How to Be a Sugar Baby
Back at the streetside patio, Ron takes a sip from his Diet Coke. “Is all this perplexing to you?” he asks.
“I guess not,” I tell him. “But why would anyone agree to do this?”
He puts down his glass. “These girls, they don’t have the money and they don’t see it as something shameful. I don’t know why in SLC it’s so big, but there are a lot of girls on that site who are looking for guys like me to help them out. It’s real easy. If I were to look again, I’d probably have a dozen local girls contacting me.”
Our waitress stopped by our table to check up on us. “Are you guys doing all right?” she asks with a smile.
“Yeah, we’re doing fine. Thank you,” I say.
When she walks away, Ron looks over at me and whispers, “She’s on the website.”
I probably could have spit out my drink in a massive spray but was able to compose myself.
With a weak job market, a bad economy and rising personal debt, the popularity of the sugar scene makes sense. There are almost 12,000 registered women in the Salt Lake area who are currently “seeking arrangements.” Roughly 31 percent of these women are single moms, and 37 percent claim to be students.
“What we’re talking about here isn’t anything new,” Clement points out. “Women have always taken advantage … to get what they wanted. Women who aren’t interested in a sugar daddy still let men pay for drinks and entertainment, typically saying things like, ‘Oh no, that’s not what I meant, I thought you were just being nice.’ ”
Klein explains why it’s becoming a bigger, more accepted way of life. “We’re becoming more and more about instant gratification. It’s a lot harder to pay for college these days. It’s a whole different world. People have a hard time dialing in their values. ... I don’t think it’s a great leap for young women to realize they can get paid for sex.”
Olympia, a sugar baby who is currently studying broadcasting at a college in Denver, agrees. “It’s hard out here!” she says. “No, honestly, it really is. It’s so expensive these days. You can go to school, but who knows if you’ll get a job.”
Olympia comes from a large middle-class family and doesn’t receive financial help from her parents; her sugar daddy is her primary source of income. “I don’t have a family or friends or people that I could call for money or help. I can’t depend on them and I haven’t been able to depend on them in the past. I think it’s really sad that I’m able to depend on my sugar daddy and not my family or ‘friends.’ ”
Olympia, who’s 24, got into the sugar game five years ago when an A-list actor was shooting a movie in her hometown. “We started dating, and he was like, ‘Well, if we date for this amount of time, I’ll help you out.’ And that was my first sugar daddy, and it lasted for a few years. I guess it sort of catapulted me into this lifestyle. I liked it, I liked the situation. And shortly after, I got on [SeekingArrangement] because it’s where everyone goes.”
It was almost impossible to interview any women in Salt Lake City. One local sugar baby, whom I’ll call Sandra, did agree to talk. She’s a 29-year-old waitress, a Mormon and a student at the University of Utah. Typical sugar dates for Sandra include the occasional Jazz game, Utah football games, dinners and lots of shopping. Currently, she has one steady sugar daddy whom she met via Seeking Arrangement, and a few whom she’s talking to from out of state.
She doesn’t refer to them as sugar daddies; she calls them clients. “You have to separate yourself a little bit, so I try not to get too attached to these men,” she says over the phone. “You have to remind yourself that this person is married, and you have to put your emotions aside. Honestly, I don’t see what the problem is. I get to have things I never thought I’d have. Yeah, sex is usually involved, but I get about a $1,000 to $1,500 a month.”
Sandra’s sugar daddy also gifted her with a new BMW but, unfortunately, she wrecked it.
A Sugar Baby by Any Other Name
OK, so if everything is roses when it comes to sugar hookups, then why isn’t everyone jumping on the sugar train? Well, for one, if you’re a guy, you’re (figuratively) screwed. Unfortunately, there are no sugar mommas in the Salt Lake area registered at SeekingArrangements.com. To test this theory, I created two accounts on Seeking Arrangements a couple of months of ago—one was me posing as a sugar daddy and the other was me posing as a sugar baby looking for a sugar momma. My sugar-daddy account had roughly 17 girls trying to get in my pockets. My sugar-momma-seeking page: zero.
Baffled by this, I asked Clement why Utah has such a lack of generous cougars. “Well, there’s some evidence that women’s sexuality doesn’t work quite the same as men’s,” she says. “Men are much more interested in multiple partners. That’s not to say that women aren’t particularly, at certain points in their lives. But women are more interested in relationships and men are more interested in sex. It’s just not an identity that’s a comfortable one for women. Buying sex doesn’t make women feel powerful, and for men, buying sex does.”
But isn’t paying for sex ... illegal? The answer is … sort of.
