Photo Caption: A screenshot from SeekingArrangement.com
Taylor Jones sounds like any other 22-year-old Ohio State University undergraduate student. She's dealing with the struggle of scheduling classes, working part-time at the campus hospital, and planning for her next step in life. For the most part, Jones lives a pretty typical college life, but there's one aspect about Jones that's distinctly unconventional.
Since 2007, Jones has been a member of the online dating website www.seekingarrangements.com, where she meets "sugar daddies" who have twice helped her pay for her tuition and at one point footed the bill for an out-of-town trip for Jones and a friend.
Alarmed? Don't be; this is what "sugar daddies" do. In a generic sense, the term is used to describe older men who lavish young women with gifts and money in exchange for their companionship, a word that can be code for a variety of things including sexual relations. With more than two million users, the website has seen substantial growth since starting up in 2006, and it's evident that Jones is not alone at Ohio colleges.
In a recent study conducted by the website, Ohio University won placement (No. 17) among "The Top 20 Fastest Growing Sugar Baby Schools," as did Kent State (No. 11).
Leroy Velasquez, public relations manager for seekingarrangements.com, said in terms of actual numbers, the website saw 103 OU students join in 2012, for a total of 192. He said the real numbers are probably higher than that, however, because the 192 total doesn't include students who might have registered under non-"edu" email accounts.
Velasquez said the website offers premium benefits to "sugar babies" who use their "edu" email address.
"Wealthy and generous members pay monthly membership fees to post a profile and look for their ideal partner based on their own personal preferences. 'Sugar babies' can post on the web site for free, but can potentially get premium membership if they use their .edu address, which is how we got the information in the first place," Velasquez said.
Jones used her .edu email address when a co-worker suggested she join the site. Since she decided to use her school address, she received premium access to "sugar daddies," including priority listing and the ability to search and even message certain prospects; both options are not available for users with regular email accounts.
Velasquez said they encourage members to use their .edu accounts for a couple reasons.
"It's a combination of a few things. It's easy to study and track," he said. "We like to know our demographic, and like to know the types of people that join our website because we have a very unique community. On top of that, we want to get interest from women who are actively pursuing higher education, who are intelligent, independent and driven women. By giving incentives to females who have .edu addresses, we are getting the type of woman that 'sugar daddies' want when engaging in these mutually beneficial relationships."
There are also "sugar mommas" who search for male "sugar babies" on the website, but Velasquez that it's a much smaller population than the "sugar daddies" looking for female "sugar babies."
Statistically, he added, the site has approximately 12 "sugar baby" females to one "sugar daddy" male.
"Most current 'sugar mommies' used to be 'sugar babies'," Velasquez noted. "They loved the lifestyle so much that later on after they are satisfied with the 'sugar baby' lifestyle, they share that experience with someone else by becoming a 'sugar mommy' and having their own "sugar baby'."
He describes this trend as "an evolution of desire."
"At first, they desire to be spoiled. I mean who doesn't want to be treated like a princess?" he said. "So those current 'sugar mommas' who used to be 'sugar babies' were spoiled with lavish gifts, expensive trips, and so on. But now, as 'sugar mommas' they're spoiled in a different way. They're spoiled with a man's beauty and youth or whatever they personally seek in a mutually beneficial relationship."
MADDIE BRYAN, A JUNIOR at OU, however, says she holds no such desire.
"It sounds sketchy and kind of iffy. But it sounds exactly like 'sugar daddies' trying to find cute young girls," she said while finishing up her lunch at OU's Baker Center.
Bryan is using loans to pay for school and said that she "understands why some people think that's an option."
"I personally would never consider it, so I'm biased in that regard," she said. "I think that the girls are getting used in some way, if not completely, then definitely in regards to their time, and I just don't like that. I do, however, understand why some people would do that. It's the easy way out."
Jack Carley, a 21-year-old advertising major at OU, said he doesn't believe that becoming a "sugar baby" is an easy way out.
"I think that depends on how you look at it," he said with a laugh. "I think people are entitled to date who they want, but I just think for a college campus such as Ohio, it's a bit unorthodox to join a dating website looking for a 'sugar daddy' when you're trying to obtain an education so that you can support yourself on your own."
Carley, a business-oriented individual, said that as a whole, the operation seems deceptive.
"It's an unethical way to make money off people's emotions," Carley said. "I think dating sites in general are an unethical way to make money off people."
Carley's friend Kurt Chapkowski agreed with him, questioning the motives behind a company promoting the trend of a "sugar daddy" lifestyle.
"I think there are some moral issues with it," Chapkowski said. "I think the whole idea of 'sugar daddies' and 'sugar mommas' are frowned upon by most of society in general."
Velasquez acknowledged that the company has faced some adversity based on the assumption that the "sugar daddy" and "sugar baby" relationship is a form of prostitution, where an exchange of sex as a quid pro quo is implied as part of the arrangement.
But that's not the case, he said.
"They react negatively because they assume that it is prostitution because there is money involved in this type of relationship, when in actuality, money is a very small part of what the relationship entails. That, and it's also illegal," he said.
On the other hand, sexual relations are definitely a possibility in these arrangements, as a promotional quote from a "college sophomore" makes clear on the website:
"Men my age are too immature. My current arrangement is wonderful. Unlike other cash-strapped students, I am pampered with expensive gifts. My sugar daddy is the sweetest man I know. He is my mentor, my benefactor and my lover."
Jones, the OSU student who's a member of the site, noted that she has been messaged by men and have heard of men who are looking for sex to be "a part of the relationship."
"Some guys will tell you that, or it'll be on their profile or when they contact you that's what they're looking for – a sexual relationship," Jones said. "You can choose to respond, and I know people who are open to that, but I know females who aren't open to that or aren't open to that yet, so they talk and see how it goes. Most women put what they're open for on their profile."
Velasquez emphasized that the site is highly monitored, and that any and all unsolicited activity is dealt with immediately.
"We have a lot of administrators and moderators that look for suspicious activity, whether that means soliciting messages or inappropriate profile pictures, and we have a zero-tolerance policy," he said. "We encourage members to report any such behavior and action is taken immediately."
They also offer backgrounds checks for all "sugar daddies" and do it through a third-party company. When a "sugar daddy" is verified, then a "background verified" symbol appears on the member's account, a handy-tool in helping to choose prospective partners.
Jones said that safety hasn't been too much of an issue for her, but she always makes an effort to bring a friend along or meet in a public location for the first meeting or two. These are both suggestions that the website posts on its ongoing blog that gives tips on how to properly go about having "an arrangement."
With plans on leaving seekingarrangements.com after graduation, Jones said she has made it through college without having to take out any loans. She is in a good relationship now with someone she met outside of seekingarrangements.com, and expects that after graduation she will no longer need the web site's services or its "sugar daddies."
For more information about seekingarrangements.com visit their web site or Facebook page.