Sugar Never Tasted So Good: Gender, Sexuality, and Sex Work in the Age of “Sugar Babies”

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By Naomi Liss

In the time of sexting, tinder and “hook up culture,” what it means to have a romantic or sexual relationship has changed. While many use online dating sites to simply find a romantic or sexual partner for personal gain, more and more young people, particularly young women and femmes (people identifying with femininity without necessarily identifying as women), have opted to become involved in romantic and/or sexual relationships for financial benefits. Though the practice has been around for some time, “sugaring” has become increasingly popular with the rise of dating websites, such as “Seeking Arrangement,” founded in 2006, designed specifically for young people to find “sugar daddies” or “sugar mamas.” Those who become involved in romantic and/or sexual relationships in exchange for allowances, gifts or help paying bills are known as “sugar babies.” While anyone can be a sugar baby, young women or those presenting as women, who seek male partners are the most common sugar babies. For my research I intended to learn more about the phenomenon of sugaring. Why do young women and femmes get involved? How does the practice of sugaring differ from other forms of sex work? As I am part of many communities made up of mainly queer women and gender nonbinary people, I was interested to learn more about how the practice of sugaring may affect young women and femmes’ sense of identity, especially those with gender or sexuality identities outside of the norm.

Finding Sugar Babies

Because of the stigma surrounding female sexuality and sex work, sugar babies tend to be more of a hidden population. Because of this, I relied heavily on convenience sampling. I posted in a facebook group I am a part of dedicated to women and LGBTQ people discussing sex. Because the facebook group is made up of mostly people living in America, I conducted all of my interviews through online video chatting, using mediums such as Facetime and Google Hangouts. All names in this paper have been changed to protect the identity of the participants.

Ola is a 19 year old first generation immigrant from Poland who is currently a full time student at a small college in suburban Indiana. Ola identifies as a nonbinary femme, meaning they identify with femininity but do not identify as either a man or a woman. Ola uses the gender neutral pronoun “they.” Ola has had three different sugar daddies, but is currently not seeing any sugar daddies. I video chatted with Ola through google hangouts as they sat outside in the sun at their college. Ola was very comfortable sharing their experience, and did not stray away from telling me of both the positive and negative experiences they had as a sugar baby.

Jo is a 20 year old college student at a small college in rural Ohio, currently on medical leave. Jo identifies as queer, polyamorous and femme and uses “she” or “they” pronouns. Jo has had several sugar daddies, but has two men she identifies as her main sugar daddies, whom she is currently seeing. I facebook video chatted with Jo while she sat in her co op in Chicago, where she is currently on medical leave. Jo described mostly positive experiences and indulged me in many personal stories.

Amelia is a 20 year old full time college student at a small college in suburban Pennsylvania . Amelia identifies as a straight, cisgender, non-monogamous woman. Amelia has had one sugar daddy who she is currently seeing, and is also looking to meet new sugar daddies online. I facetimed Amelia in her dorm room at college. Amelia was comfortable sharing about her experiences and gave mostly short answers.

Why Sugaring?

Many of the sugar babies I interviewed described their interest in sugaring developing from a strong need to make money that other forms of labor were not providing for them. Ola began sugaring the summer before their freshman year of college, in order to save up money for expenses related to college. Though they worked two jobs at the time, the money made was insufficient for the time and labor put into the work. Ola describes this, saying,

I was working two jobs at the time; one minimum wage, one slightly above minimum wage. Despite working my ass off at both of those jobs, I was making very little money, like I was working 30 hours week and making maybe 250 dollars a week. And that’s just not cool, honestly.

Ola admits that while the money was not necessarily for survival, they “really needed the money.”

Jo describes beginning sugaring as a means of survival. In the previous summer, she had returned to Chicago to do research in an unpaid position and was struggling to provide food and a place to live for herself. “I was like ‘I refuse to worry about food and worry about where I’m staying,’” she tells me, “I ended up winning a grant from [my college,] but I still did it, because the grant was not very much so…yeah, it was survival basically.

When asked why she chose sugaring instead of other forms of labor, Jo echoes many of the ideas brought up by Ola. Jo describes how other forms of labor took large amounts of time and energy without significant payoff, saying, “Would you rather work minimum wage, 40 hours a week for…. 300 dollars? So I can, in an hour or two, make a month’s worth of wages as someone who’s working 40 hours a week for minimum wage.”

