Stu­dents seek­ing sugar dad­dies for tuition, rent

Business Mirror - - THE WORLD -

CANDICE KASHANI grad­u­ated from law school debt- free this spr ing, thanks to a mod­ern twist on an age- old ar­range­ment.

Dur­ing her first year, she faced tuition and ex­penses that ran nearly $50,000, even after a schol­ar­ship. So she de­cided to check out a dat­ing web site that con­nected women look­ing for fi­nan­cial help with men will­ing to pro­vide it, in ex­change for com­pan­ion­ship and sex—a “sugar- daddy” re­la­tion­ship, as they are known.

Now, al­most three years and sev­eral sugar dad­dies later, Kashani is set to grad­u­ate from Vil­lanova Univer­sity, free and clear, while some of her peers are bur­dened with six- digit debts.

As the cost of tuition and rent rises, so does the ap­par­ent pop­u­lar­ity of such sites among stu­dents. But are they re­ally pro­vid­ing fi­nan­cial re­lief, or sign­ing women up for some­thing more ex­ploita­tive and dan­ger­ous than debt?

Kashani be­lieves such sites are a “great re­source” for young women, but oth­ers say these ar­range­ments smack of pros­ti­tu­tion and take ad­van­tage of women in a vul­ner­a­ble sit­u­a­tion.

Lynn Comella, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of gen­der and sex­u­al­ity stud­ies at Univer­sity of Ne­vada Las Ve­gas, said that it is not un­usual for stu­dents to turn to sex work, such as strip­ping, pros­ti­tu­tion or web- cam work to pay for school. But the sugar- daddy sites are rel­a­tively new, and she says not en­tirely up­front about what they are re­ally about. These ar­range­ments are more vague than pros­ti­tu­tion— there is an ex­pec­ta­tion of ma­te­rial ben­e­fit, but it is not al­ways spec­i­fied and sex is not guar­an­teed.

Ron Weitzer, a pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy at George Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity and crim­i­nol­o­gist with an ex­per­tise in the sex in­dus­try de­scribes it as “pros­ti­tu­tion light.”

“Sugar Daddy” ar­range­ments have ex­isted for ages, and it’s un­clear if they are be­com­ing more com­mon be­cause the phe­nom­e­non is not well stud­ied. But ex­perts say at the very least the In­ter­net has made these trans­ac­tions far eas­ier to ar­range and ne­go­ti­ate.

“It al­lows you to hone in on what you want,” said Kevin Lewis, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy at Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia San Diego who stud­ies on­line dat­ing. “You could ar­gue it is just mak­ing the mar­ket more ef­fi­cient.”

Kashani says she sifted through many po­ten­tial suit­ors be­fore find­ing one she clicked with. She says she con­sid­ers her sugar daddy one of her best friends and that they care deeply for each other.

“The peo­ple who have a stigma, or as­so­ciate a neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tion with it, don’t un­der­stand how it works,” she says.

But un­like most re­la­tion­ships, she is paid a size­able monthly al­lowance that helps her pay for school.

US un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents last year fin­ished school with an av­er­age of $35,000 in student debt— a fig­ure that has risen steadily ev­ery year, ac­cord­ing to Mark Kantrowitz, a fi­nan­cial aid ex­pert. The av­er­age grad­u­ate debt load is $75,000, and some longer pro­grams force stu­dents into much deeper debt.

Many stu­dents say their loans don’t cover the cost of liv­ing, and with rent sky­rock­et­ing in most ma­jor ci­ties, they are left scram­bling to make up the dif­fer­ence.

One grad­u­ate student at Columbia Univer­sity in New York had a schol­ar­ship that cov­ered al­most all of her tuition, but not her liv­ing ex­penses. She spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the po­ten­tial im­pact on her job prospects. She tried to make do— shar­ing a room with a class­mate and work­ing a min­i­mum- wage job, plus any free­lance work she could get. But still she strug­gled to pay her rent and util­i­ties, and her grades suf­fered.

“That’s just not why I am here,” she said. “I wanted to find the most amount of money I could make for the least amount of ef­fort.”

