Jezebel’s Tales: My Foray Into the Confusing World of Sugaring

One Woman’s Discovery of the Ups and Downs of Being a Sugar Baby

  • Graphic Lily Minkova

My last sugar date is at the same place my first one was—The Keg.

I can still recall the apprehension I felt as I was Ubering to meet the man who would later become my first “Daddy.”

I decided Sabrina, my alias, was going to be a preppy academic. I ordered the salmon plate, cutting my asparagus into three pieces, trying to become as petite as possible so he would want to ravish me. His jewelry was tasteful; rings adorned his fingers and a slim, gold chain hung around his neck. During the next few months, I would come to learn that he prided himself in dressing well.

“Do you recognize this brand?” he asks while buttoning up his shirt.

“No, but the colours look really good on you,” I say with my hand on his upper arm, hoping touch can distract him from my half-assed words. It’s 4 p.m., meaning it is time to go. We always finish at 4 p.m.

Grabbing my hand, he pulls me onto the bed beside him and hands me a fancily wrapped perfume bottle.

“Do you know Saint Laurent?” he asks.

“Like the street?” I ask, a little flustered. He laughs and hands me the bottle while I make a mental note to pay more attention when my girlfriends gush over their brand name purchases. I wonder which one of them I could regift this to.

To dress the part of a sugarbaby, I spent entire evenings at high-end outlet stores, despite shopping being an activity I absolutely loathe doing. I couldn’t just capture their attention; I needed to be able to hold it. I quickly discovered that pretty clothes itch. They ride up. They involuntarily spill your boobs. It wasn’t as simple as finding a form fitting dress. You needed sleek shoes and accessories to match. If the dress was sophisticated, the makeup had to be on point.

Adorning my physique was fun at first, but quickly became tedious. I realized that when I changed myself to adhere to what I thought a sugarbaby should look like, I grew to despise myself with such venom. It felt like no amount of concealer could subdue my eye bags and my body protruded in all the wrong places. Exploring the physical realm of femininity is a virtue and I had thoroughly sullied in order to satisfy the male gaze. The trappings of stereotypical femininity ate up so much of my time and money; I was weaponizing femininity.

Overtly sexualizing myself gave me indirect power, over and through men, by using patriarchally approved channels. Dolling up soon began to accompany a sour aftertaste. And it always left me so, so tired.

A Charles Bukowski quote came to mind: “I often stood in front of the mirror alone, wondering how ugly a person could get.”

Growing up, I was quick to learn that it is never a compliment if a man wants to fuck you. Sugaring opened my eyes to an extension of this teaching: just because someone wants to fuck you does not mean they will listen to what you have to say. By choosing to play the game, one can argue that I was admitting to my powerlessness against men and my only hope to affect anything was to appeal to men and subsequently manipulate them.

Indeed, I was a skilled player but one can argue that the only way for women to truly win is to not play at all. But can you really change the system from the outside? Can you even gain access from the outside?

Milk the patriarchy. I still hold true to this mantra. Therefore, it was only expected that the men I met were not intimidated by my intellect, but by me being a sexual being they might fail to attain. It was shallow water to swim in.

Power through sex always comes with strings attached. Yes, I could enjoy going to the casino instead of writing my final paper and sink into foamy hot tubs in the middle of the week but if I displeased my Daddy, I’d be out on my ass. By appealing to the male gaze, I felt I had subjugated myself to it.

“Isn’t that basically prostitution?” my friend asks me. We’ve been studying all week together and her comfortable presence has slowly faded my filters away. Today, we live together.

“I have to go to the spa with him for work,” I say as I leave the house.

“Work,” she says with a sardonic eye roll. Though I am making a living using my body, it is a consensual, informed decision. These men are paying for college girls in need of tuition money. They think too highly of themselves to pay for strippers. And so, to safeguard their own sense of self, they won’t treat you like one either. There is seldom coercion, disrespect or harassment. I am not judged or subjugated to violence the same way some strippers are. I have an immense amount of privilege in comparison to women worldwide who have no choice but to do sex work. I question if I am taking the easy way out.