Amelia describes similar reasoning behind her decision to begin sugaring. She was in need of money to help fund a program she was interested in doing in the summer, and after hearing about sugaring from the facebook group from which I got in contact with my participants, she decided it would be the best option to provide the money she needed in the time she had. She tells me,

I was looking for such a specific amount of money and I needed to come up with it so quickly. It wasn’t something where I could just like pick up a part time job and like over the course of three months, save up. It was like if I have three experiences in the next two weeks then I’ll have enough money for this trip and so I decided to go for something that was quick.

All those I interviewed chose sugaring as a means to provide something vital to them in their lives that working a minimum wage job could not provide. While all the participants reported financial motivation as the reasoning behind originally getting involved in sugaring, I was also interested to see what motivates women and femmes to continue sugaring, or to eventually stop.

What Does Sugaring Entail?

Sugaring is a more modern form of intimacy in which expectations of partners may be different than more traditional relationships. Zygmunt Bauman describes how rapid transformations in political, social and economic life cause the meaning of love and relationships to be ever changing as well. This “liquid love,” as Bauman describes it, reflects how relationships adapt along with adaptations in other aspects of modern life (Bauman, 2003). We can apply the concept of liquid love to sugar relationships, as they present a more modern form of intimacy, in which partners can receive not only social or emotional benefits but also financial benefits.

From my interviews, I was quick to learn that every sugar daddy is different and has different expectations in sugar relationships. Therefore, there is no one set experience of what a sugar baby does with their sugar daddies. Ola even reports very different experiences among their three different sugar daddies. They describe their first sugar daddy, saying,

One of them was just kind of really lonely. He had just gone through a divorce and he really liked feeling fancy and would take me to operas, and what not, and symphonies, and that relationship was kind of just like really similar to if I had been dating him…There was sex involved and I got more money for the dates where I did have sex, but it wasn’t like ever something that was explicit.

Another sugar daddy Ola describes was sexually submissive and engaged in sexualized activities with Ola, without engaging in any sex. She tells me, he “liked me controlling his life… wanted me to schedule his days… I never had sex with him but I did things, like he was really into ball busting and spanking and things like that.” The final sugar daddy, Ola never met in person but engaged in an online relationship with, through providing photos, videos and Skype sessions in exchange for paypal donations or gifts off their Amazon wishlist. “It was kind of like an emotional relationship as well, which is why I would consider it sugaring,” they explain, “like when I would skype him he would like tell me about his problems and like his day or whatever.”

Jo describes her experiences as generally involving romantic dates and conversation. She describes her first experience meeting with a sugar daddy, saying,

He ubered me to this really nice restaurant, and I got there and he had rented out the entire patio… and it was like a candlelit dinner. It was really wild, it was really cool…When we got to the corner of my home, because I never let them know where my house is….I was like ‘so this is me’ and he hopped out and opened the door for me and handed me 100 bucks and was like “go get yourself a massage, let’s get dinner again sometime.”

Amelia’s describes how her experiences with her current sugar daddy were always very explicit with the expectations of both parties. She describes this, saying,

First we met in person and then had dinner just to see if there was chemistry….Then we had a video call to talk more officially like here are the following things I’m comfortable with doing….After we set that up, we actually had our first meeting where I went over to his home.

Jo says that while many sugar daddies do want intimacy from relationships, they are also interested in the emotional and social aspects of relationships. She describes this, saying,

The majority of them do want intimacy, but they also, like, they want to have conversation with someone young. They just want to like connect with someone….I always thought it was just like old dudes who couldn’t get a date, but some of them are super nice, super interesting. Some of them are just super wrapped up in their jobs and don’t want to commit to a relationship right now… It’s called like “the girlfriend experience” like someone to act like their girlfriend without any strings attached.

Both Ola and Amelia also believe that the “girlfriend experience” is integral for the men who become sugar daddies. Ola describes how sugaring creates a certain illusion “that [sugar babies] are there only because they are super attracted to you or there for your sparkling personality…I think it’s a really big ego boost.” Amelia also notes that sugar relationships allow the girlfriend experience, without the extra commitment of a girlfriend, echoing many of the ideas Jo put forth. She tells me,

A lot of the men that I’ve seen on Seeking Arrangement, that I’ve talked to, are emotionally unavailable and so they want something that is more than just an escort, like they don’t want to be paying someone for sex, they want something more tangible, more dates, more fluffy duffy things, but they don’t want any sort of emotional attachment.

