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Students Stripping, Doing Sex Work and Seeing Sugar Daddies? In Hard Economic Times, This Media Obsession Is Based in Reality

The recession brings stories of students turning to the sex industry in order to pay their school bills and loans.

With every recession, the stories of students turning to stripping, sex work and "sugar daddy" relationships in order to pay their school bills and loans begin to proliferate in the media and in popular culture. 

Times are tougher now for students than almost any time before in recent memory. Even Pell Grants have been under threat during the debt ceiling negotiations, while student loans are increasingly mounting, and a once-crucial bachelor's degree is hardly a fast-ticket to economic security in this economy. Higher education, as Sarah Jaffe reported recently, is a bubble about to burst, leaving students indebted and jobless and in dire straits.

In 2010, a UK study found a surprising number of students would consider this type of work to pay the increasingly mounting bills that accompany a path through higher education. A new piece that helped launch Huffington Post Women's section revisits the issue of "sugar daddies," in particular websites that facilitate relationships between young students in need of cash and older gentleman in need of, er, "companionship."  

Journalist Mac McLelland memorably wrote about her experience venturing into the sugar daddy realm online in 2008. At the time, she noted that she was not alone:

Clearly I'm not the only one intrigued by such a setup. Every time I log on to (a.k.a., around 2,000 other members are also online., "The meeting place for mutually beneficial relationships," has 100,000 users., "Where the classy, attractive and affluent can meet," has 200,000. "These websites make it very efficient," says historian Ruth Rosen, the author of a book on prostitution. "Because it's very clear; you don't have to use coded language."

McLelland's three-year-old story prefigures Amanda M. Fairbanks' recent piece in HuffPo, which focuses mostly on one site,, now up to 800,000 users from the 100,000 McLelland reported.  Fairbanks' story focuses not just on the monetary benefits young women might reap from such an arrangement, but how necessary those infusions of assistance are in this downturn. Fairbanks profiles a young woman named "Taylor" who took desperate measures in desperate times.

... faced with about $15,000 in unpaid tuition and overdue bills, Taylor and her roommate typed "tuition," "debt," and "money for school" into Google. A website called popped up. Intrigued by the promise of what the site billed as a "college tuition sugar daddy," Taylor created a "sugar baby" profile and eventually connected with the man from Greenwich....

Saddled with piles of student debt and a job-scarce, lackluster economy, current college students and recent graduates are selling themselves to pursue a diploma or pay down their loans. An increasing number, according to the the owners of websites that broker such hook-ups, have taken to the web in search of online suitors or wealthy benefactors who, in exchange for sex, companionship, or both, might help with the bills.

Fairbanks reports on these sites capitalizing on the "exploding" number of students registering for membership: giving them "college" badges on their profiles, upgrading their memberships for free, and so on. This fits into the new economic reality: student who took out huge loans hoping for high-paying jobs and watching the jobs disappear. (For the older male members on the site, the chance to hook up with young, educated women is worth the cash they pay.)

While it's undoubtedly true that an "increasing number" of people are turning to these sites in the economic downturn, the question of our fascination with this dynamic also bears investigating. The reality is that there are dozens of stories out there profiling women, in particular, who strip or sell their bodies to get through hard times, and that these stories attract more attention than stories about people being down on their luck.

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