I could slave away at a part time job 30 hours a week and get by. Instead of being some rich man’s whore, I could be a corporation’s bitch. Is this a radical political act? Or is this simply a girl in her twenties trying to prioritize her time? Would I rather be having sex with Chuck from the bar who thinks my clitoris is an island off the coast of Thailand, or with a man who beats him by experience in decades?

When Daddy hands me the money, it feels satisfying, like a mental checkmark. But when February comes around and I’ve run out of my student loans, this feeling evolves into shaky relief. It’s finally over: I can get on with my life not having to worry about groceries. I realize it was only fun when I felt like I was choosing it.

Is this a radical political act? Or is this simply a girl in her twenties trying to prioritize her time? Would I rather be having sex with Chuck from the bar who thinks my clitoris is an island off the coast of Thailand, or with a man who beats him by experience in decades?

***

Sabrina creates. Daddy connects. Tantrics believe that one path to salvation lies in pushing every boundary and inverting these structures, so turning what is polluting into instruments of power. To protect myself from getting burned by this power play, I create an alias.

My roommate and I spend an afternoon writing out Sabrina’s bio, personality quirks, and motivations. We render her as three dimensional as possible so I can slip into her with ease. Sabrina exists to handle the sparks of emotion I may feel on the job. Theatre becomes a coping mechanism. I don’t judge whether my Daddy is a good person or not; I simply observe my caricature on stage. But how long can you observe without absorbing?

We’re at a casino and my Daddy calls our dealer, who appeared to be of East Asian descent, a “monkey.” The smile is stripped off his face and his chipper demeanor disappears. I take another sip of my chocolate martini.
We’re driving into the hotel and he labels a group of Black people standing in the parking lot as “fucking drug dealers.” He is inconvenienced and so his racism crawls out of his Armani button-up. I go home that night shuffling two notions in my head, finding it difficult to align them with my mantra of do no harm: there is no theatre without high stakes, versus there is also no such thing as an innocent bystander.

***

After our last exam, I go drinking with some guy friends. Over beers, we start discussing whether two individuals exchange energy during sex, if it’s appropriate to say that partners “give themselves” to each other.

The conversation is abruptly ended when my Daddy texts me telling me he’s outside. As we drive to the hotel, I notice that I am teetering. I haven’t slept in 48 hours and the beer didn’t help. He keeps asking me if I’m okay and after the third time, I quietly admit that I am not feeling too great. His eyes go from performatively empathetic to glaringly impatient.

Suddenly, his once soft fingers are wrinkly and dry. He smells like sandpaper. The thought of his reptile tongue in my mouth makes me want to gag. His venomous eyes poke at me and I want to get out of the car. I end up fake crying and making up some bullshit about my sister having an abortion. He gives me a pep talk, instills himself with heroic purpose and I take my leave.

After my shower that night, I reflect on what happened. I know that if I were to have had sex with him, I would still be in the tub, vigorously scrubbing his skin cells off, trying to rid myself of his putrid stench. The earlier conversation with my classmates peeled open vulnerabilities and temporarily injected meaning into what was supposed to be monetarily inclined sex. I felt like I was walking on a tightrope, dangerously close to feeling violated.

Life has this beautiful way of balancing itself. After that occurrence I realized that if I wasn’t proactive about my mental health, this job would eat me alive. I began journaling and practicing yoga to stay in tune with my feelings. I am more grounded than I have ever been. In the presence of my Daddy, I constantly ignored my discomfort and gauzed it with fleeting sensual pleasures. But all repression bolts out sooner or later.
In class, I find myself speaking with rigor and assurance, unafraid to be challenging. After swallowing my words and tolerating interruptions to cater to Daddy’s ego, I was vying to express my opinions. During work, likeability had to be an essential part of me because I was a woman. Succumbing to false notion so strongly made it clear to me how utterly false it is.

