College-age “sugar babies” make cash, gifts for companionship


Photo illustration by Shana Oshinskie

Elizabeth Elkin

Names have been changed for the privacy and protection of sources.

It was Jennifer’s first time meeting a man she’d met on SeekingArrangement. She’d liked his profile; it showed him in Africa surrounded by animals. He seemed worldly, with a vast set of life experiences that she was dying to talk about. He told her he had a hot tub and a massive TV. It seemed perfect.

At a summer music festival, she’d seen “sugar babies” and their “sugar daddies” everywhere. They’d been the life of the party, dining finely in the best tents while she sat on the grass with her granola bars. She’d decided to give it a try.

She was still a little nervous to meet someone from the internet, however, so she brought a friend with her. The man paid for their cab to his place. He certainly wasn’t what she’d expected. Tall and balding, the man looked at least 20 years older than he was in the photos on his profile.

“Seeing how luxurious it looked, it’s a little different when you’re in it,” Jennifer said. “It’s more work than it looks like. It’s like they want you to be something and you have to be it. If they want you to be this super sweet girl, then that’s what you are. Even if you’re having a bad day, you have to be like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m having a great day. I’m so happy and bubbly all the time, ha ha ha.’ But if they don’t want that, then you can’t do it. It’s basically like acting.”

An increasing number of college-aged men and women are choosing to exchange their companionship for gifts and money. They are often called “sugar babies,” and websites and apps help them connect with wealthy “sugar daddies” or “sugar mommies.”

The University of Alabama ranks fourth in the nation for schools on SeekingArrangement, and eight other SEC schools rank in the top 100.

“The primary reason that students choose SeekingArrangement is for the appeal of receiving financial support from generous benefactors (mommies/daddies), along with the option to form relationships on their own terms,” said Brieanne Christian, public relations coordinator for SeekingArrangement.

Jennifer was a sugar baby for three or four months. In that time, she had a few men she talked to longer-term, and she only ever met two men in person. She only received payment from one man.

“I talked to him for like two months, but I never met him in person,” she said. “He would Venmo me just like randomly, just like $50, just like, ‘hey, how’s your day going?’ Or if I hadn’t talked to him all day, he’d be like, ‘Hey, I miss you.’”

He paid her $600. To many college students, that’s a month’s rent.

“He did, like, want to have phone sex, which to me obviously isn’t that big of a deal,” Jennifer said. “For $600 it was for sure worth it. I had a job this summer, too, but you can only make so much as a student.”

Many “sugar parents” want you to travel to them, Jennifer said, and she didn’t feel comfortable doing so. It made it difficult for her to make money or receive gifts, because many men didn’t want to give her anything without meeting her in person.

Safety was a priority for Jennifer, and she and her friend would often follow each other to dates to make sure nothing bad happened. Safety often comes up when talking about meeting up with someone you met online. SeekingArrangement suggests only meeting sugar parents who have completed optional background checks, Christian said.

Jennifer stopped using the app because she got too busy with school, and being a sugar baby can be a big time commitment. 

Ashley had a very different experience than Jennifer. She decided to try being a sugar baby because money was tight, and her dating life wasn’t going very well anyway.

“I have been dating for the past year, and all I seem to get out of dating people my age, people who put off the illusion of something real, is defeat and heartbreak,” she said. “At least with this, everybody goes into it knowing exactly what everyone wants. Everyone is upfront and honest. You’re not going to leave broken-hearted. You’ll leave with contacts, power, gifts and money.”

Even with a master’s degree, Ashley only makes $30,000 a year. It covers her living expenses, but nothing else. This makes it very difficult for her to splurge on anything or travel. She thought being a sugar baby would be a better way to save up some money rather than eating Ramen noodles for dinner every night.

Within her first 24 hours on SeekingArrangement, however, she knew it wasn’t for her.

“I have no idea how sugar babies handle it,” she said. “I do not recommend it to anyone without elephant skin.”

She said the men were extremely forward, asking for exactly what they wanted right off the bat. Some of the requests made her very uncomfortable. In messages she forwarded to The Crimson White, one man asked her if she wanted to use cocaine together. Another asked her to send him her used underwear.

“It feels too much like compromising my morals,” she said. “Even just reading that and knowing that there are people out there who want those things, it’s like watching those crime shows, but instead of it being fiction, they’re there living in the town with you.”

Still, some people like Jennifer find what they’re looking for in a relationship with a sugar parent.

“It is what you make it,” Jennifer said. “If you want to be a prostitute, there’s guys on there that want that. They just want to pay you to have sex, and if that’s what you’re looking for, I guess that’s what you can get. But if you want it, you can make real relationships out of it.”