A Different Form of Sex Work

Much of the current literature surrounding sugaring focuses on how sugaring has developed as a new form of sex work. Nayar (2016) finds that most sugar babies in her study do not consider sugaring to be a form of sex work, and rather define it as a more modern form of intimacy. Nayar also argues that this desire to distance sugaring from sex work only furthers the stigmatization of sex work. While Nayar’s work suggests that most sugar babies do not see sugaring as a form of sex work, a majority of those I interviewed do consider sugaring to be a form of sex work. Amelia says she does not considering sugaring to be “officially” sex work, but Jo and Ola both consider sugaring to be sex work, even when it does not explicitly involve sex.

Ola notes that while they did not consider it a form of sex work when they began sugaring over a year ago, in reflection they think that what they were doing was sex work. While they only had sex with one of their sugar daddies, they still consider all of their sugaring relationships to be sex work. They explain this, saying,

Even if sex is not explicitly part of the deal, most of the time it’s kind of expected, and even if you run into people where you don’t have to have sex, there is like a sexualized element to it. With that one sugar daddy that I never had sex with, I still had to like be intimate with him in a sense that like I have seen him naked and I have like touched his genitals, but like I wouldn’t consider it sex.

Jo also believes strongly that sugaring is a form of sex work. “I definitely consider sugaring to be sex work, like full service sex work,” she tells me, “I’m not always having sex with clients, but I often do.” I was also interested to hear that one of the reasons Jo decided to begin sugaring was due to her prior experiences on tinder. “I started using tinder…because I realized it was an app I could use to get free food, which is honestly very similar to what I’m doing now,” she says, “like the exchange is much higher, but I was basically already doing that through tinder.” This example made me think of how we view different transactions and exchanges in society. While exchanging money for a service such as fixing your car is seen as a completely normal transaction, sugaring is highly stigmatized because it often includes sex.

Additionally, while a relationship in which one partner provides financial backing in exchange for the other partner keeping the home may be seen as a normal relationship, a more explicit exchange of money in a relationship is stigmatized. Jo’s example of how she began sugaring after progressing from using tinder for free food made me realize how much we downplay the everyday exchanges in labor practices and in relationships and only emphasize the transaction aspect in sugar relationships because the exchange is more explicit and often involves sex.

While Jo and Ola consider sugaring to be a form of sex work, they also see differences in sugaring and other forms of sex work such as escorting. Jo believes the long term, more relationship-like aspects of sugaring separate it from something like escorting. She describes how she was drawn to the relationship aspect of sugaring that she did not feel she would get as an escort, saying,

I don’t want to feel like I’m just a prop. Personally I didn’t feel comfortable in spaces where I would just be the pretty girl you brought to business parties, you know what I mean? Sugaring is more just like having a relationship with people.

Ola cites issues of safety and comfortability as reasons they chose sugaring over other forms of sex work such as escorting, saying,

The fact that you are a sugar baby, you have more resources to just say no or to back out of a situation…But if you are, for example, escorting, once you get to your venue, I feel like it’s more difficult to get out of it.

Sugaring and Queerness

I was interested to study how sugaring interacts with gender and sexuality for many reasons. Most of the communities I am a part of, whether organizations at college, online communities, or simply groups of friends, are made up of primarily feminist and queer women and nonbinary people. In the communities I am part of, including the facebook group in which I found respondents for this project, many people have gender and sexuality identities that stray from the norm. However, sugar relationships tend to present themselves as more cisnormative, heteronormative, and prescribing to more traditional gender roles. As those I interviewed came from a facebook group that has many queer femmes and nonbinary people, I was interested to see if sugaring had an effect on participants’ relationship with their own gender and sexuality identities.

I was surprised to find very different answers coming from the participants, though I do think this difference speaks to the variability in attitudes of sugar daddies, and in experiences of sugar babies. One of the first things Ola mentions in their interview is that while they identify as a nonbinary femme, they say they are a cisgender woman when doing sex work. I ask them again later in the interview about why they choose to do that. Ola tells me about how when they were involved with sugar daddies, they “pretended” to be a straight cisgender woman in order to fit an image of what the sugar daddies wanted. They describe their reasoning behind this, saying,

Whenever I was like being with an older man who still ascribes to, in my view, outdated, archaic, expectations of women, who like is essentially paying me to fit into his perfect idea of like what a girlfriend should look like, it’s a lot….because you are trying to maintain the fact that you are young and vibrant and different from what they expect but also trying to fit into this thing that they find appealing.

