Escorting in the Modern Era

According to Merriam-Webster, an escort is a woman or man who is hired to accompany someone to a social event. But attempt to find clear-cut definitions of sugar baby/daddy or an arrangement from Merriam and you’re at a loss.

Seeking Arrangements is an American dating website/mobile app founded in 2006. The website states “An arrangement is where people are direct with one another and stop wasting time. It allows people to immediately define what they need and want in a relationship. Our profiles allow members to effortlessly state their expectations. This is what we like to call Relationships on Your Terms.” This website isn’t the only one: Sugar Daddy Meet, What’s Your Price, Miss Travel, Age Match, Established Men.

Let’s cut to the chase. Ideally, an arrangement is a negotiated and paid-for relationship between a sugar baby (the individual receiving the funds, “help” or “sugar”) and a sugar daddy/mommy (the individual giving). Most relationships are labeled as NSA (no strings attached, any feelings and emotions will be checked at the door and will not disrupt the arrangement). Arrangements can be long or short term, and the most common forms of payment are PPM (pay per meet) or allowances (a monetary amount set by the SD given to the SB on a regular basis). One can even take a look at the blog Let’s Talk Sugar prior to diving into the Sugar Bowl (the sugar lifestyle).

Escorting, sugar daddy, or seeking arrangements: Google these words and hundreds of thousands of blog posts, threads, and articles appear. Then, search any of these words in a research-based search engine (even Google Scholar) and be immediately disappointed at the lack of relevant research completed in these fields of work. A number of polls are available though. One from ABC News in 2004 reports that thirty percent of single men over the age of thirty have paid for sex, and that fifteen percent of all men in general have done the same. Another from The Office of Research and Evaluation, National Institute of Justice in 2008 reports as low as fifteen, and as high as twenty percent of men have.

While some argue that escorting and participating in an arrangement are two different lines of employment, modern technology has allowed the two to combine: think of arrangements as cutting out the middle man such as the escort service. Potential SB’s are able to sign up (for free if you’re a female in college), create a profile, and filter through potential SD’s on their own. Arrange an initial meet, find a connection (or fake one), negotiate, and you’re arranged.

Now, let’s state the obvious before someone comments: yes, some arrangements involve sex, and yes, some don’t. Much like escorting, these arrangements happen in both the public eye and in private. While the official websites state that no such physical expectations exist, they do in some arrangements.

A Seeking Arrangements blog states “Sugar is a lifestyle choice, not a profession. A sugar baby is a woman who wants to date financially secure men who can provide her with the lifestyle she desires. She’s selective about who she dates; a prostitute isn’t picky about who she takes on as a client. The risks involved with prostitution are countless, and include exposure to crime, abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and theft of service. Many prostitutes are also subject to physical and emotional abuse, especially when involved with a pimp. And in Sugar, sex is never a requirement, only an aspiration.”

I spoke with Jay, a female SB who has been arranging for almost a year, and Emily, a newer female SB, for their thoughts on escorting in their city of Pittsburgh. Both women began their work once discovering arrangement sites. Jay said, “I was dating around, looking for a boyfriend, and after a dozen majorly disappointing dates I thought, I should be getting paid for this.”

Tell me a little about your typical experiences.

Jay: “So, they’ve mostly looked the same: match on the app, message, and then exchange texts–there’s a ton of safety stuff you can read out there–and then schedule a “meet” for coffee or a drink, something simple, to make sure we are who we advertised, see if we can hit it off. If we do, then we talk about an agreed upon amount and rate at which we see each other. I prefer monthly allowances and seeing each other once a week. Sometimes we go out to dinner and sometimes it’s just hanging out at my house but there’s usually a level of physical intimacy.”

Emily: “At first mine looked a lot like Jay’s, but they’ve changed. I used to have the weekly meetings, monthly allowances, but I got tired of how attached a lot of those men got despite the NSA. I would have one constantly texting me, wanting to sext and talk dirty. I don’t want a boyfriend. I still have one SD that I go out with once a week and it’s really laid back. To be honest, I have two other SDs that just hit me up when they’re in town. We might grab a drink but we usually end up sleeping together.

Tell me about the physical intimacy, the sex, and the idea that what you’re doing isn’t prostitution.

Jay: “A common phrase I hear is that prostitution is a transaction and an arrangement is a relationship. I can agree with that but only so much. Yeah, I have had relationships with SDs in that we go out, we text, but we’re also intimate. I probably make more than a prostitute, but I feel like to a point I’m doing the same thing, just with a different title and in a little bit of a different way. It kind of sounds brutal, but I have to act and put on a show for my SD when prostituting might not include that. Like, they’re drawn to how young I am, I’m educated, I work, I can hold a conversation. I have to long-term act like I like them, and maybe even I do, but prostitution I think lacks all of that.”

Emily: “See, I would say that they’re pretty much, almost but not right there, the same. At least for me. I wouldn’t say my regular SD and I are like what Jay is saying, but the guys that fly into town and hit me up are. And honestly, I prefer that. I can do whatever I need to do after work or class and then they show up, we have actually enjoyable sex, and talk a bit. We stay in touch and I’m actually attracted to these men, but they can help me out financially.”

