Inside The Sugar Baby School Of TikTok

Photo via @candiserianna.
"I told him my price just to meet me for dinner and he literally laughed and doubled it," says Candis, 20, an Atlanta-based sugar baby and TikTok creator. "That's when I realised I can charge people exactly what I think I'm worth." 
Last September, following her best friend’s advice, Candis signed up to the sugar dating website Seeking Arrangement – the go-to platform for those looking for mutually beneficial relationships. She now juggles eight sugar daddies in all corners of the United States, who finance her luxurious lifestyle in exchange for her company – which, Candis clarifies, never involves sex. 
One morning in December 2020, only a few months after she started sugar dating, Candis woke up with the sudden urge to share her journey online. Under the username @candiserianna, she carved a space for herself on Sugar Baby TikTok, a niche on the platform dedicated to content around the alluring yet often misunderstood world of sugaring. At the time of writing, the hashtag #sugarbabies boasts over 530 million views, #sugarbaby over 490 million, and #sugarbabiecheck close to 67 million. 
While some of the videos posted under those hashtags consist of sugar babies excitedly displaying their latest Prada bags without really explaining how to obtain them, Sugar Baby TikTok also has a growing educational division. The Sugar Baby School of TikTok is here not only to flex but to teach as well. 
Eva*, 23, started posting on TikTok last year under the username @chillfeline after she saw another woman glamorising the lifestyle on the app without offering any safety tips or advice to newcomers. With the aim of spreading awareness about the realities of sugar dating, she now provides her 60,000 followers with all the guidance she considers necessary.
As for Candis, who has 60.8K followers, her expertise primarily resides in using sugar dating websites as smartly as possible – including which photos to upload, what to include in your bio and how to speak to prospective sugar daddies. She also created and moderates two different group chats – with 600 members in total – where both experienced and novice sugar babies can learn from each other. 

I think people have this idea with any type of sex work that you do it because you're a broken person. But it's the opposite. It did wonders for my self-esteem.

From helping viewers craft the best possible profile on a sugar dating platform to teaching them the dos and don'ts of meeting a sugar daddy for the first time, Sugar Baby TikTok offers a complete syllabus on how to successfully – and safely – get into rich men’s hearts and wallets. 
By providing an insight into a lifestyle which is shrouded in mystique, Sugar Baby TikTok creators also attempt to erase the stigma and debunk the myths surrounding sugar dating. "I think people have this idea with any type of sex work that you do it because you're a broken person. But it’s the opposite. It did wonders for my self-esteem," says Wendi, 39, known on TikTok as @thehelpfulho. Wendi is also adamant that sugar dating goes far beyond – and sometimes doesn’t even include – physical intimacy. "Sugar daddies are not just after sex, they want companionship," she explains. 
At almost 40, around 15 to 20 years older than the average sugar baby, Wendi describes herself as a "sugar granny". She happily takes on this role as a shrewd, eccentric elder on TikTok, sharing her wisdom with her 55,000 followers. An important part of what she does is trying to normalise the transactional and compartmentalised nature of sugaring – where emotional connection can exist independent of traditional commitment. 
By destigmatising sugar dating, being transparent about what those relationships actually entail and giving tips on how to get started, Sugar Baby TikTok creators are making the lifestyle seem like a desirable option to many viewers. "My TikToks have definitely inspired a plethora of sugar babies to get started and I've received so many DMs asking for advice! The response has been overwhelming," Eva says.
To get a sense of just how enticing sugar dating sounds to TikTok users, I made my own video asking to speak to people who were familiar with Sugar Baby TikTok and had ever been tempted – even just for a second – to try it out. At the time of writing, the video had been viewed over 1,800 times and received more than 100 comments. "Girl, who hasn’t?" said one user. "Tempted is an understatement, I think about it at least once a day," reads another comment. "I started from Sugar Baby TikTok!" a few people wrote. Days after the video was posted, testimonies kept coming in. 
Sugar Baby TikTok’s popularity – and its apparent success in promoting the lifestyle – has to be understood in the context of our current economic climate. Eva started sugaring in October 2020 after struggling to find a job post-graduation. "I was running out of money and unemployment benefits were not enough to cover both rent and other expenses," she says. "I want to invest that money to pull my family and I out of poverty."
Financial instability is also partly what convinced Lou, 24, to try sugar dating a few months ago. After Sugar Baby TikTok videos kept popping up on her For You page, she realised that signing up to a sugaring website could help her attend fashion school and pay back the money she borrowed after losing her job due to coronavirus. But Lou’s experience wasn’t as positive as she’d hoped for. "I thought I could entertain an older guy for a few hours, for a little bit of financial help, but Jesus Christ was I wrong! A lot of the men want to scam you or they want to have sex with you," she says. 
By becoming more mainstream, sugar dating has attracted a lot of unscrupulous men – safety hazards that can be difficult to avoid for those who step into the sugaring world unprepared. "Once it becomes a trend, some people believe it's quick money and they don't do their research before getting into it. They don't realise the risks or dangers," Eva says. "Having so much information available online is kind of a double-edged sword. Yes, those who want to become sugar babies have more tips but, also, the sugar daddy market is more saturated with scammers," Candis explains. 
This is an issue that Sugar Baby TikTok creators are well aware of, and attempt to mitigate. 
In her videos, Eva gives out various safety tips to guard against creeps who will try to take advantage of young women’s vulnerability – including buying self-defence weapons, sharing your location with your friends and never getting intimate in the hope that someone will pay you. "The average person may not have the street smarts, negotiation skills or the ability to read social cues that this type of work requires. So it’s important to have those warnings out there," she says. "I feel like if me and other women on Sugar Baby TikTok weren't doing what we're doing, then girls would continue to get scammed," adds Candis. 

By becoming more mainstream, sugar dating has attracted a lot of unscrupulous men and, as a result, safety hazards.

As an older sugar baby, Wendi cares deeply about the safety of young and naive newcomers who may need guidance on setting clear boundaries and navigating the tricky power dynamics of sugar dating. "I want my audience to know that they’re not somebody's property, that you don't have to have sex if you don't want to," she says. "It’s so important they never do anything out of desperation." 
Respect for one’s boundaries and self-love, nurtured independently from anyone’s validation, are recurring themes in Wendi’s videos. "It breaks my heart that there’s a bunch of people running around feeling like shit about themselves," she says. "I’m comfortable with myself, I don’t feel like I need anyone to complete me. I want my followers to feel like that, too." By sharing her journey, Wendi hopes to inspire people to disregard societal expectations and find meaning, enjoyment and self-confidence in unconventional experiences – just like she did when she started out, five years ago.
Empowering her audience is also one of Candis’ priorities. "The most important advice I give is to never sell yourself short. Whatever you think you're worth, add tax," she says. "There's always going to be someone who will meet you exactly where you want them to."
Conversations about self-esteem, body confidence and sexual liberation – as well as what empowerment can and should look like – are an integral part of Sugar Baby TikTok. Even for viewers who might not ultimately take the leap and sign up to Seeking Arrangement, those discussions can be valuable and informative, and change their perspective on all types of sex work.
Sugar dating may not be for everybody but Wendi, Eva, Candis and their peers on Sugar Baby TikTok have laid out all the guidelines to ensure that for those who do try, things go smoothly. By demystifying the world of sugaring, making safety paramount and reminding their audience of their self-worth, the Sugar Baby School of TikTok is paving the way for a new generation of self-assured, prudent and prosperous graduates.
*Name changed at the request of the interviewee to protect their identity

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