So she found her­self surf­ing Craigslist and Back­page.com and later, Seek­ingAr­range­ment.com, the largest of the sugar daddy web sites. Now she has two sugar dad­dies, one she sees oc­ca­sion­ally and an­other who is more like a con­ven­tional boyfriend, ex­cept that he pays her a monthly al­lowance and helps rent her an apart­ment closer to him.

Seek­ingAr­range­ment.com said it is most pop­u­lar in Los Angeles and New York. The av­er­age rent in both ar­eas is well over $2,000 a month, ac­cord­ing to Zil­low re­search.

The Columbia student says she plans to con­tinue “sug­ar­ing” after she grad­u­ates to buy her­self time to find a more tra­di­tional job and re­main of­fi­cially un­em­ployed so she can de­fer re­pay­ing the roughly $70,000 in loans she had al­ready racked up.

“There is a lot of moral panic about it,” she said. “But what are the real- es­tate and aca­demic- fund­ing sit­u­a­tions that led to this?”

Bran­don Wade, cre­ator of the site, touts it as an “al­ter­na­tive to fi­nan­cial aid” but says the com­pany did not set out to tar­get stu- dents when it launched in 2006. It stum­bled on this niche and be­gan in 2011 of­fer­ing stu­dents a free pre­mium mem­ber­ship, which usu­ally costs $30 a month. It charges sugar dad­dies $70 to $180 a month, de­pend­ing on the mem­ber­ship level.

Seek­ingar­range­ment.com also of­fers to con­nect same- sex cou­ples look­ing for such ar­range­ments, or “sugar mom­mies” for men. But the male-fe­male “sugar daddy” dy­namic makes up the bulk of its busi­ness.

It’s dif­fi­cult to pin down ex­actly how many stu­dents are in­volved in such sit­u­a­tions, be­cause they are pri­vate trans­ac­tions. And it’s a niche rarely stud­ied by aca­demics.

Seek­ingAr­range­ment.com says student users on the site jumped from 79,400 world­wide in 2010 to 1.9 mil­lion this year, and stu­dents make up one-third of its users. And, while it sees thou­sands of signups on any given day, the com­pany says en­roll­ment jumps dur­ing Au­gust and Jan­uary, when tuition is typ­i­cally due, some­times to more than dou­ble its nor­mal lev­els.

Women who have used the site re­port ex­pe­ri­ences that run the gamut— from re­spect­ful chaste dates, all the way to ag­gres­sive so­lic­i­ta­tion on­line, even though it is for­bid­den on the site. Sex is not guar­an­teed, although most users say it is im­plied. The com­pany says a few ar­range­ments have even led to mar­riage, although it is rare.

Some of the women say they feel re­spected and cared for, but re­main aware that it is an ar­range­ment, not tra­di­tional ro­man­tic love.

“It ben­e­fits me in many ways— we have a healthy re­la­tion­ship, we travel to­gether, I’m able to en­joy the city more,” said the New York grad­u­ate student. Still, she said, it is a job. “It does kind of rub me the wrong way that some peo­ple don’t see it as sex work,” she said.

Comella warns that, un­like sex work­ers, many women do­ing this put their true iden­ti­ties on­line, and that could put them at risk. While Seek­ing Ar­range­ment runs back­ground checks, there have been re­ports of vi­o­lence against both men and women stem­ming from sugar daddy web sites.

Kris­ten Houser of the Na­tional Sex­ual Vi­o­lence Re­source Cen­ter says that vi­o­lence is com­mon any time money is ex­changed for sex.

“You need to pay at­ten­tion that there is a power im­bal­ance,” she said.

Wade says there are risks in­her­ent in any dat­ing web site. He should know; he runs sev­eral, in­clud­ing one that al­lows users to bid on dates and an­other fo­cused on open re­la­tion­ships.

AP/MATT ROURKE

LAW student Candice Kashani poses for a pho­to­graph in Bryn Mawr, Penn­syl­va­nia. Kashani grad­u­ated from law school debt-free this spring, thanks to a mod­ern twist on an age-old ar­range­ment.

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