What It Really Means To Be A Sugar Baby

Photo: Courtesy of SeekingArrangement.
Last month, nearly a hundred guests attended the country's first Sugar Baby Summit in New York City. The young women (and a few young men) paid $100 a ticket, for which they received a full day of classes, entrance to a sugar-daddy mixer, and a cherry-red tank top emblazoned with their motto: "Girls Just Wanna Have Funds."

A lot of people don't understand exactly what sugar babies are (let alone why they need a summit). Are they prostitutes? Are they companions? Are they just really hot girls looking to make a buck off their hotness? The answer to all these questions is: Well, not exactly.

The Summit was hosted by SeekingArrangement.com — the premiere website for sugar baby/sugar daddy setups. The site currently reports 4.5 million members: 3.3 million sugar babies and 1.2 million sugar daddies (and some mommas, too). Founded in 2006 by MIT-educated entrepreneur Brandon Wade, the site has hosted several parties in the past, enabling members to find new sugar matches in person. But this event was the first of its kind, drawing members from all over the country to a large Hell's Kitchen event space for expert lectures and workshops on how to break into the world of "sugaring" and optimize sugar daddy relationships to maximum benefit. There was Sugar 101: For Beginners, Sugar 102: Breaking Sweet & Staying Safe, a Sugar Funds Management class led by a professional financial advisor, and the Master Class with Chelsea Ridenour — a seasoned star of the sugar baby community who came ready to answer the tough questions, like, "How do I weed out guys who make less than $50 million?"

An hour into the summit, I had far more questions than answers. But by the end of the day, I'd gotten a good look inside this world and found it far more vast and complex than I'd imagined. What's a sugar baby? The short answer is: a girl who wants to have funds. But the who, where, how, and why — that'll take a few tank tops to explain.
Photo: Courtesy of SeekingArrangement.
Who: The Young & The Willing
Seated among the crowd of attendees, I was struck by the diversity of the group. There seemed to be no predominant race or even specific age group among the sugar babies — though few appeared older than mid-20s. As a young press rep from SeekingArrangement reminded the crowd in her greeting: "Sugar won't stay sweet forever."

Later, I brought this maxim up with Kristen, a 25-year-old woman from Michigan, who harbors no illusions that this gig will last much longer. "I've been doing this since I was 18," she told me. "Now a little older and, you know, there are guys that specifically want 18-, 19-year-olds. Probably in 10 years, I'll be too old because there will be a whole new fresh crop." Kristen urges even the younger girls to use this as an opportunity to develop their careers and financial security ("Say you get in a car accident and you mess up your whole face? You're done"). Her first sugar daddy, whom she met as a freshman, paid Kristen's entire college tuition. She now works for a nonprofit organization advocating for organic food. "I worked my way up in my career because this might end tomorrow and I want to be able to support myself. So now, I'm able to save the money I make and put that aside, and just spend their money."

While youth is clearly prized, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Sugar babies are certainly encouraged to glam up (way up), but I was surprised to hear that it's not just the skinny, pert, and blonde who are prized. "I'm not a size 2, and there are just as many guys for me as there are for other girls," Kristen affirms confidently, and I believe her. She's no nymphet, but her charisma and amiability make her the kind of woman you want to hang out with. "That means more to a lot of guys than what you look like. They want chemistry."

That helped answer my next question: Who are the sugar daddies, and what do they want? Again, there's no definitive answer. Some want sympathetic listeners to hear them vent about work, others want someone to go out to fancy dinners with. But the unifying factor seems to be that these are all wealthy men who want to bypass the rigmarole of finding their perfect girlfriend and just pay for one instead.

Naturally, most of them want sex, too.
Photo: Courtesy of SeekingArrangement.
Where: Anytime, Anyplace
Most sugar babies seem to accept the sexual element as part of the package. After all, these are romantic relationships of a kind, and most romantic relationships include sex. Kristen has a rule about waiting 3-4 dates before sleeping with a potential sugar daddy (or even meeting with him in a private location). There are some she's never slept with and still gotten paid. Sex is not necessarily a given. However, "that’s the difference between getting a couple hundred dollars a month and a couple thousand."

I spoke with another attendee named Alexis. She's only been using SeekingArrangement since last fall, when her own mother suggested she try it out after seeing a news report on it. "I thought, It's nothing compromising. Why not?" As for sex, she says, "Definitely not." (Kristen's response to newbies like Alexis: "Wishful thinking.")

Of course, I was surprised that Alexis' mom had pointed her toward sugaring, but she says she'd never want to keep this from her friends and family anyway. For one thing, she'd rather be forthright than leave any room for those people to make assumptions. For another, "I think it's very important for the people closest to you to know your whereabouts, to give you advice, to keep you safe."

