After a debt-ceiling deal in which Pell grants remained but the federally subsidized graduate student loan program went under the chopping block, it’s even more sobering to read about the lengths to which college students are resorting to pay off their mountains of debt. According to Amanda Fairbanks of the Huffington Post, a surprising number of young people are turning to a kind of prostitution to pay their student bills.
On the website SeekingArrangement.com (which advertises itself as “the elite sugar daddy dating site”), young students in need of funds can advertise themselves to wealthy online suitors. One woman described herself as “a full-time college student studying psychology and looking to meet someone to help pay the bills.” For other 20-somethings who are struggling to find work in a bleak economic climate, these kinds of arrangements may be distasteful, but mutually beneficial.
“Over the past few years, the number of college students using our site has exploded,” said Brandon Wade, founder of Seeking Arrangement. “College students are one of the biggest segments of our sugar babies and the numbers are growing all the time.”
Wade estimates that 15 percent of the site’s members are students. He rewards students who sign up using a .edu email address by upgrading their membership and giving them elite access.
Some of the students (who are mostly female) describe the encounters with anguish. ”I never thought it would come to this. I got on the train and I felt dirty. I mean, I had just gotten money for having sex,” said one young woman. “I guess I accomplished what I needed to do. I needed the money for school. I just did what needed to be done.”
But some of the “sugar daddies” see themselves as helping the students onto a better life — while enjoying the company of a more “educated, smart” woman than a traditional escort. ”I guess I like the college girls more because I think of their student debt as good debt. At least it seems like I’m helping them out, like I’m helping them to get a better life,” said one “sugar daddy.”
The founder of another “sugar daddy” website also lauded the benefits of the arrangements his site facilitates. It’s perfect, he said, for older men of means, who want “young, vivacious arm candy,” while women “want a guy who can take them out for a Michelin two-star dinner, take them on the trip of their dreams, or who knows, maybe they’ll even find some guy to pay off their debt.”
The problem is, of course, that this is a deeply misogynistic way to see women, and it’s equally problematic for male students. The fact that students are being forced into these power-imbalanced relationships reflects badly on our higher education system, which saddles students with so much debt that in a bad economy, sex work may seem like the only viable way to make money. As Lydia Dallett observes on Equal Writes, “it is clear that many students turn to sugar daddies out of desperation instead of genuine desire.” And she’s right — although for some it may be an empowering opportunity, the fact that women are making themselves available for these kinds of exchanges does not mean that they are making a free choice.
Photo from stevendepolo via flickr.