An Investigation Into The Rising Phenomenon of ‘Sugar Daddy’ sites in Ireland.
The popular websites SugarDaddyIreland.com and SeekingArragements.com describe themselves as dating websites that set up a ‘mutually beneficial relationship’ between Sugar Daddy and Sugar Baby. However, a large proportion of society views these sites as a form of prostitution.
It has become quite evident that a large number of young Irish women are no longer relying on part-time jobs and student loans for financial income to get them through college. Rather, they chose to sign up to popular Sugar Daddy sites such as SugarDaddyIreland.com and SeekingArrangments.com; dating sites whereby the ‘Sugar Daddy’ (typically a successful and wealthy businessman) provides his ‘Sugar Baby’ with financial benefits including gifts, holidays and monthly allowances in return for companionship.
With over 2,000 members signed up to SugarDaddyIreland.com and over 20,000 to SeekingArrangments.com, it is apparent that the young girls who are signing up to these sites do not perceive them as immoral. Within just one year, the number of Irish women who have joined these sites has increased by 17% and with over 3 million users worldwide; these numbers will continue to increase rapidly.
Both SugarDaddyIreland.com and SeekingArrangments.com state on the website descriptions that they are outlets that assist people in finding someone who is willing to help out in exchange for companionship and romance. This is a view that is most certainly not shared by everyone.
Many academics argue that websites such as these that exchange cash for a relationship may not embody the stereotypical image of a street prostitute or an escort, but nonetheless, form part of the modern sex culture. Jaqueline Browne, a psychologist whose research includes analyzing the content of escort websites, believes that the rising numbers of Irish girls who are joining the dating sites are worrying.
‘Many of these girls are as young as 18 and do not know what is expected of them. There are over 200 profiles on SeekingArrangments.com where the girls are still in secondary school. The majority of the men on these sites do expect sex, whether it is initiated at the beginning of the relationship or at the end. These girls are a vulnerable target; they are still in school and maybe naïve with no experience of this type of culture. They may assume that engaging in sexual activities with these older men is what is expected of them in return for the financial aid provided’ said Ms. Browne.
In recent months, it has been revealed that Trinity College Dublin holds the largest number of Sugar Babies in Ireland, followed closely by the University of Limerick, University College Dublin, and University College Cork.
SeekingArrangments.com in particular specifically targets college students by offering free premium memberships when you sign up with a dot-Edu e-mail address. Labeling the arrangements as ‘Sugar Scholarships’, the website claims that these can ‘provide real solutions to the problem of student debts’.
According to Ms. Browne, this kind of marketing is a direct target to young vulnerable students who are struggling to put themselves through college: ‘These men are looking for intelligent, attractive young ladies to boost their egos. Of course, if the website is pledging that these relationships are not based on sex, but companionship, young girls who are really struggling financially are going to be attracted to the idea. And in some cases, even if they realize that sex is expected, they may be inclined to act on it, just to relieve the financial burden. This will always be a choice of course, but for many girls in this day and age, money is more important than morals’.
Sarah*, a previous user to both SugarDaddyIreland.com and SeekingArrangments.com revealed that she chose to join the sites because she found it increasingly difficult to balance a part-time job alongside university: ‘It was one or the other; a job or a degree. I couldn’t have one without the other so the Sugar Daddy sites were my only option. At first, I felt weird about it, but once I started receiving €800 fortnightly for just talking to an older man; it was very difficult to stop. I did develop feelings for him but I wasn’t ready to go further with him and after three months he said he would stop my allowances if I didn’t have sex with him’.
In 2013, SeekingArrangments.com announced that approximately 44% of its 2.3 million ‘babies’ were in college. Laura*, a former member feels that the website creates the illusion that the sexual element of these relationships is not forced, but organic. ‘Nobody associated with the site wants to admit that what it’s doing is facilitating sex-for-money exchanges. The huge number of college students on the site helps to preserve this illusion, for both the participants’.
The average Sugar Daddy in Ireland offers €6,200 monthly in cash and gifts to pay for housing expenses and transportation, as well as allowances for personal spending such as shopping. In return, the Sugar Babies accompany them on trips, dates and work occasions.
