Fed up with dating apps like Her and Tinder, Jessica, a manager for a tech company in her mid-thirties, decided to make a profile on SeekingArrangement.com (now Seeking.com), a website for people looking for sugar babies. “Two things I was looking for in potential partners could not be met with these [women] — communication and boundaries,” she told me about women she met on dating apps in an interview in early February. “I work upwards of 50 hours a week and would only be able to meet on weekends. With the vanilla matches [on dating apps], they would ask to meet on weekdays when I would be busy with work and would get upset or blow up my phone with text messages when I would decline to meet up.” She paid $90 to create a profile and was quickly impressed by the results. “Many female [sugar babies] are fluid in their sexuality these days and would sometimes prefer having a [sugar mama] over a [sugar daddy] as a safer option. I could therefore pick any SB I want from the many who are interested to be with me.”
Jessica, who lives in a Midwestern city, was drawn to the “fuss-free physical relationship” of sugaring. Usually, she said, sugar mamas and babies hash out the details before any sex takes place, including a price per meeting or allowance, negative STD results, safe sex protocols, and communication methods, such as the frequency of texts, FaceTime calls, and phone calls.
She had two short-lived relationships with women she found through Seeking.com, but, she said, “both basically treated [her] like an ATM.” One watched the clock during their dates. “[The other was] emotionally manipulating me which eventually led to her rinsing me,” she said. “Rinsing” is lingo in the sugar world for when a sugar baby implies there will be a sexual relationship but never follows through. Jessica didn’t meet her most recent sugar baby, Cassie, until last March. They found each other on a discussion forum (the name of which they wanted to keep secret) after Jessica posted that she was “feeling lonely at the prospect of a lockdown,” Cassie said. “I related and so I reached out. I expected nothing other than maybe a lockdown texting buddy.” They were soon texting all the time, and Jessica asked her to be her sugar baby. “I was not actively searching for [a sugar mama] but found one by complete random chance,” Cassie told me. “I have been blessed by the sugar gods.”
Cassie, who is a healthcare social worker, said she became a sugar baby not only for the money but also because it was “a lower time commitment” than an unpaid relationship. (This is her first sugar relationship.) “I keep myself busy with work, running, and other hobbies. I don’t have a bunch of free time, especially since I do need quite a bit of downtime, being an introvert in a quite extroverted job,” she said. Cassie also liked how clear the parameters of the relationship were from the beginning. When you become a sugar baby, she said, “There is a conversation about expectations for the relationship [with] frequency of dates, communication preferences. I wish more relationships started like that. It really helps you figure out compatibility and manage expectations.” Jessica provides Cassie with a “four-figure monthly allowance” to spend time with her. (Names have been changed throughout this story.)
“I have been blessed by the sugar gods.”
I spoke to 15 queer sugar babies and sugar mamas on various sugaring websites to learn more about their relationships. Jessica is just one of the hundreds of thousands of sugar mamas in the United States who support people in exchange for everything from spending time together to recording made-to-order porn. The top website for the “sugaring” community, Seeking.com, boasts 370,498 sugar mamas, representing 15.4% of the sugar parents (or “glucose guardians”) on the site. According to a spokesperson for Seeking.com, 8% of the site’s sugar mamas are searching for women. There are more than 8 million women sugar babies on the site, but only 1% of them are seeking other women for a sugar relationship.
While most sugar relationships have historically involved an older man with a younger woman, a growing portion of the community consists of lesbian relationships. And although the online element is new, women paying for sex is not. Rich women have always been willing to pay for sex and companionship. In ancient Rome, according to historian Nils Johan Ringdal in Love for Sale, women paid gladiators to have sex with them. In the US, the ability for women to pay for sex has historically been difficult. But in the 21st century, as women earn more money and sexual double standards slowly loosen, some women are using their earning power to hire lovers and companions.
