed a high-class pimp, luring coeds to the dark side for his own profit. When I asked Norma Jean Almodovar (a sex-worker activist and author of the book Cop to Call Girl) what type of woman does sex work, she responded flatly, “a practical woman.” She went on, “The sugar-baby phenomenon is a symptom of women being practical and saying, ‘I don’t want to put myself in huge debt for a good education.’ These women are not being forced into sex work. They have simply realized that it’s the quickest, fastest, easiest way to make a living.” And, according to Almodovar, the moralizing media around sugar culture is inevitable. “When it comes to sex work, there are recurring periods of moral crusades, which fade out and then come back into fashion. People are endlessly offended by prostitution.”

We should all have the right to make decisions about our own health, body, and sexuality, without fear, coercion, violence, or discrimination. And if a woman wants to fuck a finance guy in order to pay her bills, then she should be allowed to do that. As the porn star and writer Stoya recently told me, “There are many established academics out there today who truly believe that a woman having a public sexuality keeps us down — that it’s a patriarchal plot.
But sex work isn’t inherently more oppressive than anything else under capitalism. The problem with this branch of feminism is that, specifically when it comes to sex work, it neglects to consider capitalism. What about the demonstrable wage disparity, and the fact that you can’t have food and a roof over your head and medical care when you need it without money? And where the fuck is the money supposed to come from?”

[Table of contents]

S/S 2016 issue 25

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS

purple BEST of the SEASON





purple BEAUTY

purple LOVE


purple SEX

purple NIGHT

purple STORY


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