The sugar babes

Being a sugar baby may sound easy – you just have to show up and look pretty – but in reality, it is a harsh, competitive world of high expectations and hard work. Yet many millennials across the world choose to make a living by it. We spoke to two.

Image for The sugar babes

Illustration by Dom Okah

Being a sugar baby may sound easy – you just have to show up and look pretty – but in reality, it is a harsh, competitive world of high expectations and hard work. Yet many millennials across the world choose to make a living by it. We spoke to two of them in Berlin.

When I first met Samira about two years ago, I couldn’t help but wonder about her Gucci and Louis Vuitton bags, her diamond rings, and her endless pairs of shoes worth a month’s rent in Berlin. She was driving a Smart and renting a beautiful two-room apartment on Paul-Lincke-Ufer which she wasn’t sharing with a fellow student. All of this while being an ancient history student at the Freie Universität? Samira had come from Tbilisi one year earlier and her parents weren’t wealthy. She didn’t have a side job. I wasn’t left wondering about her glamorous lifestyle for long though, as she turned out to be disarmingly open about her source of ‘good luck’. His name was John*, a wealthy German businessman she’d met on an online platform called Seeking Arrangement. She had a sugar daddy.

“When I arrived in Berlin, I didn’t have much money. My parents are very supportive but I knew they couldn’t give me what I needed for the life I wanted in Germany,” explains Samira, her big brown, Bambi-like eyes screaming the kind of innocence immediately disproved by her words. “I know that I am kind of pretty, and I know that I have a brain. I once saw a documentary about sugar babies and it kind of stuck with me. I was curious whether I could do it. So I signed up to Seeking Arrangement and within a few days I had a full calendar.”

On sites like Seeking Arrangement, Sugar Daddy For Me and Sugar Daddy Meet, both parties create a profile intended to appeal to the desired audience. The sugar daddies and mommas list their annual income, their lifestyle and their marital status, while the “babies” promote their own “assets”, all the while making their boundaries clear. The idea behind the growing community of “sugaring” is that it’s based on mutual honesty and a clear transaction between two people. “The good thing about it is that there are no surprises. Well, most of the time. Sometimes it is surprising how anxious a man can be despite being successful and rich. It made me feel very powerful actually,” Samira laughs. Her profile stated that sex wasn’t on the table and that she was in it for the experience, gifts and some extra cash. She also listed her qualifications, body measurements and wrote a short essay about her future plans signalling to daddies that she was the girl to take to fancy dinners, banquets and on trips. “What surprised me the most was probably the fact that there is a world like this in Berlin at all! I knew the bars, the junkies, the struggling youth, and then I was suddenly invited to the crème de la crème. At the beginning I would go on all the dates just to see what was out there, and then I started selecting my daddies. Most of them were usually in town for a few days in between business trips. Sometimes they’d invite me to accompany them abroad. Sometimes I would go and sometimes I would turn it down because I was in university. But somehow I felt that a trip could bring the expectation of sex. And I didn’t want to have sex with them!” she says, adding that equating sugaring with prostitution or even escorting is a “hurtful misconception”. But it was a lot of work on top of her MA studies.

“I always had to look nice. I had to remember which client got me which perfume, dress or accessories and wear those on our dates. I went to the gym 4 times a week to be in good shape, to the hairdresser, nail salon, waxing… it is actually hard work! I know it sounds lame, but it was tiring.” Eventually, after eight months juggling six to seven guys, she reduced the number of her daddies to three. “I could maintain that easily and still earn about €2000 a month from them, not including the gifts and meals. These were all under 60, strong, charismatic and attractive men. So yes, I did sleep with them eventually…”

Samira had no intention of taking on a new sugar daddy when she met John on Seeking Arrangement. “He was very persistent, so I gave in. And to be honest, he did sweep me away on our first date. He was amazing: polite, well-read and well-travelled, he spoke many languages. The next night he invited me to a big event in Frankfurt and soon he insisted we meet every night he was in town.” By the end of that week John had made it clear that he wanted a more serious commitment and offered to rent an apartment for Samira and cover all her expenses with an extra allowance to boot. “All I had to do for it was to be there whenever he was in Berlin, travel with him when he wanted me. And, of course, sex. I slept with him on my first night and it was actually good.” Two weeks later Samira moved out of her tiny room in a flat share into her dream apartment. “He made me promise that I’d stop seeing the other guys, he made me delete my profile and he would check on me all the time. But it was okay. John was a very generous sugar daddy. He supported my studies, and always seemed proud to have me on his side. I got to see and experience many things I wouldn’t have without him!” So it went on for five months: “I was kind of happy… until I met Jakob!” What started as a spontaneous flirt on a Berlin dancefloor turned into the real thing. Faced with a choice between her arrangement with John and life with Jakob, she opted for the latter and broke up with John, leaving behind the flat and all the nice gifts. “I’d not expected John to get so mad. He shouted he would kill that boy and demanded that I leave the apartment by the next day and wanted his money back.” Samira and Jakob have been together for almost two years now. She finished her studies and they are planning to get married. Jakob comes from a simple, Bavarian family and cannot offer her the luxury the sugaring did. “I wouldn’t exchange my current happiness for anything money can buy. That part of my life is over. I am happy now and who knows – maybe one day I’ll be rich myself,” she says, though the chances are pretty slim, being a historian.