When asked why participate in arrangements, it was a resounding “the pay.”

Would you do this without the pay?

Emily: (laughing) “No, I would never do it without the pay. If I wanted to go out with someone or have sex with someone, I would find men I’m actually attracted to, or my age, or meet them on dating apps. I think I can say that probably neither of us need this to find sex or dates.”

Jay: “Yes, agreed. Its strictly money for me. Some of it is for student loans, some of it for simple spending. I don’t need it though, and that’s probably one reason why I feel so in control of the situation and maybe that’s why it feels different from prostitution– I can stop whenever I want, I can say no to any SD that I want, I don’t have someone taking a cut from the money.”

Emily: “There’s probably easier ways to achieve that we’re trying to achieve like student loans and stuff, but this is what we’ve chosen.”

You mentioned safety precautions you take. Tell me more about those.

Jay: “I think its the usual: maybe don’t use your real name, use a messenger app maybe, although some people just use their numbers and I think that’s fine, don’t have them over right away, meet for the first time somewhere public, maybe Google their username or whatever info you get. I always tell at least one other people where I’m at or like, send them my location so they can track me.”

Emily: “Recently I was discussing terms with one potential SD, and I brought up protection, and he said he could show me his most recent STD screening and that he had a vasectomy, because he doesn’t want to use protection. I replied, I’m sorry, but it’s a personal rule of mine for safety, I have to. He literally said, “It’s a personal rule of mine for pleasure, so bye.” Gladly, goodbye!”

Have you had any bad experiences with your arrangements?

Both Jay and Emily jumped to answer, YES.

Jay: “My biggest problem is flakes. You spend time texting, getting to know one another, negotiating terms, and maybe even meeting up for coffee for a face-to-face. Maybe they even agree to have something, and then that day comes, and they cancel or back out. Drives me nuts.”

Emily: “I wish mine were a bit more like that. I guess I haven’t been at it as long as Jay to experience a lot of those. My problem has been men not ending up looking like their picture. I can’t tell you how many times men weren’t willing to send a clear photo of themselves, and I just let it go because they said they need discretion. Then, I show up to the coffee shop or bar, and they’re 20 years older than they claim or you can tell the picture they did send you was ten year ago. I stopped talking with men who wouldn’t send pictures, especially if they demanded them from me.”

Have either of you struggled with this, the sex, the emotions?

Jay: “I can say that I definitely have with the emotions. The meets can take a toll just like disappointing dates can: time out of your schedule, wasting time, and faking emotions or interest can be exhausting. The sex, well, I definitely wasn’t attracted to my first SD so that was challenging and I don’t recommend that. Now, I’m actually attracted to them and it feels almost empowering.”

Emily: “I’d be about the same as Jay. That’s kind of why I switched to the much less emotional options, and I really wish I could just do that. Less emotion, less time given, and if its good sex then I don’t feel as bad.”

Do you feel badly about the arrangements involving sex?

Emily: “I mean, yeah? Kind of? I tell my friends sometimes I feel like I’m selling my soul. In no way is it not consensual, I’m consenting, but if I’m not attracted to them whether we’re having sex or not, I’m not excited about them. I think the realization of what I’m doing, if society knew, or something, that takes a toll because its so looked down upon.”

Jay: “Not too much, I mean, the common debate is about sex workers being empowered rather than exploited, and I can understand that in arrangements. I’m in complete control over whether or not I participate in this and to an extend I don’t really need the money, so I’m lucky in that sense.”

Do either one of you consider yourselves feminists?

Jay: “Yes, absolutely. I can say I feel like a boss babe to be honest. I enjoy being sexual when I want to, I enjoy getting done up, and if the demand is out there, why not use it to my advantage? This is paying my way though my second degree. I feel like its a job just like any other, and SBs enjoy it at different levels, like any other job.”

Emily: “Yes, deeply, to a point where I realize just how privileged we are to be able to talk about arrangements like this. We’re talking about them as enjoyable, as an income we don’t really mind. Maybe it’s my education, but I can’t help to be reminded that this is not a very intersectional conversation we’re having, and I think that’s okay though because we’re talking from our perspectives and experiences. We forget that some people, men and women and even children, are forced into this. Call it forced prostitution, human trafficking, but I sometimes wonder if what we’re doing is having an impact on them. That leaves me questioning, are we, as willing participants that are making our lives better financially and practicing self-empowerment, taking a hit to those who aren’t?”

Back to the search engines: when trying to find information on what percentage of women who have sold sex, many more links appear regarding information about human trafficking and sex slavery, which is very different from our earlier results.

On an individual level, escorting can be empowering if done consensually and personally-controlled, but where does that leave us in the larger picture? When does escorting becoming exploiting? Be on the look out for part two of this topic, where I will sit down with a professional in the field of human trafficking for her opinion.

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