Ola also mentions that they withheld telling sugar daddies about their sexuality in order to avoid scrutinization or fetishization, saying,

I did it for the most part just because I felt as though advertising myself as queer would make me either fetishized really intensely, because straight men really like to fetishize queer femmes, or would make me not marketable, cause like if you’re too gay, then they’re not into it, but if you’re like a little gay then they’re like “oh that’s so hot…”

While Jo also identifies as a queer femme, she describes very different experiences in concern to disclosing her sexuality to her sugar daddies. Jo reports mostly positive experiences in sharing about her sexuality with her sugar daddies and reveals that all of her sugar daddies know that she is queer. “That’s just part of our relationship,” she tells me, “like if I were just talking to a friend, like my friends know that I’m queer.” She describes how some of her sugar daddies even enjoyed hearing about her queer relationships, saying, “for some reason it just makes them really giddy because I guess they get to like vicariously feel that love.”

Jo’s accounts of talking about queerness with her sugar daddies was surprising to me because I typically tend to think of sugar daddies as older men who subscribe to more outdated views of gender, sexuality, and relationships. However, it was comforting to hear that even if Jo’s sugar daddies did not fully understand differing genders and sexualities, they made an attempt to be supportive. Jo told me a story of an experience with a sugar daddy after talking to her parents about her sexuality, saying,

I was sobbing on my porch because my parents didn’t take it very well, and I ended up just like getting in his car which I don’t usually do… He was clearly uncomfortable but he was just like “let’s get ice cream and talk about it.” And then we played video games and fell asleep.

Jo later tells me, “their primary goal is to keep you happy.” I think Jo’s experiences reveal how sugar relationships can often mirror any other type of romantic relationship. Even if the sugar daddies were they themselves straight and looking for someone to fulfill a heteronormative relationship with, they made attempts to communicate and be honest with Jo, and make her happy, as one would do in a romantic relationship that did not involve financial  exchange.

While Jo tells of positive experiences in disclosing aspects of her sexuality to her sugar daddies, I do not think this invalidates other queer sugar babies, such as Ola, who choose to keep their sexuality private. As I have learned from my interviews, experiences with sugar daddies vary from person to person in many different aspects. As all people working as sugar babies have different experiences, and react to different experiences in different ways, I think it is important to respect the differing decisions those who work as sugar babies make in order to feel safest and most comfortable in their work.

I was also interested to hear from someone who did not identify as queer about her experiences with how she presented her sexuality when with sugar daddies. While most people who engage in sugaring or other sex work that I know do identify as queer, I was glad to get the perspective of someone who identified as straight and receive insight on how sugar daddies might attempt to control presentation of sexuality, however the sugar babies themselves identify. Amelia does admit that she rarely has to change her gender or sexuality presentation when with her sugar daddy, saying, “I’m very straight and these are all very straight scenarios and I am cisgender, so I just need to present myself in a very regular format, nothing has to change for what they’re seeking.” However, I was interested to hear that although she never had this experience, she had heard of times when sugar daddies pushed threesomes with their sugar babies, even if the sugar baby was not bisexual. “Some sugar daddies definitely want more of a like a threesome experience or something like that,” she says, “and then of course threesomes are complicated in that the activities you do in that scenario may not be indicative of your actual orientation.

I believe this echoed some points Ola made about fetishization of queerness. In both queer femmes and straight women, sugar daddies may attempt to control their sexuality in order for their sexuality to line up with their expectations of the sugar babies. Ola was concerned about sugar daddies only accepting their queerness in a fetishizing way, and Amelia was concerned about sugar daddies pushing sexualities she was not comfortable with, for the purpose of their pleasure.

