The email subject read “Sugar Baby Mixer,” the details of the invitation vague and syntactically challenged: on Wednesday night in Manhattan, a free-entry “mix and mingle event” promising “close to 20 beautiful Sugar baby [sic], females all ready to get to know you a little better.”
There would be drinks and “lite bites,” along with a “space for private one on one dates.” Location and time were disclosed at the bottom of the email.
Today’s “sugar baby” phenomenon is largely associated with SeekingArrangement.com, an unconventional dating site where wealthy men, “sugar daddies,” pay for sex and companionship with young women.
Brandon Wade launched the site in 2006 as a passion project: On traditional dating sites he was “outgamed by guys who had good looks or amazing bodies,” Wade told me in a 2013 interview, but he won out when it came to financial success.
Critics have smeared Seeking Arrangement as an online brothel that promotes antiquated male-female relationship dynamics (think Lorelei Lee’s sugar daddy boyfriend in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes).
But it also promotes itself as feminist, and many “babies” insist they’re the ones in control. Young women are increasingly using sugar daddy allowances to pay for college tuition, or spinning their sugar babydom into confessional book deals.
The invitation to Wednesday’s “Sugar Baby Mixer” was seemingly unaffiliated with Seeking Arrangement. When I arrived at the event at 8 p.m., an hour after it started, it seemed more like an awkward holiday office party than a seedy space for intimate, pay-for-play encounters.
Two teenage-looking bouncers ushered me inside a nondescript apartment, where a small group of women in strappy heels and bodycon dresses talked among themselves or with a stray “daddy.” (The women far outnumbered the men, which couldn’t be good for business.)
The room was large, dimly lit, and unfurnished but for several white couches, tall round tables, and a makeshift bar where the event’s organizer, Amanda (not her real name), made drinks and small talk with guests. It was agreed in an email exchange that I could come as a reporter under the condition that I not disclose the event’s location or guests’ full names.
“How’s your night going so far?” Amanda asked a broad-shouldered man in a suit, pouring vodka and cranberry juice into four thimble-sized plastic cups. He mumbled a response—“Long day. Figured I’d come in and relax”—and thumbed through a thick wad of $50 bills.
The suited man handed one drink to his schlubbier friend—“my boy Jay”—and the others to two potential sugar babies, then asked where they were from.
“The Bronx,” one replied cheerily, “I’m Puerto Rican.”
The other woman was from Ecuador.
“Where is that, exactly?” the suited man wondered aloud. Then: “I feel like I’m taking a geography quiz.”
Both women laughed generously at his bad jokes. Evidently, they’d seen the cash wad.
Conversation between the suited man and one of his new female friends continued like this for several minutes, at which point Amanda leaned over the bar and offered “the back room, if you want to sit down and talk more privately.”
They had another round of drinks before disappearing behind a black curtain.
Later, I learned one-on-one time in the back room was limited to 20 minutes, with a $100 entry fee.
‘If it Was Only About Sex They Would Just Look for Prostitutes’
Amanda, 25, made me one of her $16, thimble-sized cocktails (a Heineken was also $16) and explained that this was the second “Sugar Baby Mixer” she’d organized.
She frequently referred to the other women there as “models,” some of them experienced sugar babies with profiles on Seeking Arrangement.
Amanda claimed she makes most of her money running a “staffing company for underground events” like Wednesday night’s mixer. “I staff models for lapdance events too,” she said.
New York zoning regulations have long ago pushed strip clubs to the city’s industrial wastelands—and underground. Indeed, illicit underground activity like Amanda’s “lapdance events” and sugar baby mixers are hardly uncommon.
Asked about the transactional nature of sugar baby-sugar daddy relationships, Amanda said she couldn’t speak for others but was adamant she’d “never” had sex with one of her sugar daddies.
“I’ve always received gifts and money and I’ve never once had sex,” she said again, adding that plenty of sugar daddies are happy to pay for friendship and company. “I think if it was only about sex they would just look for prostitutes.”
She insisted she knew all of the models at Wednesday's mixer "personally." She'd worked with some through her staffing agency, she said, and others were friends.t
‘I Want the Daddy Without the Sugar’
Of the 15 women who attended the event, almost all of them seemed to know each other world. Some spent most of the night hanging out in groups or pairs rather than mingling with prospective daddies.
Only one woman sat on her own: Lexi, pretty and in her mid-twenties, with dark skin, long fake nails, and the kind of thick New York accent that you don’t often hear anymore.
She’d learned about the mixer on Craigslist while searching “nightlife jobs.” (She stressed that she had a day job, too, and had come to make extra cash.) Lexi had been to similar events in the past, she said, but hadn’t successfully nailed down a sugar daddy.
“You’ll meet people who say they’ll be your sugar daddy, they’ll pay for this and that and take you shopping, but then they flake,” she told me. She’s still working on setting up her Seeking Arrangement profile, she said, and hopes to have more success meeting a reliable sugar daddy through the site.
“I want the daddy without the sugar,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t want a boyfriend-girlfriend kind of relationship. I want an arrangement, an understanding.”
