What’s The Difference Between Having A Sugar Daddy & Prostitution?

This weekend’s New York Times Sunday Magazine had a lengthy feature on SeekingArrangements.com, an online dating site which matches affluent men (or at least men willing to shill out what money they have) with women who are willing to trade companionship and often sex in exchange for money, gifts, and other perks. Half of these sugar daddies are married, while the vast majority of the sugar babies are in their ’20s. The best news of all for these guys? Sugar babies outnumber sugar daddies 10 to 1. Brandon Wade, Seeking Arrangement’s 38-year-old founder and chief executive, says, “We stress that these relationships are mutually beneficial. We ask people to really think about what they want in a relationship and what they have to offer. That kind of upfront honesty is a good basis for any relationship.”

Some of these men — especially those shopping for women half their age — are digging deep into their pockets to pay for an illusion: that despite their receding hairlines and wattled skin, they’re still enchanting enough to charm pretty young women…. Men may use money as a way to buy themselves out of the normal obligations of romance, like accommodating a woman’s emotional needs as much as their own. But despite the power and security that the money buys, it can also undercut the very ego it’s intended to boost.

In those cases where sex occurs between the daddy and baby, some of the women say that an attraction is necessary, while others are quick to ‘fess up that if not for the lavish gifts and money, the relationship wouldn’t exist. “It would be nice not to have the money involved,” says B.K., one of the sugar daddies interviewed for the story. “You always wonder: would she still want to be with me even without the money? Does the money make me more attractive than I really am?”

Certainly, while most of these relationships start off rather businesslike, the story does illustrate that some of them do evolve so that they are emotionally beneficial as well, with daddies and babies sharing a mutual interest in movies and literature, travel and culture, much like any other romantic relationship. And some definitely don’t involve sex — one woman in the story was sent a hefty allowance from her sugar daddy in exchange for getting good grades.

But a large majority of the relationships are sexual and would not exist if money wasn’t being exchanged. So how is having sex with a man who pays for your school tuition, car payments, or designer bag different than run-of-the-mill hookering? Apparently, this is a hot debate topic on the site’s message boards, but the transactions made through SeekingArrangements.com are totally legal.

Most go to considerable effort to distinguish between “sugar” and prostitution. (Legally, at least, they are right; since the 1970s, courts have ruled that as long as the woman is paid for some service besides sex — housecleaning, companionship — the arrangement is not the equivalent of prostitution.) They say being a sugar baby is no more an occupation than dating is, especially when the goal of dating is to find a rich boyfriend or a wealthy husband.

So, wait a second. If I had sex with a dude for $1,000 and then dusted his knickknacks and watered his plants afterward, that wouldn’t be prostitution? How have sex workers not taken advantage of this little loophole?