Since SeekingArrangement was founded in 2006, men have commonly been the sugar parent because they “have more resources [and[ more social capital to provide individuals with mentorship,” said Srushti Upadhyay, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Buffalo who wrote a paper about the sugaring community published earlier this year in the Journal of Sex Research. But, Upadhyay added, not all sugar relationships involve sex.
The sugar babies I spoke to said their connections with sugar mamas involved much more than physical intimacy.
“Every single woman I’ve connected with has been kind, interesting, conversational, and very respectful of (digital) consent. I think there’s something deeply profound about how self-controlled women seem to be compared to men,” one lesbian sugar baby who advertises on Seeking.com wrote me. “A lot of what I’ve seen on [Seeking.com] is women seeking to mentor and assist younger women — in addition to any sorts of sexual favors, dates, etc. Not at all what I was expecting when I got on this site, but what a pleasant surprise! I’ve gained some incredible professional mentors so far, so it’s become its own sort of networking for me. There are some BADASS women on this site. Serial entrepreneurs, tech moguls, medical professionals.”
Upadhyay said people are drawn to sugar dating because it is more upfront than the regular kind. “Everybody is clear on what they want. If they want discretion, they tell you. If they were married, it is already available [in their status],” she said. “So everybody lays out their expectations, which makes it drama-free because that conversation does not usually happen in a romantic relationship or in the beginning stages of the relationship.”
Less drama isn’t the only reason Jessica sought out a sugar baby. “[I’m] a closeted bisexual woman [and] not the best-looking,” she said. “Sugar dating allows me to highlight my strengths, such as my successful career, financial capabilities and stability, and my love to help another person out.”
During the pandemic, she and Cassie have picnicked together, taken walks, and watched a drive-in movie — but, like the rest of us, they’ve “mostly staying in watching a movie/TV show and ordering food,” Jessica wrote in an email. “The majority of the times, such platonic activities would be followed by sex and cuddling. But personally, it is not something I have done every single time I meet with my (current or previous) SB(s).” When I asked Cassie about the sex, she declined to give specifics, except to say that Jessica “really know[s] what she is doing.”
Like Jessica, Tanya, 31, is also a well-off professional who moonlights as a sugar mama. Tanya entered the “bowl” in 2020 but had spent years financially supporting her girlfriends, she wrote in an email, paying for “all of [her] partners’ living expenses (mortgage/rent, bills, groceries, etc.).” She never called these relationships “sugaring” at the time, she added, “because, like most people not familiar with this world, the idea of sugaring was an old rich guy with a hot young woman.”
Last year, Tanya decided she should be in a sugar relationship. “I’m in a very white and very male-dominated field. And so I often see these guys doing whatever they want and getting away with it because of that fact. So I thought, I want some fun too,” Tanya said. “I already naturally gravitate towards taking care of my partners. … Plus, you add in the fact there are clear boundaries and expectations — that was really appealing. Sugaring seemed fun, and the taboo nature of it made it extra spicy.”
But finding a sugar baby can be difficult. In spite of Seeking.com’s hundreds of thousands of sugar mamas, it still caters to men searching for sugar babies, and sugaring sites devoted to lesbian relationships are basically nonexistent. Tanya told me she found her sugar baby on an online forum elsewhere. She said the lack of websites devoted to lesbian sugar mamas is not because of a lack of demand. “There are tons of lesbians looking for a sugar mama,” Tanya said. But she thinks gender roles are preventing women from entering the sugar mama role. “Women aren’t traditionally providers. Of the women who wouldn’t mind being providers, they aren’t out there looking for sugar babies since it is a bit taboo.”
“There are tons of lesbians looking for a sugar mama.”
Although the relationship is taboo, the sex she wants isn’t. “I’m pretty vanilla in what I like,” she said. But there is one major difference between sex with her sugar baby and with an unpaid partner. “The sex talk happens a lot sooner [in a sugar baby relationship],” Tanya said. “Before an arrangement happens, I always make it clear that consent is important to me, and I never expect my SB to do anything she is not comfortable with or she doesn’t like … in and out of the bedroom.”