“As a general rule, [such arrangements] are class B misdemeanors,” says Salt Lake City prosecutor Scott Fischer. “More specifically, a class B sexual-solicitation offense, which carries up to six months’ jail and $850 in surcharges. That’s the max. If you look at the state code for solicitation, it’s very specific on this matter.”
Fischer is referring to state code 76-10-1313, which, in a nutshell, states that when a person offers or agrees to commit any sexual activity with another person for a fee, it constitutes sexual solicitation. “I can say, as a prosecutor, if the language that they use is sufficient, then … that’s the sort of the thing that we would be willing to review to see if we could charge them,” Fischer says.
Essentially, the gray area here is in the language. What exactly is considered soliciting sex?
“Certainly a man could say, ‘You know, I just wanted the company of a pretty woman, I’m not seeking a hooker,’ ” says Andrew McCullough, an attorney who specializes in adult-entertainment cases and is currently running as a Libertarian for Utah Attorney General. “If they meet for coffee, and right away he brings up how much money per month he can spend and that he likes such-and-such sex act, then he’s dead. Or vice versa, she’s dead. But if it takes a little coaxing, that’s where the gray line comes in.”
McCullough has dealt with quite a few cases involving sex work and says he would overturn sexual-solicitation laws if he were elected. “I don’t want to coach your readers on how to break the law and not get caught,” he says. “But I don’t think the state has a valid interest in this. I can never be sure that the police won’t be interested next week. They could read this and say, ‘Oh, there’s an idea.’ Right now, I would say that the chances [for not getting arrested] are better doing this. Typically, the police focus on the one-hour things.”
Wade points out that his website does offer optional background checks and routinely flags potential prostitutes. “We provide a meeting place. We tell people what they can and can’t do. We kick off anywhere from 30 or 40 escorts or prostitutes a day. I think we define it very clearly on the website,” he says. “Prostitutes ask for money in exchange for sex. Usually, those arrangements last an hour or two and there are no emotions involved. Sugar babies are very different. They are much more glamorous. They wear Louis Vuitton and Gucci. It’s a difference in lifestyle, and with a sugar daddy, they develop chemistry. It develops into a friendship, and, ultimately, a relationship. If there’s no chemistry, then they walk away. That’s the difference.”
As great as all of this sounds, and just because paying for sex is easy, not all men are interested in dating a sugar baby, even if they could afford it. There’s an allure in going out, meeting people, flirting—you know, traditional dating. Though everything theoretically is put on the table, the facade of the “arranged date” comes across to some as seedy. Could you honestly marry someone who was—at least initially—only interested in you because of your money? Could you ever trust this person? The answer for most men is a resounding, “Hell, no.”
A couple of months ago on social-media website Reddit.com, an anonymous sugar baby hosted an AMA (Ask Me Anything survey) asking male users of the site if they would ever date a sugar baby. The overall conclusion was not positive, with responses ranging from, “I dated a girl once who told me she was going to be a sugar baby. I told her to fuck off,” to, “Would you sleep with [a sugar daddy] for a million dollars? Probably. Would you sleep with him for two dollars? Probably not. However, since we’ve already established that you’re a whore, now we are just haggling over price. See? Simple.”
Klein can’t say how the lives and relationships of sugar babies will be affected down the line. “It’s so new,” he says. “No one knows what the ramifications will be for these women 20 years down the road.”
Player or Philanthropist?
As Ron and I finish up our interview, the topic of Ron’s wife begins to surface. “Do you think she cheats on you?” I ask.
“No, I don’t think she cheats on me,” he says. “She may have in the past, but it doesn’t really matter.”
“Do you think any of the sugar babies feel guilty, knowing that you’re married?”
“I know some of them do, but most of them don’t. They like the money. It makes me feel good knowing that if I wasn’t helping these girls, they wouldn’t be able to pay their rent and they would be on the street.”
Our waitress drops off our check, and we sit for a few minutes, both of us keeping quiet.
Ron breaks the silence. “If I get guilt-ridden, it would probably end.”
“Do you feel guilty right now?” I ask.
“I always do a little bit, but I feel that way when I’m not doing it. Let me put it this way: When I’m not in an arrangement, I feel angry. I’m not happy with my own house, so it makes me feel better more than it does guilty. It’s a fine balance, and it teeters back and forth.”
I decide to ask Ron one last question. “So, why did you talk to me today?”
Ron spins his wedding ring on his finger, seemingly unconsciously. “I don’t know, maybe I’m at a cusp where I’m wondering if there are more important things to me. Or maybe I’m just an egotist.”
*An earlier version of this article spelled Gary Klein's name incorrectly.