One aspect of my interview with Ola that particularly resonated with me is that while they did feel a need to hide their true identity in their work, being involved in sugar relationships with men helped strengthen their sense of identity outside their work. They tell me,

For me, a part of it was keeping a part of my actual life and how I actually felt, really just keeping it separate from the kind of work I did. At the time I identified as lesbian and now I think it’s a little more complicated than that….but I’m definitely not into men in a romantic way and I think that that helped keep me sane with the whole experience….Having like a really sharp line between my personal life and that life that was really draining for me, that made it easier, being able to do that and be able to go home at the end of the day…being able to go home and be like “oh yes, me, yay!”

Power Dynamics in Sugar Relationships

I decided to ask my participants about power dynamics because I believe that in more traditional heterosexual relationships, the power dynamics can be quite gendered, and I was interested to see if power dynamics also affected the sugar babies’ relationship with gender. As sugar daddies are male, and often older and richer than their female or femme sugar babies, I expected these differentiations in class, age and gender to play a role in power dynamics in sugar relationships.

For some, the aspect of money and wealth caused them to see their sugar daddies as having power over them. As Ola describes, “class differentiation always contributes to an unequal power dynamic… you are technically doing something for someone as an employee, because that’s technically what you’re doing as a sugar baby is, like you’re employed by this person.”

Jo, on the contrary, describes how keeping anonymity allows her to maintain complete power in the relationship, saying, “if there’s any power, it’s me actually, cause like they don’t know my name, they don’t know where I go to school, they vaguely know my age. They don’t really know anything about me.” While Jo admits that money has the ability to play a role in power dynamics, she also believes that the fact that sugar daddies have more to lose in engaging in this relationship helps her have power over them. She describes this, saying, “I think it would be easy for the people that have the money to have the power, but the fact that these people are powerful business people who also have wives and children, and you could do a lot more damage to them in smaller ways that build up… so like, what could they really do?”

Amelia feels that power dynamics can differ depending on several factors, such as if you take money at the beginning of the date or the end of the date. Amelia describes how when she takes money up front, she feels more power and control over what she would do on that date, whereas when she is waiting until the end of the date for money, she feels less control over her actions and ability to end the date. She also describes how communication is an important factor in making her feel she has more power over situations with her sugar daddy, saying, “if you hadn’t been clear going into it, like ‘oh this is something that I just would never do’ and he’s asking you to do it and you feel like you have to do it then yeah, that affects it.”

The fact that all the participants reported feeling very different power dynamics in their sugar relationships helped me to realize how personal the concept of power can be. Power is not tangible, and different people feel powerful in different ways. Even if each sugar baby I interviewed is the same in that they are all young femmes exchanging a relationship with an older, richer man for money, they can all feel the power dynamics of this relationship and be affected by it in different ways.

Stigma and Social Implications

It is no secret that sugaring is a highly stigmatized practice. All of the participants I interviewed report thinking that there is a very prevalent stigma against sugar babies. Amelia believes that outdated ideals of sex and relationships cause there to be stigma surrounding sugar relationships, as she describes, saying,

This is a society that only very recently started to embrace sexual experiences outside of marriage… Anything outside of a committed and loving relationship has more and more judgement added onto it, and then when you turn sex into more of a transactional thing, people are up in arms about that.

Just as all those I interviewed react to sugaring experiences in different ways, all dealt with this stigma and social implications of sugaring in different ways, including who they choose to share the fact that they are or were sugar babies with. Jo says that while she does not share the fact that she is a sugar baby with everyone, she is open about it with those she knows well, including her sister. Amelia describes how she tends to be fairly open about sugaring with those she is also open about her sexuality in general with, saying, “like I wouldn’t tell someone that I just met 20 minutes ago that I have like 6 people that I sleep with, I wouldn’t tell them that I sugar either.”

Ola is also selective with those they tell, especially when it comes to their family. Though at the time they were involved in sugaring, they did not tell anyone, they are now more open about their past endeavors. They say,

All of my friends know now that I used to sugar, but it’s really just like something that I don’t feel 100% comfortable with everyone on earth knowing about, definitely not my family, just because of the stigma. And there’s also a lot of stigma, I feel like, in immigrant communities….There’s this idea that you’re doing it because you’re forced to or because like, why would you want to do that? And you’re a terrible person…So I never told them about it and I still feel like I never could.

