Karley Sciortino, the host of Slutever, was a sugar baby for a while in her twenties, on a site called SeekingArrangement. She says being a sugar baby had much more of a stigma attached to it then and as a result, the women who were sugaring had to be very discreet.
Cut to now and the business of sugaring is big. So big that SeekingArrangement, a well-known sugaring site, has over 10 million registered users in the US alone. Their stats show “the average Sugar Daddy is 38 and makes $250,000 annually, while the average Sugar Baby is 25 and makes $2,800 monthly from her Daddies”.
“LinkedIn with perks”
On Slutever, we meet Ava, a PR major who says she uses SeekingArrangement just like any other student would use a job site. Ava has a plethora of designer clothing and handbags that she has acquired from her relationships with her daddies – daddies that Ava says are all in completely platonic relationships with her. Yep, that’s absolutely no sex involved according to Ava because she is able to empower her daddies by making them feel they can mentor or help her. Because after all, it would be illegal for a website to be hosting and promoting sex for money… wouldn’t it?
Is being a sugar baby safe?
But Sciortino holds concerns about how you can be a sugar baby and stay safe. Does anyone from the site talk to the women about safety plans before they agree to meet men in person? Sugar baby and site user Anna also worries that the online sugaring space is unsafe and also underpaid for women. She claims that the men using the SeekingArrangement site are not even expected to verify their identity by presenting an ID before they can meet up with women.
To find some answers about what is actually going down on these sugaring websites, Sciortino heads to Los Angeles and to the SeekingArrangement “Let’s talk sugar” pop-up event hosted by “sugar coaches” Alexis and Brooke. In amongst the champagne and fun, and requests that attendees write down questions for the coaches to answer in their freely provided “handy dandy” notebooks, the sugar coaches offer strategic advice on how to get sugar daddies to pay for whatever the sugar babies want. Maybe showing him a spreadsheet of your living expenses is a good place to start? But not on the first date of course, that would be foolish.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the overall take-home message sent by Alexis and Brooke is, of course you don’t have to be sexual as a sugar baby – oh, but you probably should. Right. So in trying to understand the “convoluted world of the modern sugar baby” Sciortino wonders whether being a sugar baby in 2019 is more like a “1950s role-play where women trick men into handing over their wallets”.
So is this sex work?
Sciortino’s confusion is rapidly accelerating about where the line is drawn between sex work and sugaring. She seeks out Dr Carol Queen, a sexologist, for help. Queen believes that “sugar babying lives somewhere between dating sites and sex work, just a step away from acknowledged sex work”.
At the “World Without Exploitation Youth Summit” held in 2018 at a high school in New York, experts asserted that sugar babies “typically do not, in fact, have control over these relationships, which often turn dangerous and exploitative”.
Sciortino contemplates, “I do sometimes worry that the marketing of this website of ‘It’s just a relationship’, leads to young women not realising that sex is going to be expected”. Make up your own mind in the "Sugar Babies" episode of Slutever.
This episode of Slutever premieres on Tuesday, 16 April at 9:30 pm on SBS VICELAND, airing straight after episode one. Double episodes continue on Tuesday nights. All episodes are also streaming at SBS On Demand: