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Get the lowdown on sugar daddies, sugar babies, and whether relationships can truly be just an exchange of benefits

Words by Sarah Mattes

Starbucks on a weeknight: The mecca for working men and women taking a break from the 9 to 5, older couples looking for a quiet evening outing—and Iowan Adelle Atchison* hoping for a chance to meet her first sugar daddy.

Atchison sees him sitting alone with his drink. She nervously purchases her own, depriving him the chance to provide her with a mocha latte. It’s a little ironic. The reason they’re both here is so he can do just that. “I didn’t want to lead him on that he was only gonna take care of me or something,” she said. Still apprehensive, Atchison sits down in the hopes that this encounter could lead to something mutually beneficial.

Pour Some Sugar on Me

Google “sugar daddy.” The results will most likely include a gross Urban Dictionary definition and a whole bunch of websites with questionable promises like “four sugar babies for every sugar daddy.” Many of those sites showcase photos of young women posing with older men, usually in fabulous locales. It might look like a middle-aged fantasy or a scene from a Michael Douglas movie. But the people behind the gloss and dollar signs are real—and they’re making their relationships work—just like those using traditional online dating sites.  

Thanks to a slew of sugar dating websites, the promise of a wealthy older person taking care of someone younger is becoming, if not more accepted, more accessible. Finding these types of relationships may have posed a problem in the past because of social shaming and personal privacy, but since 2006 things have gotten a whole lot easier. That’s when SeekingArrangement.com, one of the largest websites for finding a sugar daddy or baby, launched. The site was created by former tech consultant turned book author Brandon Wade, who has also written the appropriately titled Seeking Arrangement: The Definitive Guide to Sugar Daddy and Mutually Beneficial Relationships.

Wade’s site sparked a slew of imitators. Now there are over 25 different sugar dating sites, such as SugarDaddyMeet.com, MillionaireMatch.com and more. All of them promise to connect younger babies with wealthy benefactors without asking what happens after the introductions are made.

The reasons people sign up for these sites are fairly obvious: A sugar parent/baby relationship can most commonly be defined as an arrangement in which both parties are benefiting somehow. For daddies—and if you believe the internet, it is predominantly daddies, though relations can come in any gender or orientation combo you can imagine—it’s more about having a counterpart to share and enjoy their extravagant lifestyles.

“Sugar babies are not being paid for services; they’re not being paid for sex,” explained Brook Uric, Seeking Arrangement’s ‘Let’s Talk Sugar’s’ brand manager. “They like to receive gifts. They like to be spoiled. It’s really not so uncommon for someone to want that in a relationship, but sugar babies are just a little bit more upfront and honest about that in the beginning.”

For Jake Campbell*, a 46-year-old North American CEO and an experienced sugar daddy, these relationships are about more than spoiling—the benefits can range from intimate, physical interactions—i.e. sex—to platonic companionship.

“I spend almost 20 days a month traveling around. All this business travel provides opportunity to stay in amazing hotels and eat food in chic, Michelin-star restaurants,” Campbell said.“The irony is that you can’t enjoy these amazing places as you are stuck alone and without some nice company by your side. The concept of enjoying all that with someone who appreciates and enjoys that pampering more than I do makes it even more exciting.”

Legalese

Let’s be blunt: Skeptics of these relationships say sugar daddies and sugar babies are just a hop and free ski trip away from prostitution. But Ken Perry, attorney and partner at New York law firm Perry & Aronin, said there’s nothing illegal about the Sugar Daddy dating websites.

“They’re not saying give me X amount of money and I will screw you,” Perry said. “They’re quote-unquote in a relationship with benefits flowing both ways. And there’s nothing illegal about that.”

According to Iowa penal code, prostitution occurs when someone “sells or offers…the person’s services as a partner in a sex act, or who purchases or offers to purchase such services.” That’s an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years in jail.

Perry explained that from a legal standpoint, the websites are not explicitly promoting sexual activity or prostitution. If someone reports that site members are partaking in prostitution, the individuals involved are charged with a misdemeanor, but the website is not.

“Therefore it is incredibly difficult to prosecute them on illegal behavior. Could these people be arrested? Probably. Have I seen some of these things become the basis of prostitution? Yes, I have,” Perry said.

In terms of legality, generally speaking, sugar dating and the websites that provide the forum for it are following the laws the way they are written. But that doesn’t mean that all of the patrons of SeekingArrangement.com or SugarDaddy.com are behaving accordingly.

Atchison recalls when one conversation took an inappropriate turn. “He was like, ‘Would you ever be interested in carrying someone else’s child and getting paid for that and being taken care of, like, after the fact?’ I had to put an X on that very quickly.”

While some experiences can be uncomfortable or even shocking, others, like Atchison’s Starbucks date, can turn into opportunities. As the night went on, Atchison and her potential daddy chatted and got to know each other. “Then he asked me if I wanted to go to dinner,” Atchison said.

“I said yes.”

*Names have been changed.