Spokesperson and Public Relations officer for SeekingArrangments.com, Angela Bermulo states that there is no hidden sexual agenda behind the relationships; the men are seeking companionship through the arrangements: ‘They want to be mentors but they also want a woman who understands their needs and who is able to hold an intelligent conversation. The relationships are definitely not based on sex but it is not completely off-limits either. Like any relationship, if both parties feel they are ready to be intimate with one another, then maybe. But it’s not required’.
With such conflicting views from my interviewees, I decided to go undercover and join both of the sites in order to fully experience the phenomenon and discover whether or not the men who are providing the financial aid expect more than ‘companionship’ from their babies.
Under the pseudonym ‘Daisy Dunne’- using a blurred out picture and real biographical information –I revealed that I was looking for a relationship based on mentorship and friendship and no more.
During the six weeks that I was signed up to SugarDaddyIreland.com, I spoke with ten different men continuously. It was evident from the moment I logged on that this site was overtly sexual orientated. At the top right-hand corner of the website exists as a ‘Live Sex’ tab where users can initiate and join in sex videos and chats. Each of the sponsored ads was also sex-related; the majority of them leading to pornographic websites.
Under the ‘I am interested in’ section on the website, Sugar Daddies are encouraged to specify what they are looking to pursue. Out of the 40 men I viewed, and the 10 I connected with, 80% stated that they were interested in sex. The majority of the profiles described their preferences: ‘bondage’, ‘role-plays’, ‘affairs’ and ‘oral sex’ were the most mentioned sexual preferences.
The website also has a section entitled ‘My Public Sexual Preferences’ where Sugar Daddies disclose where is most desired to have sexual intercourse with their babies. Over 40% of the profiles I visited named ‘the back of the car’ as their most desired location, whilst others included more unusual settings such as ‘the back of the church’ and ‘in the cinema’.
In the ‘My Appearance’ section, where the men describe their features, there exists a section that allows them to reveal their ‘endowment size’. Out of the 40 profiles I viewed, 22 included graphic descriptions under this section.
After speaking with 10 different Sugar Daddies on and off for six weeks on SugarDaddyIreland.com, they each admitted that they expected sex in return for money.
‘As a website, SeekingArrangments.com appears to be a lot classier than SugarDaddyIreland.com’ states Laura*. ‘There are no obvious sex symbols unlike other dating websites and it’s a lot more clean-cut and bright in its appearance’. On the first inspection, the website did appear to be professional and academic based. Initially, when Sugar Babies are signing up, the first step involves choosing one’s desired sum of monthly allowance and this ranges from €1,000 to €10,000.
The average age for the Sugar Daddy on this website is 41-years-old while the Sugar Baby is 23-years-old and at least 21% of them are married in Ireland. According to Angela Bermulo, only 30–40% of arrangements evolve into a sexual relationship. Out of the 10 men which I connected with and spoke with continuously for six weeks, 8 admitted that they expected sexual obligations in return for ongoing financial aid. Although the conversations were less misogynistic than SugarDaddyIreland.com, there was a sense of aggravation once I revealed that I would not engage in sexual activity for financial income. Half of the men I spoke with offered over €2,000 for one meeting. They did not indicate if sex was expected on the first date.
SeekingArrangments.com also has several blogs written by CEO’s and Sugar Babies themselves. These blogs appear to be defensive of criticism that the site glorifies prostitution as it includes a blog post, namely, ’Four Differences Between a Sugar Baby and a Prostitute’. In this blog post, the author indicates that a prostitute and a client have a ‘transactional relationship’, while the Sugar Daddy and Sugar Baby have an ‘ongoing’ relationship with the addition of transactions. ‘Prostitution is illegal and it’s clearly stated on our site in our terms that we don’t allow escorts on our sites’, stated Angela.
The website also includes a four-page precautionary list of things to watch out for when signing up, the main subject being sex opportunists and these explain the ‘common tricks’ that are used in order to scam the girls.
By actively seeking out young college students, and publicizing the high number of users it already holds, SeekingArrangments.com makes it easier for educated young women to rationalize the decision to join the site. This is a view that is shared by many young college students. I conducted a vox-pop during my research to determine if college girls saw these sites as a form of prostitution, and out of the 34 girls in the vox-pop, 27 of them admitted that they felt it was unacceptable, one of them questioning: ‘I don’t feel any man would be willing to give away such huge amounts of money simply in return for a chat. There has to be more to it’.
An option for some, but morally questionable for others, there continues to exist an overall stigma towards the young girls who are signed up to these sites.