It's the golden rule of all online dating: If you go on a date with a stranger, tell a friend where you're going and who with. This is paramount for a sugar baby, because most of these relationships are long-distance. In fact, many of them require a passport.

The travel issue came up a lot during the Master Class, led by Chelsea Ridenour. Unlike most, Ridenour is currently trying to parlay sugaring into an entire career (overseen by her best friend and brand manager, Jay). A statuesque blonde from the Midwest, she commanded the room in a chic white dress, the spotlight catching sparse flecks of shimmer on her candy-apple cheeks.

"I've gotten invited to Paris, and I've gotten invited to Dubai," she answered in response to a young man who's gotten a lot of requests from potential international sugar daddies. Ridenour's traveled extensively throughout the States, going to Hawaii and once on a Bahamian cruise. But other than that, she's been too scared to leave the country. "The thought sex trafficking crosses my mind." Furthermore, she doesn't want to get stuck somewhere with someone she might not like. That's why she emphasizes the importance of establishing that you have a connection with someone before flying off to Dubai.

While frequent travel is generally part of the package (and considered a major perk for some), it makes exit strategies a little more complicated. "Always have a roundtrip ticket," Ridenour urges, in case you need to get out of there. And what if you need to get out of sex, a young woman asked.

"No means no, I guess."
Photo: Courtesy of SeekingArrangement.
How: It's Not About Their Money — It's About Your Bills
Money is one of those things you're not supposed to talk about at the dinner table. When you're a sugar baby, that's even more important. While money is the driving force of this entire operation, it's still considered a faux pas to start pitching figures over cocktails. Still, you're not there to make friends (not just friends, anyway).

"I've said, 'Oh, I need to fix my car,' or 'I have this car-repair bill...'" Ridenour trailed off with a bashful smile. Even talking about talking about money feels awkward, but you've got to get the lay of the land before you get in deep. Is this guy going to set you up with an allowance, or does he prefer to just pay your bills directly? Does he prefer to give gifts, and if so are we talking a nice dress, a nice car, or a nice apartment?

Using a site like SeekingArrangement takes out some of the guesswork, because when sugar daddies post their net worths in a profile, they then go through a background-verification process to make sure they're reporting accurate numbers. But if they don't report income, or if you're "free-styling" (seeking a sugar daddy off the website), it's up to you to figure it out — with discretion.

"You can look for little clues on what they're wearing — shoes, accessories sometimes," Ridenour explained. She described a recent experience where she met a guy at a mall in Las Vegas who looked "kinda weird." But she saw he was wearing a watch and asked what kind it was ("it's one of my tricks") and saw it was a Presidential Rolex. "Then he asked me if I wanted to go shopping."

But for most of these women, finding a willing rich guy (or a handful of willing rich guys) doesn't seem to be the issue. Things don't get complicated until you're in the relationship — and it's clear that's what these connections are. An outsider might conflate a Sugar Baby with a prostitute, and while the two share the financial element, a sugar baby has to manage more than just a sexual transaction. She's got girlfriend problems, too.
Photo: Courtesy of SeekingArrangement.
Why: They Want To
I came home late in the afternoon, telling my roommate about my day with the sugar babies ("And how was your day?"). He squinted and shook his head in disgust. "What about, like, getting a job? Why would they do that?"

I thought about getting into the whole spiel, explaining that most of them did have jobs, that they weren't all total weirdos, etc. But if I'd learned anything at the summit, it's that you can't neatly summarize the sugar baby phenomenon. Each of these women had different motivations, backgrounds, and goals, and to try to define one of them would only make them sound like floozies and me sound like a judgmental jerk.

To define them as prostitutes ignores the complexity (and legality) of the situation. It also indirectly minimizes the issues involved in contemporary prostitution. Kristen claims that "having a sugar daddy is just like having a wealthy boyfriend. There’s no difference." Though that, too, is an oversimplification. Certainly, financial status plays a role in regular dating, but ordinary relationships don't come with a monthly allowance. Sex is also an important factor in both cases, but when it comes with a price tag, consent seems to become a variable — not a given.

The moral-ambiguity issue is a question of opinion, but perhaps the only truly reprehensible thing about the sugar world is the way it enables and amplifies an archaic stereotype: The pretty young thing and the old rich guy in a mutually exploitative relationship.

In the end, I think all sugar babies have only one thing in common: They're willing. Sugaring is a juggling act, and though the financial rewards can be great, you've got to be willing to invest your own time and energy. As benefactors, the sugar daddies aren't required to put the work in. It's up to the baby to seek the one she wants, get his attention, and hold it — and not expect anything but the cold, hard cash in return.

"When you're a girlfriend in a regular relationship, you're getting romantically pleased as well. In a sugar baby/sugar daddy relationship, a lot of times it's not a romantic thing for you," Kristen reminded me. "You're getting the money — they're getting the romance."

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