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Some students, others turn to 'sugar dating' to afford school or find new companions

Posted at 2:22 PM, Feb 19, 2020

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DENVER — A recent press release from the sugar dating website Seeking Arrangement ranked the University of Colorado—Boulder 15th in the nation for having the most students registered with the website. The website says CU Boulder currently has 1,087 student members.

Sugar dating is a type of online dating where people are honest about their needs, physically, financially and more. The wealthier partner in the relationship will often pay for dinner, trips or gifts for the so-called sugar baby.

Denver7 took a 360 approach to the idea of sugar dating to take a closer look at multiple perspectives.

A Modern Form of Dating

Seeking Arrangement is one of the most popular sugar dating sites, boasting 22 million members worldwide.

“Our members come looking for happiness and a good life,” said spokesperson Kimberly De La Cruz.

She believes the site is successful because people are more upfront and honest about what they are looking for in a partner.

The website’s average sugar daddy is 41 years old and its average sugar baby is 24. While the dating site allows people to be honest about their needs when it comes to finances, De La Cruz insists sugar dating is not prostitution and the site’s members are not simply looking to pay for hookups.

“They’re not looking for somebody who is a mooch, they’re not looking for somebody who just wants their bills paid. They really do want to connect with somebody who is intelligent and can hold her own,” De La Cruz said. “If these men were looking for casual sex with a woman of their choice, they could find one and it would be much less expensive than having a girlfriend.”

She equates this to other, more traditional relationships where the lesser-earning partner benefits from the finances of the other.

“So, just like a stay at home mom would benefit from the person she’s with who works, it’s much like that,” De La Cruz said.

The profiles of the sugar daddies/mommies include information on their annual income and net worth, among other things, and sugar babies have the ability to set filters to look for someone.

The website offers a variety of filters for sugar babies to be able to sort through, including salary.

The website also boasts about having a high student population with its sugar baby university.

“Why wouldn’t you want to date someone who has money or who can take you out to dinner? You don’t want to sit on the couch every night and eat Ramen. You don’t want to have three roommates and you don’t have to — you should just be dating better guys,” De La Cruz said.

She believes one of the benefits of dating someone who is further along in their career is that students get to connect with someone who is already established. In some cases, De LA Cruz says students have been able to connect with people who help them get internships or even jobs.

With every dating website, however, there are always bad actors. Seeking Arrangements says it uses artificial intelligence to search messages and profiles for transactional language that would be used in prostitution and escort cases. If found, the user would be banned from the site.

The website also has a customer support team and ways for users to report abuse.

Seeking Arrangement says it is not about how wealthy some of the men and women are but rather how generous they are.

“Maybe he looks at you and says, ‘I can’t believe you’re working two jobs. I don’t want my girlfriend to have to work two jobs and go to school. Let me take care of the rent this month. Let me write you a check for tuition,’” De La Cruz said.

A Sweet Arrangement

If there’s one thing Skylar Jones knows about college, it’s that everything has a price tag. Jones is going to a massage school in Denver and is a full-time student; some of her books cost $300 and they are used.

“Modern tuition payments in the U.S. are just outrageous,” Jones said.

At first, Jones tried going a more traditional college route by taking out loans and working part-time jobs in a restaurants and hotels.

“It just wasn’t practical working 50 hours a week and going to school 40 and not getting all my homework done,” she said. “You’re never giving 100 percent at your job; you’re not giving 100 percent at school and you’re missing out.”

So three years ago, an old roommate introduced Jones to Seeking Arrangements. The roommate gave her tips on how to stay safe and helped her set up her profile. Since then, Jones has had multiple relationships with people she has met through the website and says her experience has been a positive one.

Some of the people she has been in relationships with have even helped Jones with some of her expenses.

“A lot of times with sugar dating, something will come up — like I need new tires on my car or hey, I need this textbook for school, and they’ll just get it for me and it’s a wonderful generous gift and it makes my life easier. It makes it a lot less stressful,” she said.

Jones believes the men she dates also benefit from helping her financially because she has more time to spend with them since she doesn’t have to work part-time jobs. She’s also less stressed about money and can focus on the relationships and school.

“I’m able to focus so much more on my school and homework and get more out of it,” she said.

Jones also appreciates the honesty the website offers when it comes to the types of relationships people are looking for.

Jones does not consider herself monogamous and says when she tried other dating websites in the past, she didn’t feel that this type of lifestyle was accepted.

This website offers both her and others to be honest about what they are looking for.

“It’s empowering to meet somebody on there and be like, ‘What is it that you want? Are you looking for something that is nothing more than physical? Are you looking for something that’s just platonic?’” she said.

She also believes there are a lot of misconceptions about what sugar dating is and that the stories that come out of it portray the extremes on either end.

However, Jones admits she has gotten messages in the past from people looking to exchange money for sex and she has ignored them.

“It’s very important to me that I never feel like a transaction,” she said. “I would feel degraded, and I don’t want that.”

Whenever she meets someone from Seeking Arrangements in person, Jones also takes steps to keep herself safe — like meeting in public places and telling trusted friends where she is going to be and when she expects that she will be home.

She also spends time getting to know the person online and having conversations with them before ever agreeing to meet with them.

Jones still hasn’t found a way to tell her family about the fact that she is sugar dating; she’s afraid they won’t understand what she likes about the method.

