Are we the sugar daddy generation?

Back in the ’60s and ’70s, being a Playboy Bunny was a thing. Many fit, young, attractive women who wanted to escape the 9-to-5 dreck of an office environment took night shifts in private clubs and donned rabbit ears and bodysuits instead of working a desk or retail. Hugh Hefner’s bar-like establishments trained waitstaff on the art of flirting and chatting up fats cats with thick wallets. The promise of big tax-free tips and a seemingly light workload surrounded the Bunny myth (Gloria Steinem dispelled that when she went undercover as Bunny for a story she did in Ms. Magazine.) But for someone like Debbie Harry—aka the lead singer of Blondie—temporarily donning the rabbit ears and waiting on tables for wealthy types helped fund her rock star aspirations. We all know how well that worked out: Blondie is one of the most influential pop groups in music history (they are still touring). Today, an app and website like Seeking Arrangements has taken the torch from the Playboy club era, and furthered the idea of building a business out of the lover/patron system…and it goes well beyond tips and talk.

For the most part, the site connects needy students and singles, aka money-wanting Sugar Babies, with Sugar Daddies and Sugar Mommies. The latter folk would classify as people with the means (their yearly intake is revealed on the site) to help sponsor and fund a sugar babes lifestyle. Agreements between Baby and Daddy/Mommy can go from full-on hot n’ heavy to easy, breezy friendship and companionship… often the age gap between the two groups is notable.

You must be 18 years or older to sign up and can get an upgrade if you do so with an email address from any educational institution you are enrolled in. Although sites like these have been alive and kicking for a while, a recent study has discovered that more than 150,000 Canadian students are enrolled on Seeking Arrangements alone. An annual ranking of the fastest growing “Sugar Baby” schools was also released, stating the top numbers of babies are coming from the University of Toronto, University of Guelph and McGill University.

Seeking Arrangements spokesperson Brook Urick, says that the rise in SA enrollment definitely correlates to the tuition hikes. “So many people want the option to graduate debt-free—which is impossible these days,” she says. Things are changing for students in some parts of the country. For example, Ontario has just announced that it is offering low-income students free college or university tuition (for households making less than $50,000), yet the province can now be counted as one of the few places in the world that does this.

“Students want to live comfortable lives and the site has helped them achieve certain goals without the stigma they would get if they were to seek the same types of Sugar relationships outside of the site.” Urick also says that the site represents what is going on in popular culture. “Just look at Donald Trump and his wife,” she says, “and, in a way, look at the way Jay Z helped Beyoncé with her career because of his own empire. Relationships like these are getting more and more accepted.”

Which is why Seeking Arrangements is quickly spreading throughout other parts of the world. And, the controversy of its presence online is still chasing it. Media outlets such as GQ have opened up on the dark sides of the site/app in various stories and revealed some of the highly unsavoury personalities that it attracts. Yet that isn’t deterring people from joining as Sugar Daddy, Mommy or Baby.

A Seeking Arrangements alumni named Claire* says the app/site’s controversy is what got her hooked in the first place. The 26-year-old University of Toronto student says she signed up for Seeking Arrangements after seeing Dr. Phil berate a young woman on TV for being on the site. The “doctor”—who takes Oprah Winfrey’s stance on such things (aka “if you start loving for money, you pay every day of your life”)—had a reverse effect on Claire. “Who is he or anyone to tell me how to compose myself or live my life?” she says. “With the changes we see in the way people look at all types of love—from the way LGBTQ community has been in the spotlight to any type of untraditional relationship, this shouldn’t be a shock to anyone.”

For those who see the site as a thinly disguised prostitution ring or sex trade operation, Claire, who is graduating this year with a nursing degree, is quick to point out that there is more than just a physical and financial trade going on. “I never felt taken advantage of,” says Claire of her experience. “I was doing the same things you would do with a lover—dinner, movies… I’d cook, he’d cook… we were physical. I was very lucky that I was treated so well and supported throughout it all—otherwise I would be in a lot of debt.”

Her experience also allowed her to fulfill a life long dream, namely travelling to Africa to volunteer with an NGO. “He sent me off for 3 ½ months in Africa—it was working with a refugee from Sudan and Eritrea. It re-sensitized me to all these horrible stories you hear in the news. It connected me more with world issues. It was by the grace of this very nice man who just wanted company and to be loved.”

Like traditional dating practices, Claire also says that the advantages you get from signing onto the site can be seen as post-feminist, modern and mutually advantageous.

“You are saying yes to being in a relationship with benefits but you are sharing your life with someone else,” she says. “I see it as an equal trade and, like most mutually respectful partnerships, nobody needs to get burned if lines are drawn from early on. I also had the chance to network in circles that I never would have been able to get to because of joining,” she says. “I think in some ways these arrangements can be more practical and economical than some marriages.”

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the source.