How Sugaring Affects Personal Relationships

As sugaring has such prevalent social repercussions that seem to affect the participants in different ways, I was interested to talk to them about how sugaring may affect their personal relationships. The fact that two of the respondents I interviewed identified as polyamorous or non-monogamous seemed to affect how they navigated sugar relationships as part of their romantic and sexual life. Both Amelia and Jo said that because they were non-monogamous, they were open with their partners about their sugar relationships, just as they would be with any other relationship. Jo describes this, saying, “I’ve been poly five-ever so I continue to communicate with all of my partners…Most people in my life know that I’m doing this and all my relationships have been exactly how they would have been if I weren’t.”

I think this reveals a lot about how modern relationships differ from more traditional relationships. Not only has polyamory become a more popular and socially accepted practice among youth, but the reasons for engaging in relationships have extended beyond just pursuing romance. While I was surprised that the other partners of the respondents reacted positively to their sugaring, it does reveal how modern relationships may have different concerns and values, as Bauman’s theory of liquid love suggests.

While Jo and Amelia were able to effectively communicate with their partners about sugaring and receive positive reactions, Ola had different experiences in their relationships outside of sugaring. Due to stigma and shame Ola felt over being a sugar baby, they did not tell anyone about their sugaring at the time they were doing it, including their romantic partner. “Sometimes I would just be like emotionally exhausted and it made it really difficult having to keep that from my partner,” Ola says, “and having to be like ‘no, I can’t do these plans that we were looking forward to for a really long time because I’m so tired.’”

While communicating with partners about sugaring seemed to be effective for Jo and Amelia, Ola’s experiences reveal how sugar relationships can also have a negative impact on personal relationships. Ola’s story shows how sugar relationships can create an emotional toll that affects other aspects of life.

Community of Sugar Babies

As I had realized in working to find participants, sugar babies are much more of a hidden population than other youth cultures and communities, likely due to the extreme stigma attached to sugaring and sex work. While you might see a community of skateboarders together at the park, or a group of techno fans gathered at a music festival, the community and culture of sugar babies is not as visible. However, not only did the participants I interviewed report having vibrant, if somewhat hidden, communities, but they all described community as a very important and empowering aspect of being a sugar baby, as it helped to provide emotional support, fight stigma, and share knowledge.

Ola tells me about meeting a community of sugar babies and sex workers on the social media website tumblr, as well as becoming part of a group for sex workers on facebook. Both of these communities provided advice on how to go about sugaring and other sex work, as well as providing emotional support. Ola describes one of the facebook groups they are in, saying,

It’s like this really supportive group where people share tips or share stories or ask like ‘how much should I charge for this?’ or like ‘I can’t believe this terrible client I got who said all these terrible things….’ I think having a community like that is very powerful because it helps with your own internalized stigma, which I think all of us are conditioned to have, and to have someone like that who will support you at the end of the ay, because it’s really exhausting work and a lot of communities don’t really recognize that, and it’s really important to find a community that does.

Amelia spoke of similar reasons why a community of sugar babies is important. While she was not part of any physical communities, she met many other sugar babies and sex workers through the facebook group through which I contacted the participants for this project. She describes this community, saying,

I think it’s a very positive thing in terms of reinforcing that this is a legitimate form of labor and like selling of a specialized skill, to definitely take down the stigmatization. Also it’s good in terms of shared knowledge. Some people have more experience…. so it’s kind of a mentor role.

Jo reports becoming involved in a community of other sugar babies and sex workers in Chicago, who refer to themselves under the umbrella term SW’s (sex workers.) For Jo, this community is not only one of other sex workers, but also of other queer people like herself, with whom she became involved in activism, such as going to a Trans Liberation March in Chicago. She describes this community saying, “We’re all queer and we’re all like, activists. It is survival for pretty much all of us, but it’s also like resistance.”

While financial benefits may be the original reason that many sugar babies start sugaring, there also must be factors that motivate people to be able to continue sugaring despite the stigma, negative social implications, and emotionally draining nature of the work. Through my interviews, I was able to see how community could fight against many of the negative factors of being a sugar baby and help sugar babies to continue their work happily and safely. Community is a space to fight stigma and legitimize sugaring as a form of labor. Additionally, it provides social and emotional support that is needed in this line of work. Lastly, as Jo described, communities of mainly queer sex workers allow a space for activism, to stand up for the rights of sex workers, queer and trans people and other marginalized identities and fight against the forces in power that oppress them. As sugar babies hold an identity not accepted by society at large, communities offer a place of acceptance, support, and resistance against the norm, and seem to help sugar babies to best continue on with their work.

