Real Life

Who’s your (Sugar) Daddy?

Almost 90,000 young Australian women are turning to wealthy, older men to fund a lifestyle of pampering, designer clothes and international travel. But at what price?

By Clair Weaver
Jessica is a 20-year-old beauty college graduate with a secret. Although she’s only just completed her diploma and didn’t have a job while studying, her tuition fees of $17,000 are already paid and she’s enjoyed a tax-free income of more than $300,000 over the past three years. While other students struggled by on baked beans and cheap wine, she dined at Sydney’s finest restaurants, went on lavish shopping sprees and had her hair done at top salons. And unlike most of her peers, she is not in debt.
But Jessica doesn’t have a trust fund; nor is she from a wealthy family.
“People ask, ‘where do you get all this money?’” she says. “But I don’t tell them; I just laugh it off.”
So who does fund her indulgent lifestyle? Wealthy, older men. “Sugar daddies” to be precise. For Jessica is part of a rapidly growing group - known as “sugar babies” - who are prepared to enter into “arrangements” with men in return for dates, gifts and money.
And she is by no means alone: there are nearly 90,000 young women registered in Australia on the dating website Seeking Arrangement (seekingarrangement.com.au) – a figure that has more than quadrupled in the past three years. There is, however, plenty of competition between them, with just 11,300 sugar daddies to choose from. In other words, for every cashed-up, older guy, there are almost eight pretty young women. Even taking into account that some sugar daddies like to have several sugar babies on the go at once, the odds are in tipped overwhelmingly in the men’s favour.
There is, of course, the obvious question of what these young women are expected to do in return for the money. Although it’s ostensibly a dating website, surely sex comes into it? Yes, says Jessica, but it’s not a simple cash-for-sex transaction – and it varies according to the deal negotiated between the couple if they decide to proceed after meeting up. “You would go out for drinks and take it from there,” says Jessica. “It’s not like you have to have sex at set times or anything.”
Gerard*, a financier in his late 40s from Sydney’s eastern suburbs, has had four arrangements since joining the site two years ago. “Mostly it’s companionship,” he says. “I enjoy spending time with beautiful ladies. But sex is very important too – it’s a culmination of it all.” So how does he ensure there’s no misunderstanding? “I am quite upfront – I say it’s about intimacy, I want to be with you physically as well as being intellectually compatible.”
In some cases, the relationships aren’t physical - or at least not to start out with. Sammy, 23, who is studying to be a teacher at the University of Newcastle, received $600 per date while she was seeing but not sleeping with a sugar daddy for six months. The Sydney-based arborologist, aged in his mid-40s, also covered the cost of their meals, drinks and activities. “It was amazing,” she says. “I wasn’t attracted to him or anything but he was such a lovely, generous man who wanted to spend his money on someone young and pretty.”
After six months, however, he told her he wanted to take their relationship to the next level. “I had always felt it was going to come to this,” admits Sammy. “I’m not proud of it but I did [have sex with him] because I felt I owed it to him. It was after that.. when I got home that I freaked out a bit and wanted to examine my morals and work out if what I was doing was wrong.”
Seeking Arrangement is, unsurprisingly, an ethical minefield. Critics argue it’s little more than prostitution – and anecdotally, some members appear to treat it as such. “The lines can be quite blurred,” admits Gerard. “There are some who will set the price by the hour. I met one lady.. who said ‘let’s just skip dinner and you can give me the $200 you would have spent on it and add it to the [agreed cash gift] and I will spend two hours with you.’” He declined to go ahead.
But the US-born company insists it is simply introducing people who can form “mutually beneficial arrangements”, in which each partner gives as much as they take.
Founder and CEO Brandon Wade, an ex-IT nerd who used his own site for dates before tying the knot with his youthful wife Tanya last year, argues it’s simply “a brutally honest” way for men and women to lay out on the table what they can bring to a relationship.
On the website’s registration, prostitutes and escorts are explicitly instructed not to join. Whether members are nevertheless engaging in a veiled form of sex trade – irrespective of whether they’d accept the label – is a matter for debate.