***

It is my last sugar date and we are at the same place it all began—The Keg. My new Daddy is a successful tech nerd who is developing his own apps. His charisma and soft heart charms me and there is no need to use an alias with him. The only problem is that the sexual attraction is nonexistent. With each extravagant sushi dinner he pays for, I grow increasingly weary. It is only a matter of time before he asks for sex.

“You do not owe this man anything. You are giving him your time and attention. If he wants something more, he can pay for it,” I think to myself. I have become good at boosting my own ego; entitlement acts as a defense to a Daddy’s sly manipulation tactics. In other words, being a bitchy ass diva makes em’ get on their knees.

I am leaving the city on the weekend and it’s his last chance. As expected, he takes it. “So how about when we’re done here, we go cuddle in a hotel?” he asks while rubbing my thigh. The hesitance is clear on my face.

“Am I going to get paid? I ask.

We tumble into a messy discussion of what our relationship is; he hasn’t paid me yet and we both feel we are first and foremost friends. By the end of the discussion, we are both exasperated. He wants something that doesn’t feel superficial but I have a need for strong dialogue. Power dynamics are clearly in his favour once we’re alone in a hotel room, so I must know what to expect.

We agree on a price but when I come back from the bathroom, he says “I changed my mind. I don’t want you to think I’m not attracted you; I obviously am. I’m saying no to you now but yes to you in the long run. If we continue being friends, you’ll look back at this moment as one where I took advantage of you.”

His nobleness catches me off guard. At home, I ponder why that conversation was so difficult. This gig stresses open dialogue and business flows smoothly since intentions are made clear from the get-go. However, the night’s conversation feels misaligned; for all sugaring was worth, it seems that I had become accustomed to putting a price on myself. It was a prerequisite to action and kept my morale safeguarded. Such strict rules wouldn’t exist if I didn’t feel like I had something to lose. After mediating the risk, I conclude that it’s probably best I take a hiatus from sugaring.

Sugaring further solidified the truism that people aren’t comprised of absolutes. No Daddy was alike. Yes, I had my fair share of assholes but I also met peculiar geniuses, horny dads and kindred retail managers. Everyone needs a lil’ loving. A good chunk of them were the entitled type, having worked hard to become successful and now obsessed with having the best of everything, including women. Others simply had no time to pursue romantic interests, or were in open relationships, and one man even spent the entirety of our coffee date telling me how much he loved his wife of 20 years but couldn’t handle her abstinence anymore.

“Don’t you feel bad, taking advantage of a pitiful old man who is aching to cure his loneliness?” my friend asks as we drink wine while dinner is cooking.

I tell him that I do not. An arrangement is business. And these men excel in the business of seeing people as commodities. After all, in a capitalistic society, that’s what success often hinges on. But you can’t fuck with men like that without it staining your own ideologies. I have set new boundaries and next year, I will refrain from compromising myself for shitty people I would otherwise not give time of day if it wasn’t for the money involved. The mental effects creep up on you and that proved too steep a price to pay.

***

I feel an electric high, walking past the daycare on my street with a spring in my steps. I swing a wine bottle in my hand, tipsily singing along to my music, thinking about the lump of cash tucked into my pocket. At first, I thought I was basking in how easy it all was. Later, I realized these bursts of exaltations were power highs. This is what most men chase. This is fucking addictive.

Though I didn’t intend for this to be an overtly feminist piece, the one overarching theme in most of these escapades is power. Sugaring helped me understand the allure of power and its functionalities in relation to the patriarchy: the exchange, bargaining, and manipulation of it. As empowering as it is to let the sexual prowess roam free, real power shouldn’t be contingent on sex. Decision-making power, assumed competence, loyalty of followers and community respect—these are real types of power women all too familiarly lack in today’s world. Next year, I think I will shuffle up my game plan in search of the latter.

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