Later, Lexi had moved to the couch area and was massaging an Orthodox Jew’s chest and thighs. “He told me he had to go to synagogue at 9:45 and it was 9:20, so I told him he might as well leave,” she said at the end of the night. He gave her $60 for the chat and rub-down, but Lexi was disappointed.
Others maintained that it was easier to make connections at in-person events than on Seeking Arrangement.
“Some of the guys on Seeking Arrangement are just looking for a fuck buddy,” said Tatianna, an outgoing and attractive 36-year-old who described herself as a “serial entrepreneur.”
“I have a busy lifestyle and I want a relationship that’s financially lucrative, but there also needs to be chemistry,” she said of her sugar daddy expectations.
Tatianna had come to the event with a 21-year-old friend and mentee, who declined to give her name.
“She’s my very, very best friend and is teaching me about life,” the younger girl said of Tatianna, who explained that the two were in the same sorority. They met when Tatianna was invited to speak as an alumni to younger sorority sisters.
“She was like, ‘I feel lost,’” Tatianna recalled. “The problem is that all of our lives we’re asked, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ instead of ‘How do you want to live your life?’”
Tatianna has since taken the younger girl under her wing in a “private organization where our mentors are developing assets for us so we can retire in two years.”
She went on: “We believe in a movement called social entrepreneurism, which is the act of helping people become better people so they can pay it forward and help others too. It’s a huge network with businesses around the world.”
Tatianna also works part-time as a high school guidance counselor, she said, and declined to reveal more about the organization.
“I don’t want financial freedom for materialistic things,” the younger woman said. “I want to give my time to other people. I want to learn a lot of languages. And I can’t do that if I don’t have financial freedom.”
After graduating college, Tatianna felt like she could either work in finance and “make a ton of money but help no one” or go into social work and “be broke as hell but help people.”
She’s since become cynical about traditional careers. “The idea that you’ll be passionate about what you do for the rest of your life is a ridiculous concept.”
To these women, having a sugar daddy is a get-rich-quick scheme with a networking component. “It’s a social economy,” as Tatianna put it.
Here was a strong-willed woman who wanted financial independence more than anything else. Would she do anything a sugar daddy wanted in exchange for money? Would she indulge all of his sexual fantasies for cash?
Tatianna hesitated. She wants to be respected as an entrepreneur rather than objectified by other male entrepreneurs.
“But another part of me says, ‘Why waste my sexuality when I can use it to my advantage?’ At the same time, I have a moral compass. I can’t just be in it for the money. No amount of money is worth someone who isn’t worth my time. But if he puts a million dollars on the table, I might find the time, just because that comes with so many possibilities.”
Tatianna said she believes in god and sometimes wonders if the transactional relationships with her sugar daddies are “right.”
“Then I think, ‘Who determines what’s right or wrong?’ It can be a mind fuck,” she said.
Tatianna hopes to eventually meet someone with whom she can spend the rest of her life, and admitted pursuing sugar daddies might not be the best use of her time.
“I’m looking for someone who can be a good provider and a great friend,” she said. “Can I laugh with this person for the rest of my life? That’s a long time, so you better make sure it’s not just about the dick. A rich loser with a nine inch cock? Thanks but no thanks.”
‘All of Our Livelihoods Are at Risk’
I asked Amanda if the women who staff her events consider themselves sex workers.
“I don’t think they would label themselves like that, but society probably would,” she said. “When you think of a sex worker you think of someone who has their own webpage with sexy photos advertising sex for money.”
Models booked for Amanda’s events are forced to sign contracts vowing not to engage in sexual activity during the event.
“Some models will try to get away with it, but if they’re caught by me or anyone else they won’t be asked back,” she explained. It’s a precautionary standard to avoid cops busting them for prostitution charges. “We can’t have that happening. All of our livelihoods are at risk.”
Models can have sex with clients offsite “if they want to and if they like the person, but money isn’t necessarily attached to that,” she said, adding that men who attend her events are told not to solicit sex.
The next day, Amanda told me she made a little more than $1,000 from the Sugar Baby Mixer—less than she hoped. But one of the men who turned out “is a manager for several NFL players, so making that connection is more important than the money.”
Given how underwhelming the mixer was—small turnout; costly drinks; no “lite bites,” despite what the invitation promised, and an unsexy event space—I was surprised to learn that staffing underground events is a lucrative business for Amanda.
She does an average of three events per week, she said, and takes home roughly $1800 per event. That’s just shy of a $290,000 annual salary. Later in the week, Amanda would earn $10,000 staffing a private men’s party with female models on hand to strip or perform.
She promotes most of her events on social media and some websites, and sends out invitations to “guys my friends and I know from the nightlife scene,” she said.
Amanda has amassed a list of 400 people vetted through Seeking Arrangement, and occasionally purchases lists of names from other nightlife event staffers. “I know that some very private men won’t come to matchmaking events, so I keep them on separate lists.”
Amanda wasn’t trying to meet a sugar daddy on Wednesday night, but she’s been in a relationship with the same one for more than a year. There was a physical component in the beginning, she said, but now it’s more of a friendship.
I asked if she dated anyone else on the side.
“You don’t have to be exclusive with sugar daddies, but I only choose to share my body with one person at a time,” she replied.