Buster, a debonair investment high-flier who splits his time between Switzerland and Sydney and joined the site 18 months ago, believes it is far more efficient and symbiotic than “civilian dating”, which he says is encumbered with games and hypocrisy. “Every relationship between a man and a woman has a financial underpinning,” he says. “Typically in our society, the male is the breadwinner and the female is financially subservient. I’ve looked after all my girlfriends and my two [ex-] wives, it’s just instinctive, so any attempt to reduce [sugar babies] to cheap gold-diggers is very foolish.”
There are other moral dilemmas. Neither Jessica nor Sammy will enter into arrangements with married men because they don’t want to be party to cheating on another woman. Some draw the line at threesomes: Sammy first heard about the site from a girlfriend who was in an arrangement with a wealthy Melbourne couple who used her as a “plaything on weekends, showering her with gifts”. Others don’t mind as long as it’s NSA (that’s “no strings attached” to the uninitiated). Either way, there’s no guarantee members will have been truthful about their relationship status.
Married with a teenage daughter, Gerard decided to become a sugar daddy to “spice up” his life. “I work really hard,” he says. “I had lunch with someone who was talking about it and it sounded like a fairytale to be honest.” He says he isn’t proud of cheating on his wife but claims it has helped his marriage. “If you have an outlet like that on the side, it takes off the pressure when you’ve been with the same person for a long time.”
So how does he keep his two lives separate? His family don’t know about his extra-curricular activities; as far as they know, he is working late or travelling on business. “I normally don’t tell [sugar babies] my surname unless I get to know them very well,” he explains. “I use a private email address and I have a second phone, which I keep at work in a drawer.” And what if he is recognised while out in public with a sugar baby? He would say she was a client or that he was interviewing her for a job or internship.
Jessica managed to keep her sugar daddies separate from her ordinary life until her boyfriend discovered her Seeking Arrangement profile when she forgot to log off her email. “He went in and read all my emails,” she says. “We broke up over it. But I’m young – I wasn’t going to marry the guy so it doesn’t really bother me.”
Clearly it’s in Seeking Arrangement’s interest to help maintain users’ privacy. As well as offering background checks, it assures potential sugar daddies that their credit card statements will never show the full name of the website. Sugar daddies pay for membership; for sugar babies it’s free.
There are many stereotypes about rich middle-aged men and their trophy girlfriends. But what do we really know about the members of Seeking Arrangement?
Spokeswoman Jennifer Gwynn says the average Australian sugar daddy is 41, earns an annual income of $259,000 and is prepared to spend $3,000 a month on his sugar baby.
Scroll through their profiles, however, and you glean a more colourful picture. Physically, there are all types: from the muscle-bound Adonis to the average Joe and very overweight (some of whom optimistically describe their body type as “athletic”). Many are old enough to be the average sugar baby’s father or, in some cases, grandfather.
The average sugar baby, says Gwynn, is 22 and also seeks a monthly allowance of $3000. This sum, however, varies within a range of $1,000 to $20,000 a month – presumably depending on their attractiveness, what they’re prepared to provide and level of interest.
The age difference is significant: all have anecdotes of being mistaken for fathers and daughters. Gerard is uncomfortable with it and seeks out women in their late 20s to early 30s. Buster embraces the fact his dates are often 30 years his junior: “Most 21-year-old women have the same emotional maturity as a middle-aged guy. These are biological cues that basically settle the argument they are destined to be together,” he says authoritatively.
Undoubtedly some online interaction is smoke and mirrors. Members typically don’t use their real names or details. It’s likely at least some shave a few years from their biological age, are over-flattering in their descriptions and liberal with Photoshop. Others perhaps don’t try hard enough. But, given the truth will come out when they meet, it’s probably not worth pushing too far.
Buster claims Seeking Arrangement’s method is based on sound anthropology, mirrored in the animal world with Alpha males. The 52-year-old, who coyly describes his estimated worth as “eight figures”, shares his theory that “innately, women are very charmed by and beguiled by successful men – they’re just following their hard-wired biological dictates. She is looking for a competitive advantage for her genes.”
In return, continues Buster, women provide “exquisite, intoxicating female charms”. His first arrangement was with a 23-year-old classical pianist. “It was just extraordinary: the cadence, the sort of dance where you go through the profiles, contact them, talk or Skype and then you meet,” he gushes. “It’s like pouring a nice bottle of white Bordeaux into two glasses – it just flows.”
