Imagine you spend 18 years raising your daughter, sacrificing whatever could have been left of your personal life to help her gain entrance to an elite university. You watch her graduate with a great degree – and a heap of student loan debt. Instead of taking an entry-level position at a firm somewhere, your 22-year-old joins a “sugar baby” website, where “ambitious and attractive girls” can connect with “generous benefactors.” Your daughter is paying off her pre-law degree as a professional escort.
The Huffington Post recently published a lengthy expose on the phenomenon of “sugar babies,” female college students and recent graduates who turn to escort work procured through the web. The piece offers a fascinating look at the minds and shifting moral attitudes of women in their early 20s, who don’t see their “sugar baby” lifestyle as being out of the ordinary.
It should come as no surprise to Strollerderby readers that one of the major proponents and facilitators of this type of sex work is Noel Biderman. Biderman runs Avid Life Media, the parent company of AshleyMadison.com, “The world’s leading married dating service for discreet encounters.” (Sorry, my head just exploded.) Biderman caters to young women looking to make a buck off their bodies on his sites Established Men and ArrangementSeekers.com. He’s quick to normalize the act of young women engaging in sex-for-pay by saying:
Let’s say you’re a recent graduate, with $80,000 in debt and a job that pays $35,000 a year. It’s tough to pay that amount of debt down, live in a decent city and still be able to socialize and do fun things. At some point, you’ll have to start making major sacrifices. But what if all of a sudden, the only sacrifice is the age or success level of your boyfriend or some guy you occasionally hang out with? That becomes a real game-changer in how you get to live your life.
Yeah, that’s exactly what we should be teaching our girls. Not that they should examine carefully our consumer society and how it’s ruining the environment and even our political landscape. No, we should tell them that if they screw an old dude with money that means they won’t have to get a sh*tty job like everyone else. Except I can’t imagine that having sex for money doesn’t eventually feel just as boring, soul-sucking and awful as any other job out there. But at least it doesn’t involve a cubicle, right?
The question is, of course, is this type of mutually beneficial arrangement considered prostitution or not? According to experts, the majority of young women who date “sugar daddies” don’t see themselves as high-class hookers. Barb Brents, a sociology professor at UNLV says, “These college women [don't] see themselves as sex workers, but women doing straight-up prostitution often don’t see themselves that way either. Drawing that line and making that distinction may be necessary psychologically, but in material facts it’s quite a blurry line.”
Ronald Weitzer, a professor of sociology at George Washington University who studies the sex industry, says that websites which facilitate these exchanges (like SugarDaddyMeet or SeekingArrangement – and there are so many more…) operate lawfully because there is a grey area surrounding these types of relationships. “The only illegal aspect would be if the individual receives some kind of direct payment or material compensation for sex,” he says, which is hard to prove since the women involved also provide companionship to the men taking care of them. “Absent an immediate sex-for-pay exchange, the legal waters grow far murkier,” asserts legal expert Allen Lichtenstein. “One could even consider certain marriages where there are unequal financial resources to not be overly dissimilar,” he says. “But any relationship that is an ongoing one that’s not purely about sex but may have a sexual aspect to it, you can’t really classify as prostitution. It would simply cover too much ground.”
Lichtenstein’s argument helped me discern precisely why I think engaging in this type of affair is not good for young women – or any women, which is that in these relationships the men have all the power. I think it’s gross to imply that a person may be prostituting themselves to their spouse in a marriage wherein one partner makes more money than the other, but I understand the line of thinking. At least in a marriage involving vastly unequal earners, though, there is a pledge of mutual love and respect, of equality. In these sugar baby/sugar daddy relationships, it’s hard not to see the women as being victims, albeit willing ones. When someone pays you to do something, they are your boss, whether you see it that way or not. There is nothing egalitarian about it.
Case in point: a young woman named Dayanara “started dating an older, married executive while working as a summer intern at an investment bank in New York.” HuffPo’s Amanda Fairbanks writes:
The relationship quickly blossomed into a sugar daddy relationship, with him sending her a monthly allowance of $5,000 when she returned to Florida International University in the fall…. Eventually, the relationship soured. And after graduating in May with $30,000 in student loan debt and another $10,000 in credit card debt, she grew increasingly desperate. Rather than look for a job on Wall Street, she began an elaborate online hunt for other hookups…. An entertainment industry executive she met on the site regularly gives her $2,500 for a night of dinner and sex. Meanwhile, she’s paying off her debt and saving for her dream graduate school: a Ph.D. in finance from the London School of Economics. Her biggest fear is that one of these days she’ll run into one of the bankers from her former life.
Dayanara says if she gets caught taking money for sex, her career in banking will be over. Whatever money there is to be made in trading sex and company for money hardly seems worth it if you ask me. I certainly hope my daughter will grow up to feel the same way.
Source: Huffington Post
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