Nearly 1,000 students at Georgia State University date older people to help pay the costs of tuition, rent, and other expenses. Most students use a website called SeekingArrangement.com to find and hook-up with often older, wealthier men.
We talk about the growing trend of ‘sugar babies’ with Lanier Basenberg, Professor of Sociology at Georgia State. Also with us is Brook Urick, spokesperson for SeekingArrangement.com. And we hear from Michelle Williams, a Georgia Tech student and 'sugar baby.'
Selected Interview Highlights:
Celeste Headlee: What is the healthy, emotional side to this kind of relationship?
Lanier Basenberg: That's a really good question. I think that if it's two consenting adults going into it understand that it's essentially a business transaction, then that's what makes the difference.
Headlee: So Brook, how do you keep girls safe? I mean where I'm sitting in Atlanta, this is the number one city in the world for sex trafficking. How do you make sure these relationships are safe?
Brooke Urick: Well, Seeking Arrangement is a dating site like any other, so there's always a risk with online dating, but we are one of the safest sites out there. WE offer third party background checks. We do not allow any illegal activity on our site. We have over a hundred customers support staff making sure that that doesn't happen. We also have a lot of content out there for 'sugar babies' who are new to the lifestyle and are interested in staying safe and learning more.
Headlee: Lanier, I've read alot of people who have connected these kinds of arrangements with a so-called "hookup culture", is that fair?
Basenberg: I think definitely So I think of the hallmarks of hookup culture is making sex much more casual than it has been in previous generations. And so if sex is all about a relatively casual arrangement, its sort of a short leap to getting paid out-right.
Headlee: But when you're talking about being paid outright, you're talking about a prostitution arrangement?
Basenberg: Yes, and I know that's something that is a little bit tricky when it comes to 'sugar babying', but essentially that's the nature of the arrangement.
Urick: There are a lot of stigmas that people want to assume it's sex work straight out, but in truth, you know that the 'sugar daddy' is not going to pay for your college tuition, buy you a car, take you on trips, and support you long after college just because you had sex with them. That's not how the arrangement works. It's about building a real relationship and that's why I'm here to talk about those stigmas.
Headlee: What we're your options for paying, in terms of college?
Michelle Williams: I would say that there are better ways, this is one of the...uh, I wouldn't say "easy ways", but if I'm going to date anyway and I usually date older regardless, then this was a way of doing so and allowing myself a little bit of freedom. I do work as well, but it allowed me a little bit of freedom to not work as many hours and to support my education and focus more on classes by doing it this way.
Basenberg: This has always been a way for women to provide for themselves, but in this case there's an understanding that everyone understands what's happening. I think that makes a huge difference in terms of not being taken advantage of because again, you are getting compensated and I think that is partially women taking back some power.