Not quite as sophisticated, however, are some of the suitors who have approached Sammy. “No-one in their 20s is going to want to be with a man if [his profile picture] is a big fat, hairy body in his undies,” she says. To prove her point, she sends a screen grab of a message she received with an accompanying picture that is, indeed, of an overweight and hairy male torso in underwear. It’s hard to imagine even Alpha male magnetism will prevail in his case.
Then there’s the crude, explicit and downright creepy. Sammy has had approaches from a US sugar daddy who wanted to fly her over to be his maid and a Queenslander who wanted to pay her to live in a Playboy-style mansion, where wealthy men would pay to stay at weekends. Adds Jessica: “I had this guy [contact me] who said, ‘I want you to pretend to be my daughter and force yourself on me.’ I blocked him straight away.”
Jessica is realistic about the intentions of sugar daddies – and vets them carefully. “I’ve met a lot of arseholes on the site who’ve had no respect for women,” she says. “But out of a couple of hundred, there are some good guys, who will take you out and treat you like a princess.” Her sugar daddies have included a Melbourne surgeon, the owner of a Mercedes-Benz dealership and a man who she identified as a well-known American performer when he appeared on Channel 7’s Sunrise show the morning after she’d been with him.
Both Buster and Gerard believe arrangements are mostly about good company and enjoyment. But for at least some sugar babies, it’s more about the money.
Being a student is the most cash-poor period of our lives. At the dawn of adulthood, we are suddenly confronted by bills, rent, tuition costs and a host of discretionary outgoings that we don’t want to give up. With little or no income, it can be a stressful juggling act to avoid plunging into the red. And being young and a bit less worldly means many are on the lookout for a quick buck.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, universities have become a ripe recruitment ground for sugar babies. A list compiled by Seeking Arrangement shows more than 1,400 female students have signed up in Australia. As an incentive, students get a free upgrade to premium membership by registering an email address ending in “edu”. It begs the question: is this clever marketing or targeting young, inexperienced and financially insecure women?
Jessica and Sammy insist they don’t feel exploited – indeed, they’d argue the balance of power lies with them. “I’m intelligent,” says Sammy, “I felt I was manipulating the situation to get cash.” While she says she would treat an arrangement like a regular relationship if things heat up after a couple of dates, she wouldn’t be shy about making counter-offers on money because “at the end of the day, it’s what they have joined the site for. It’s why I joined as well.” She has paid off her HECS debt and bought a new car.
Jessica’s favourite gift is an $800 designer dress from her first sugar daddy. “He would say, ‘I like buying things for you, I like making you happy’,” she recalls. “And I could make him happy. I think it’s pretty fair.”
Gerard believes it’s sugar daddies who “control the action”. But there are tales of both sugar babies and sugar daddies taking their dates for a ride – whether it’s taking off with the money or refusing to pay up. Perhaps, in the end, like most human relationships, the balance of power varies according to the individuals.
Personal safety is an important issue for sugar babies, who are advised by Seeking Arrangement to get to know prospective dates first, meet in a public place, be cautious and always trust their instincts. Jessica always arranges for first dates to be somewhere with surveillance cameras, such as a coffee shop, and gets her mother to keep an eye on her from another table. “I am really cautious – if something sounds dodgy, I don’t go,” she says.
Despite the obvious risks, like sugar itself, many find the instant gratification of Seeking Arrangement addictive.
After a six-month break following her moral crisis, Sammy resumed a sexual relationship with her first sugar daddy. She took a break from the site when a concurrent relationship with a guy in Newcastle “became a bit too much to juggle”. But now that’s ended, she’s back online. While she has “still got her youth”, she’s also planning to use Miss Travel - an offshoot of Seeking Arrangement that matches attractive wannabe travellers with wealthy sponsors - to see the world.
Buster and Gerard, meanwhile, show no sign of wanting to quit.
And, although she hasn’t yet celebrated her 21st birthday, Jessica already accepts that after getting a taste for the finer things in life, she will probably end up with “an older guy” who can keep her in the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed.
This feature was originally posted by Bauer Media in 2012.

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