With all the travelling and stress my job requires, I often just want to have a nice dinner with someone who is pretty and intelligent … It isn’t necessarily about sex! If I want sex, I can get an A-list escort.”

Samira has remained in touch with some former sugar daddies like Peter, one of the last three men she was dating before she went exclusive with John. “I am actually still friends with Samira. I cannot say I don’t dream of dating her again, but since that is not an option, we are just friends. We go out for a coffee sometimes, but she has made it clear that she wants no gifts or money from me anymore,” explains the 45-year-old businessman in the most casual way. On the phone he doesn’t sound like a super-rich executive responsible for multi-million euro oil sales. “I don’t think there is anything to be ashamed of in the world of sugaring. We business people often don’t have time and energy to date, to seduce, to entertain, to deal with the emotional expectations of our partners. For me, business is more important. Sugaring is such a clear arrangement and therefore I won’t disappoint or fail anybody. I hurt many women in my youth just because I wasn’t able to put them first. With all the travelling and stress my job requires I often just want to have a nice dinner or a date to an event, someone who is pretty and intelligent and can distract me from my everyday life. It isn’t necessarily about sex! If I want sex, I can get an A-list escort. I just expect my sugar baby to be good company.”

Do such expectations go with our current ideal of gender equality? Or do they just perpetuate the centuries-old male-dominated cultural and financial structures the #metoo movement has been painstakingly trying to shake? For Peter this is a clean cut case of contractual business where both parties can meet at eye level: “The girls sign up, they want money, the men know what they get and what they don’t. It’s business. And I am good at business – terrible at love, but very good at business!” Reflecting back on her experience, Samira sees a certain degree of empowerment. “I certainly don’t think I was a victim of anybody or that I would have been sexually abused, ever! I actually feel like I was the boss!”

Worldwide, 2.7 million sugar babies are registered on Seeking Arrangement alone, 1.5 million of them students. According to Let’s Talk Sugar (a forum where ‘babies’ can discuss experiences and find tips) there are “thousands of sugar babies in the sugar bowl”, i.e. about 8-12 sugar babies for each daddy, so competition is tough. But a new industry is already catering to the community with courses to learn how to make a profile stand out, and annual Sugar Baby Summits in New York, Los Angeles and London with courses, lectures and discussions.

Meanwhile, more and more wealthy gay men and older women are joining the sugar bowl. Lucas, a 23-year-old Berliner – blonde, tall, handsome and self-confident – dates both. “But only over 45! They are more giving,” the fashion student is quick to clarify. “I do some modelling and DJing, but I don’t earn much. I like to party and I like nice things! Lucas’ first sugar daddy was an accident. “I’d just met an older guy on Grindr three or four years ago and he got me nice things, he was really like a father to me but I didn’t like fucking him.” When they broke up Lucas turned to platforms like Gay Arrangement and Seeking Arrangement. “It gives me the opportunity to set my own rules. I don’t have to sleep with anyone if I don’t want to. And I don’t want to most of the time. I also prefer cash instead of gifts, so I make that clear, too,” says the cheerful Berliner. You can tell he works out and has the cash to buy designer clothes. “I actually made this coat myself!” he says proudly. “I started with gay men only and then I realised that there are older women looking for companionship, too. So I changed my status to ‘looking for both daddies and mommas.’” Lucas explains that the latter are mostly rich widows or women who were left by their husbands for a younger girl, or who are being cheated on and ignored. “They’re lonely, they want someone to compliment them, to pay them attention, to make them feel that they matter!”

Lucas is glad to provide all the above, but not sex. “I do sleep with girls, but I’ve never slept with any of my female clients! With women, age matters more to me. So I accompany them to the theatre and the opera, to dinner, to fashion shows, to shopping, I even come over and just chat, but the most I did was kissing one of the ladies, who asked me very kindly to make her feel like a beautiful woman. I couldn’t say no to that!” Lucas has two female and four male clients at the moment. That means earning just enough for a cosy two room Altbau flat in Kreuzberg, a wardrobe filled with designer clothing, and eating out every single day. Not such a shabby life for a student.

“Women give me all sorts of presents, even if I tell them not to. They can’t get rid of the momma inside of them! Men are different. They do what I tell them most of the time. I thought that rich gay men would be very demanding and controlling in a situation like this, but I totally feel like I am the one controlling them, because I am young and in a good shape and they want me so bad. One of my clients is a married man. His wife has no idea that he is seeing boys. I know I’m not even his only sugar baby! Another guy wants no sex at all, he just wants to hold hands and go for walks. People’s needs are so different and I am happy to please them.”

Does he sometimes miss a real, romantic relationship? “It would just make life more complicated. This is simple and yet fun. I am young, I am free, I live in an age where anything is possible. Who knows, maybe I’ll find a guy who will kickstart my career and help me launch my own line of clothing!”