As a graduate student, Kate receives funding from the University as her primary source of income. For Kate*, sugar babying(link is external)—engaging in a kind of dating where one partner financially supports the other—started as a way of earning some additional income.
“I enjoy being a sugar baby as it provides me with spending money, which allows me to live a more lavish lifestyle than your average graduate student,” Kate told the Journal.
Kate started sugar babying when she signed up for Millionbb (link is external) in the summer of 2019.
“I had just moved to a new city and had made a new group of friends. One of my closer friends in the group and I were joking about how we thought it would be easy to be a sugar baby and we’d probably end up making good spending money,” she said. “Later that night we had some wine and decided to sign up on Millionbb.”
The Journal spoke with three female-identified students who have engaged in sex work via sugar babying at different points throughout their time as students. Despite being alucrative job to have as a student, all three women have kept their involvement in the industry largely private, in part due to the potential stigma they would otherwise face.
Kate has had a number of sugar daddies since joining Millionbb in 2019. She browses the website in search of sugar daddies, weeding out men who she feels are merely pretending to have money or she isn’t physically attracted to. First dates always take place in public; the pair meet up for coffee, drinks, or dinner to get to know one another and sense whether there’s chemistry.
Kate has had both short-term relationships that were restricted to the internet and longer-term relationships involving sexual aspects. In both situations, Kate would be sent an allowance for photos and text messages, or for in-person dates and sexual intercourse.
“I prefer long-term relationships with someone I can really trust. The consistent allowance is nice, and it feels more natural to me,” Kate said.
T* and Kristy* also began working as sugar babies after finding sugar daddies online. Both in their second year, the two women started sugar babying during their first year at Queen’s.
“I was messing around on Tinder one night and put my age settings all the way up when a guy started talking to me,” T said. “I wasn’t really seeking to be a sugar baby, it just kind of found me and I thought the opportunity was too good to pass up.”
T started an online relationship with a sugar daddy based in Kingston in the winter. In exchange for an allowance and gifts, she would send her sugar daddy daily photos and act as his companion in her free time.
“I felt like I was a companion for him to talk to about things that he couldn’t necessarily share with the actual people in his life.”
Kristy, who started sugar babying in high school, has used Millionbb in the past to find sugar daddies in the Greater Toronto Area. In looking for potential sugar daddies, Kristy would go through a vetting process with each potential match.
“I would try to feel guys out on Millionbb. There’s kind of a pattern to these conversations, since both parties are trying to figure the other party out and determine what each other want, what their availability is like, and what their interests are,” she said.
After determining whether a potential sugar daddy was a safe option, Kristy had both online relationships as well as in-person meet-ups with sugar daddies.
“For typical dates I would often get to choose where we would go, whether that was for dinner or drinks,” she said. “Sometimes we would go to hotels, and I would have sex with them.”
“For me, there was no emotional gain. The focus was always on the sugar daddy and that’s how you get your money.”
Kristy told The Journal that she has had her share of interacting withthe varying degrees of sugar daddies, ranging from men who are gentler and simply looking for companionship, as well as sugar daddies who are more aggressive and sexually demanding.
“I have also dealt with violence when sugar babying,” she said. “Sometimes I’ve been scared [my sugar daddies] would find me in real life and try to hunt me down. There have also been some situations where I have been in the hotel room praying to God that I would come out alive.”
While Kate is still sugar babying, both T and Kristy are currently not involved in sex work.
Kristy, who stopped sugar babying when she was in her first year, cited the time commitment as being a key deterrent to why she stopped working.
All three women agreed that the financial aspect of engaging in sex work has been the largest benefit of working in the industry.
“I didn’t grow up very rich,” Kristy said. “Financial struggle was something that was consistent throughout my life, and I knew I had to pull my own weight if I wanted to go to school.”
Despite the high financial return, working in the sex industry presents a high risk to individuals who choose to do so. The need to have a safety net ensuring one’s personal safety, as well as ensuring the experience is as comfortable as possible, presented an obstacle for all three women.
For T, safety precautions were largely a matter of maintaining privacy.
“I never told my sugar daddy where I lived and did not let him send things to my home address,” she said. “There were a lot of instances where he would want to send me stuff to where I was living, but there was no way that was happening.”
“I didn’t want him to know specific details about my life; all he knew was that I was a Queen’s student and that I lived in the Kingston area.”
T also took precautions to ensure she would not be pressured into doing things that made her feel uncomfortable during her online relationship.
“I actually told my sugar daddy that I was a virgin so he wouldn’t ask me to do or send him weird things,” she told The Journal. “He started escalating in sending me increasingly inappropriate messages which is why I broke off the relationship.”
For Kate and Kristy, safety precautions were more rigorous, as their arrangements took place in-person.
Both women told a small number of close friends about the work they were doing, providing these friends with the location of their date and a time they could expect to hear from them to verify the safety of their dates.
“Street smarts and common sense also play a big role,” Kate said.“I always trust my gut.”
Maintaining the upper hand by controlling the location of a date is also of vital importance. While hotel rooms offer venues for privacy while still being in a public location, a sugar daddy’s home presents a number of unknown risks.
“I would never go to their homes,” Kristy said. “That was too dangerous for me.”
Despite a relatively sex-positive environment at Queen’s, sugar babies and sex workers are still met with stigmatization for the work they engage in. Kate, Kristy, and T all agreed this stigma is both prevalent at Queen’s and external to the institution.
“There is a stigma for individuals who engage in sugar babying and other forms of sex work, but I don’t believe this is unique to Queen’s,” Kate said. “Embracing [or] owning your sexuality and partaking in academia are two things that people assume cannot coexist.”
T also cited the lack of discussion on the topic of sex work at Queen’s as contributing to the overall stigma.
“[Sugar babying and sex work] is not a topic that is really talked about a lot, and I don’t often talk about with people that aren’t close to me,” she said. “There isn’t enough discussion about it, which makes it hard for those who do engage in sex work to find outlets to talk about it.”
“I found that it was really hard to find people who were in the same situation as me, just because people aren’t open to speaking on these topics because of the stigmatization. I think there needs to be an open conversation about the topic.”
Kristy also noted that the casual nature in which sugar babying is joked about can be harmful to those who engage in sex work.
“I always hear jokes where people will tell their friends to just go find a sugar daddy,” she said. “People pass it off as sugar babying being very easy and that it’s easy to just sell yourself off, when in my personal experience the reality was a lot harder than what people make it out to be, especially when there is a lot of violence and a heavy time commitment.”
“I wouldn’t trade my experience as a sugar baby for anything else, actually.”
For Kristy, despite experiencing significant adversity throughout her time engaging in sex work, she has found the experience to be beneficial outside of its financial aspects.
“It’s odd what you can take away from the experience […] I used to be a little more passive; but when you’re dealing with sugar daddies you can often have to deal with more aggressive people, so I learned how to be more assertive and stand up for myself, and I’ve been able to apply that in my experience as a student.”