Tanya acknowledged the power imbalance in sugar relationships and is aware that the power scale tips in her favor. Sugar babies are often younger than her, and she’s mindful of this when she initiates conversations. “Youth comes with inexperience [and] self-esteem issues. Then women are often too polite to say no.”
Once she establishes the boundaries, she said, the relationship can go to a wild place. This past summer, she had one of her most memorable experiences with a sugar baby, whom she was ending her relationship with. “We met up one last time for much-needed closure. Mutual feelings had developed at this point,” she wrote in a direct message. “For whatever reason, maybe because we both knew it’d be the last time, intimacy that night was likely the best sex I ever had. Next day, I gave her a parting gift (cash equaling what was double her previous allowance), and we said goodbye.”
While Tanya and Jessica are able to afford sugar babies because they have high salaries, not all women have the financial resources to do so. Some have to rely on their spouses. “I use the ‘sugar mama’ title in jest [because] the [sugar mamas] are more my husband’s since he makes the money,” said Brooke, a woman from Arizona. Before the pandemic, she and her husband met their sugar babies “freestyling around town.” Now, they meet them online. His sugar baby is in grad school, and hers is a microbiologist. He supports them both. “The microbiologist gets a couple thousand a month between bills, cash, and gifts,” Brooke said. “The grad student gets help with books, tuition, and some walking-around money. She gets bigger bills [and is] paid less frequently.” Brooke said she prefers sugar babies to nonpaid relationships because the women she meets are more willing to accommodate her kinks, which include consensual nonconsent, group sex, and BDSM.
And just as a sugar parent couple, like Brooke and her husband, pools their financial resources to maintain relationships with their babies, a lesbian couple can join forces to market themselves as a package deal on Seeking.com. That’s where I met Taylor, a 24-year-old in the health industry who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. When our video interview started, she was passing her vape pen filled with something called “lush ice” (a watermelon-and-menthol–flavored nicotine liquid) to her girlfriend Maeson, a 20-year-old restaurant server. A few years ago, Taylor realized she was attracted to women and turned to Tinder. What she found wasn’t what she had expected. It wasn’t a fleeting hookup or a serious girlfriend; it was a sugar mama. And not just one of them.
Taylor’s current sugar mama is a married woman in her early forties. (They’re taking a break because the woman got pregnant.) “She had never been with a woman until she had gotten with her husband,” Taylor said. “He was fascinated with girls scissoring. So that’s how they got into it.” But now the husband’s interest has taken a backseat. Usually when Taylor comes over to the house, he’s either not there or he’s taking a nap in the bedroom while she and his wife have sex and shop online for lingerie.
“When we started dating, we started [sugaring] together,” Maeson, who is new to the sugar community, said. Her family doesn’t know she is a sugar baby. “We’re in the South. I’m not even allowed to be gay,” Maeson said. Although she’s out to her parents, she said, “I recently moved out of my parents’ house because we always butt heads, and it just wasn’t worth it anymore.” The couple said they got into sugaring to make extra money. “We both have real jobs, but [the sugaring money] is for vacations, traveling, to get bills paid off,” Maeson said. She and Taylor have set their profile to “looking for men/women” (sugar mamas and sugar daddies) on Seeking.com, but they’ve so far only found daddies.
“The misconception about what sugar dating is is that there is always a sexual exchange happening, or there’s always a sexual relationship. But that’s not true.”
They said the daddies know they’re lesbians (it’s in their profile) and are aware that Maeson and Taylor won’t have sex with them. “A lot of them are very respectful and don’t push that boundary with us, which is very appreciated on our end,” Maeson said. “They are only allowed to watch.” Still, some men are pushier. “A guy wanted us to meet, and he wanted both of us to fuck him in the ass with a strap-on after we had told him it was no touch, no contact,” Maeson said. “[The request] just made us laugh.”
