Recently Canadian commuter daily Metro asked whether the sugar daddy, baby phenomenon—at the intersection between social media and student debt—is prostitution.
As Metro tells it,
Aaron is one of growing number of singles and marrieds alike who have adopted the rules of sugar-dating engagement: generally older, financially secure men pay monthly allowances ($4,800 is the average paid by Toronto sugar daddies, according to seekingarrangment.com) or provide other perks to generally younger, attractive women who agree to date them.
Very often, the woman seeks help with tuition. Some call it a friends-with-benefits arrangement. But “dating” usually means sex with someone the woman doesn’t care about and won’t be with for long:
“There’s no way I’d date most of the men on these sites if I’d met them in a bar or in the grocery store,” says Maggie, a 26-year-old Natalie Portman doppelganger from Toronto whose social calendar is dominated by two sugar daddies currently in rotation.
The financial realities for young people—from spiking tuition rates to skyrocketing youth unemployment and unpaid internships—have given birth to the sugar baby bulge, says Emily van der Meulen, an associate professor in the department of criminology at Ryerson University who specializes in sex industry labour organizing.
Indeed, disquieting numbers of such young women are not gold diggers but debt-laden students with uncertain job prospects, or even sole support moms. It must be heartbreaking if they meet a guy they like and wish it were a real relationship. But the relationships probably last about 3 to 6 months. The woman is typically counselled by veterans against getting too involved, which suggests a good deal of heartbreak.
Especially when we consider that, traditionally, a woman in her twenties is naturally looking for a stable longterm partner.
Do any babies marry their sugar daddies? An industry source argues it’s common but one somehow doubts the claim. For one thing, many sugar daddies are married already and many of the rest sound like lifelong bachelors.
Other industry claims sound suspicious as well. Metro also informs us that one site
claims to have four million members — three million of them “sugar babies” — including nearly 250,000 in Canada. About 50,000 of those are in Toronto, of which all but 7,000 are women.
But wait! What about the findings from last year’s Ashley Madison hack?
Few of the women listed ever used the cheatin’ hearts site (assuming those women even existed). The men were mostly paying to cheat themselves. If we know someone who is involved with any of these types of sites, we might discreetly warn them that, apart from anything else, industry statistics are probably romance fiction.
Are these pay-per-view relationships rooted in new social media? Yes, they are. But then resources for keeping families together are rooted in new social media too.
Grim as the scene looks, whenever we try to blame new media for failing morality, we find that that they are but mirrors to our souls.
As a practical response, we need to address the fact that so many students are going into crushing debt for degrees for which few jobs exist.
See also: Why the explosion of internet dating? Huge increase in singles living online.
Social media can strengthen families. They can help people stay in touch better than any other device invented by human ingenuity. For better or worse.
Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.