When she tells friends what she is doing, she says she gets one of two reactions: either the person is interested and wants to learn more, or they compare her to a prostitute.

In the end, though, Jones blames the cost of college in the U.S. for putting people in this position in the first place.

“Maybe if the American college system wasn’t as corrupt, then there would be a lot less people doing it, and I wouldn’t have come across it,” Jones said.

The Woes of College Costs

Around Boulder, current and former students say they have heard of people doing some interesting things to earn money, from selling plasma to selling naked pictures of themselves.

“I’ve heard a lot of people do like shady Instagram things to get money, things that you definitely think about when you’re like, ‘Man, they made that much money for a picture of their feet?’” said Sami Colgate, a CU Boulder graduate.

Colgate went the more traditional route and worked part-time jobs to make her way through school, but all of that money paid for rent, gas and food.

She walked out with about $40,000 in school debt and says she believes she’ll be paying that off for the rest of her life.

One of her friends tried sugar dating and Colgate says she doesn’t judge her for doing so.

“Respect for you for making it work, but you shouldn’t have to hustle just to get an education,” she said. “I personally think it’s a deeper problem with the college system.

Other people around Boulder agreed. Saydee Baughman, a student visiting Colorado from Ohio State University, says she is facing more than $80,000 in student debt and is currently working as a server and on campus to pay for groceries and gas.

While she says she wouldn’t try sugar dating herself, she doesn’t have a problem with others who do. Tirzah Curry, meanwhile, a recent college graduate with more than $90,000 in student debt, also doesn’t totally rebuff the idea.

“I guess I don’t blame them,” Curry said. “It just depends on how creepy he is. I don’t know if I could do it.”

Both Curry and Baughman also blame college costs for the fact that people are even considering this type of dating.

More than money

Despite the lure of money, fancy dinners, trips or gifts, Maren Scull, an assistant professor of the clinical teaching track at University of Colorado Denver, believes sugar dating is more complicated than money.

Scull has been studying the sugar dating phenomenon since 2015 and recently published a study about it.

“It’s just kind of the trend of online dating. There’s just so many different platforms for people to explore niche dating and I think sugaring is just another example of niche dating. It’s basically luxury dating,” she said.

During her research, Scull spent more than a year tracking down and interviewing 48 sugar babies.

She determined there are seven different types of sugar relationships: sugar prostitution, compensated dating, compensated companionship, sugar dating, sugar friendships, sugar friendships with benefits, and pragmatic love.

“It’s really not prostitution,” Scull said. “Sugaring really is its own thing, its own type of relationship, and it involves its own subcultural sugar relationship.”

Scull also found during her interviews that 60 percent of the sugar babies she interviewed eventually has sex with their benefactor at some point while the other 40 percent said they did not.

However, Scull determined that only 15 percent of the people she interviewed engaged in so-called sugar prostitution.

Scull believes there is a general misunderstanding or misconception about the world of sugar dating, but the thing her research interviewees seemed to appreciate the most about the phenomenon is the honesty.

“There’s a lot of honesty about expectations, and that could be monetary, that could be companionship, it could be emotional. It could be a variety of expectations, but I think that there has been a misconception that, because of that transparency, that somehow this is prostitution,” she said.

Scull is now in the process of continuing her research into the world of sugar dating to expand her study in the future.

The Dangers of Sugar Dating

Others are worried about the dangers sugar dating poses. Haley McNamara, the vice president of advocacy and outreach for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, says she has heard horror stories of sugar dates gone wrong.

One of the stories McNamara said was reported to the NCSE of a sugar date gone wrong was a 21-year-old girl named Emma who met a man online who flew her across the country to meet him. The woman claimed that the man then tried to sexually assault her and left her on the other side of a country road with no help.

“One of the harms of sugar dating is that it is really misleading women about their experience. They enter it thinking they’re going to go on a dinner date while the man is entering it with a very different expectation,” McNamara said.

In the headlines, along with reports of sugar dates gone wrong, there have been stories of scams. She equates sugar dating to prostitution.

“I think we need to look at anybody who engages in this with utmost compassion while at the same time having utmost critique of this system and corporations that are profiting from it,” McNamara said.

McNamara herself opened up a fake account several months ago to a see what types of messages people were sending.

“Within 24 hours, I had received hundreds of messages from older men in my area who are interested in a relationship where they could give gifts that were contingent on sexual access,” she said.

She believes sugar dating is inherently different from other forms of online dating because from the onset there is an imbalance of power. She also believes companies like Seeking Arrangements are using the student debt crisis to their advantage to exploit socioeconomic vulnerabilities of those who are less wealthy.

“I think that we need to view sugar dating through the lens of vulnerability, recognizing that so many young women who are drawn into it grew up in a culture that told them sexuality is their primary commodity. And then, faced with a crisis of student debt, they see this is their only way out,” she said. “No student should have to barter sexual access or sexual content for their education.”

Sweet or Sour?

More and more, people looking for love are turning to the internet to find it. Some people are using sites like, E-Harmony and more for a chance to find love.

Others are looking for love and possibly a little more. Advocates of sugar dating say it is a more honest form of dating where people can be more straightforward about their needs.

Critics say it is just another form of prostitution and the threat of sexual exploitation and sexual violence is real.

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