Sex in Exchange for Gifts and Cash? What It's Like to Sleep With Wealthy Older Men for Financial Support
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The following piece first appeared in Role/Reboot.
Sex work is a controversial and polarized topic, and there are many perspectives on it. My position is complex—but for me, when it comes to how we actually interact with sex workers, one important factor is whether or not they consent to and enjoy their jobs. I am absolutely in favor of giving better options to sex workers who do not enjoy their jobs, and I am horrified by the idea of a person being trafficked or coerced into sex that they don’t want to have. But I also know people who have sex for money 100% voluntarily, and I do not want to deny their experience.
My friend Olivia, a 25-year-old graduate student, recently started advertising her services on a “Sugar Baby” site called SeekingArrangement.com. I think it’s important for more people to understand these kinds of experiences, so I asked to interview her. Many people have pointed out that once a person starts thinking about the definition of “prostitute,” it’s a bit difficult to define what exactly a prostitute is. Some of my sex worker friends have asked the question: What exactly is the difference between a person whose partner buys her a fancy dinner after which they have sex, and a person whose partner buys sex with money? Olivia has thought at length about this, and I’m grateful to her for sharing her perspective on that question, and others.
Please note that Olivia is exceptionally privileged. What you are about to read is a portrait of what the sex industry looks like for a person who is very privileged: she comes from a white upper-middle-class background, she is not desperate, she is being paid a lot of money, she does not have a drug addiction. Many other peoples’ experiences in the sex industry are very different.
The interview went long, so we’re going to post it in two parts. Here’s part 1:
Clarisse Thorn: Hey Olivia, thanks so much for being willing to talk about this incredibly complicated topic. Could you start by defining a sugar baby site? What is it?
Olivia: I use the site SeekingArrangement.com. It’s very hard to pin down exactly what it does. I guess it connects people, usually with a big age gap, who are interested in exchanging some kind of material goods or financial resources for some form of companionship that is often sexual—but not always.
As far as I can tell, the site’s founder is very against the claim that this is prostitution. He puts out a lot of publicity claiming that this site has nothing to do with prostitution. At first I thought that he was trying to evade legal consequences, but I think he actually probably believes that. The site has a blog that he controls, and you can look at it to get a sense of what he’s thinking. One post I think is really interesting is called “Sugar Baby & Sugar Daddy: The Modern Day Princess & Prince?" which compares being a sugar baby to a kind of “happily ever after” princess fantasy.
So far, no one I’ve talked to seems remotely interested in hiring what they see as a “prostitute.” They seem to want to be having sex with someone they find very attractive who is also someone they feel like they can respect, whose intelligence they respect. For example, someone I see occasionally—the last time I saw him, he gave me money at the end and he said that he felt good about giving me the money because he knew I wouldn’t spend it on, quote, “a designer handbag.” He seems to think that I am reasonably ambitious and have my shit together, and he seems to feel more comfortable giving me money because he knows it goes towards my grad school costs and credit card debt. My ability to write with proper grammar, without overusing emoticons, appears to be my biggest sales point. Men have told me this outright.