I asked them why they thought sugar daddies would hire a lesbian couple. “A lot [are paying for] a relationship and friendship and just have someone to talk to. They’re lonely. So they’re needy,” Taylor said. “Very,” Maeson chimed in. “We make them pay for it,” Taylor said. Maeson added that others “just think it’s hot.”
They said sugar daddies usually pay the couple for custom videos and “live porn” where they engage in sex acts by request (scissoring and strap-on play is very popular) while he watches in a hotel room. Videos can fetch up to $500, but photos can garner a lot of money, too. Maeson told me she recently got a request from a sugar daddy for a picture of her butthole. She charged him $200 as part of a bundle. Sometimes men will give them money just to help them out. “[A sugar daddy] sent me $700 to fix my car,” Maeson said, adding, “I’d much rather have a sugar mama. I just connect so much better with women than I do men.”
Many of the lesbian sugar babies I spoke to echoed this, saying they’d prefer a sugar mama. So why haven’t there been more women to fill the gap? Brooke, who sugars with her husband, believes a double standard is to blame. “Most of society just chuckles and laughs when they see a 50-year-old man with a 25-year-old woman. But they would totally judge a 50-year-old woman with a 25-year-old woman in the same relationship. If there was less judgment, I think it would be more accepted and so more women would be willing to jump into the bowl,” she said.
Some women in the sugar community, for fear of judgment, are cautious about whom they tell. “Only one of my close friends knows about my SB, and he was very accepting of our relationship,” Jessica, the sugar mama, said. “I am open to sharing about my SB with a very few selected individuals who I know will accept her, but mainly to introduce her as someone important in my life and not as my SB.”
Though being a sugar mama is still taboo, being a sugar baby seems to have become less stigmatized over the last few years. Maeson and Taylor have told multiple friends what they do, and some are accepting, although others have been judgmental. Sugaring “isn’t mainstream,” Taylor said, “[because] society views it as prostitution or sex work when it’s not in every arrangement or situation.” Upadhyay agrees with Taylor. “The misconception about what sugar dating is is that there is always a sexual exchange happening or there’s always a sexual relationship. But that’s not true. A lot of [sugar babies] do have platonic sugar daddies. They don’t always meet in person, but they still engage in having a sugar relationship.”
A number of lesbian sugar babies I spoke to said they have nonsexual relationships with their sugar daddies. In fact, according to one study, 40% of sugar baby relationships are nonsexual. One woman told me of her experiences with a sugar daddy : “I kinda hate men, but [I take advantage of] any chance I can get to take their money. Love the submissive men the most, who I would never even let touch me.”
To some outsiders, being a sugar baby looks like it could be an easy way to make quick cash, but Jessica warns that it isn’t as risk-free as it sounds. “There are many accounts of young women being taken advantage of (and even raped) because they either turn a blind eye or are too naive or desperate to ignore the red flags because of their dire financial situation,” she said. (Though a number of sugar babies I spoke to said they are not sex workers, a study shows sex workers have a 45% to 75% chance of experiencing violence on the job.) She urged women “to educate themselves first, learn to read the red flags, and be someone who would not hesitate to walk away when the situation takes a bad turn.” Although Maeson and Taylor said that they’d encourage friends to become sugar babies, they also advised caution. “Enforce your safety and don’t ever lower your standards for anybody,” Maeson said.
Despite the risks, Jessica said she sees the community as a place to share joy, perhaps because she views sugar babies and sugar mamas as having equal power in the relationship. “My personal goal in life is to help as many people as I can to make this world a better place for them to live in. In these challenging times we’re going through, I believe someone could benefit from the little help I could offer them,” she said. “The world can always use a little bit of kindness and sweetness.”
And while some of the benefits that drew Cassie to being a sugar baby — the fancy restaurants, the travel to exotic locales — are no longer a part of the experience because of COVID, she said she’s adjusting: “For now, [takeout], cheesy TV shows and movies, and cuddles are more than good enough for me.” ●