Looking Forward

As sugar babies tend to be younger people, I wanted to learn about how sugar babies looked at a future in sugaring. How would being a sugar baby long term affect them? When was the stopping point?

While Jo and Amelia both are currently involved with sugar daddies, Ola no longer sees any of the sugar daddies they previously were involved with. Ola tells me of a particular experience that caused them to want to stop being a sugar baby, when they found out their sugar daddy’s daughter was their age and went to a high school nearby. They describe this experience, saying,

I realized that I couldn’t [continue seeing him] because that disturbed me so much. The question that it all came down to was just like “why is a man interested in this kind of relationship with someone who could be his daughter”…. I just couldn’t do it anymore, like I tried really hard… I couldn’t bring myself to do it knowing that he had a daughter that was doing the same things that I was doing, like looking at colleges, like getting a car and all this stuff.

Ola notes that this experience also put them in fear of being “outed” as a sugar baby, as they knew some people at the school his daughter attended. As Ola emphasized the importance of the divide between sugaring and personal life, I can see how this experience could be a dangerous blurring of this line and make it difficult for them to continue sugaring. Ola tells me they continue to be involved in other forms of sex work such as camming and selling nude pictures, but do keep in consideration the prospect of returning to sugaring.

Jo and Amelia both see themselves as continuing sugaring at least until the near future. Amelia says she plans to continue being a sugar baby through college and maybe for sometime after. Jo also plans to be involved in sugaring for the next few years. She tells me,

[I plan to continue sugaring] as long as I need it and can make money from it. But I suspect it’ll slow down around 22 and 25 because folks want younger women. I’m doing it as survival right now but I’m also rather unstable with jobs right now and don’t anticipate that to be a consistent part in my future.

While being a sugar baby may be the most logical and effective way for these young people to support themselves at this time in their lives, there seem to be complications when it comes to being a sugar baby long term. These include sugar daddies wanting younger women, sugar babies moving on to more stable careers, and the emotional toll that being a sugar baby takes on some. While there is no set age requirement to be a sugar baby, it seems that the best window to be a sugar baby for young women and femmes is whilst in college or just out of college, making it truly a youth culture.

Conclusion

While I was curious to learn more about sugar babies’ experiences, I must admit that I went into the experience expecting certain answers across the board. The fact that I received such different answers was not only surprising, but initially disconcerting, as I worried how I would connect such different answers in the paper. However, I think the fact that I received varying answers helped me to realize that this community, like any other community, is in no way a monolith. It is important to remember that within groups of people, everyone will be different and have different experiences. I think assuming that every sugar baby is the same contributes to the stigma and dehumanization that sugar babies face.

It was eye opening learning more about communities of sugar babies. It would be easy to assume that hidden populations would not have the same communities that more visible cultures have. Yet, I came to realize that communities of sugar babies were not only existent, but vital to the safety and well being of sugar babies. Community exists as a place for emotional support, fighting stigma, sharing knowledge, and activism, and in this, acts as a force against the negative social implications and treatment that sugar babies face from society at large.

I also think it is important to draw attention to the fact that being involved in sex work or sugaring does not delegitimize the gender and sexuality identities of those involved. It is an all too common belief that women who are involved in sex work are feeding into the oppression of women. This belief not only ignores the need for survival that many sex workers face, but also removes the importance of autonomy and choice of women, femmes and queer people who engage in sex work.

When it comes down to it, we live in a capitalist society, and one obsessed with sex. As society accepts other forms of labor, and hypersexualizes women and femmes, I find it absurd and incredibly disheartening that women and femmes who engage in sex work continue to be scrutinized and shamed. Each person I interviewed chose the option for making money that was best for them. I hope the stories of these sugar babies’ experiences will help others understand why people may choose to get involved sugaring, and help legitimize sugaring as a form of labor.

References

Bauman, Z. (2003). Liquid love: On the frailty of human bonds. Malden, MA; Cambridge, UK;:
Polity Press.

Nayar, K. I. (2016). Sweetening the deal: dating for compensation in the digital age. Journal of
Gender Studies 26 (3): 1-12.

Cover image: https://www.thedailybeast.com/inside-the-nyc-mixer-for-sugar-babies-and-their-sugar-daddies

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