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Sugar dating: 7 shady practices exposed

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Sugar dating: 7 shady practices exposed
April 15, 2024
Claude Taylor - LA Post

While frequently glamorized as an empowering lifestyle choice, the unvarnished reality of the "sugar dating" industry is one rife with exploitation, coercion, and undeniable ties to sex trafficking. Beneath the veil of marketing language promoting "mutually beneficial relationships," disturbing truths await - of young women being groomed into untenable power imbalances, sexual coercion normalized as par for the course, and undeniable links to the criminal underworld of sex trafficking. As discussions around this practice continue to percolate, it's critical to peel back the layers and look unflinchingly at the shadiest realities, no matter how unsavory. Here are seven of the most insidious practices to be aware of:

1. It's Essentially Prostitution Rebranded  

On its face, the very definition of a "sugar baby" - someone who receives cash, gifts, travel, tuition assistance, or other lavish financial benefits in exchange for companionship and intimate/sexual relations - is merely prostitution repackaged under a more palatable marketing rebrand. Contrast it directly with the dictionary definition of prostitution: "the practice or occupation of engaging in sexual activity with someone for payment." Strip away the obfuscating euphemistic terminology, and what's being sold are fundamentally transactional, promissory arrangements of short-term escort services.

2. The Power Dynamic Enables Exploitation

At their core, sugar dating websites like Seeking Arrangement are predatory operations explicitly targeting vulnerable populations like cash-strapped college students. They cynically dangle incentives like free premium memberships simply for signing up with a .edu email address. With student loan debt levels soaring into the tens of thousands on average, portraying sugaring as an empowering antidote to these immense financial burdens creates an insidious economic incentive for those already in desperate financial straits. This manufactured vulnerability and desperation, combined with the inherent power imbalance between a wealthy, typically far older "sugar daddy" benefactor and their younger companionship, cultivate conditions rife for grooming, coercion, and exploitation despite empty claims of being a"mutually beneficial" dynamic.  

3. Coercive Demands for Sex Acts Are the Norm

While the sugaring community disingenuously promotes these arrangements as upfront, no-strings-attached relationships without any explicit transactional expectations of sex, the live reality reported by former sugar babies tells a much uglier story. Frequently, "sugar daddies" methodically leveraged their promised financial support as leverage to coercively demand sexual favors on a consistent basis, quickly warping what was marketed as an empowering "pampering experience" into a "you owe me" situation utterly devoid of true consent. This routinely reproduces the same toxic power dynamics and modes of sexual coercion innate to prostitution.

4. Inextricable Links to Sex Trafficking  

According to insider firsthand accounts from former sugar babies like Megan Lundstrom, there is an extremely high prevalence of third-party traffickers or pimps being involved in sugaring arrangements, with little practical distinction between sugaring websites and now-defunct sexual exploitation platforms like Backpage from their perspective. For those being trafficked and exploited, all that matters is meeting the rigidly assigned quotas of money to be earned, regardless of the particular website or method used to procure clientele. This damning testimony underscores the inextricable, systemic links between sugaring and the criminal underbelly of sex trafficking.

5. Part of a Larger Interconnected Exploitation System

Extensive research across multiple studies reveals that the differing forms of sexual exploitation are deeply interconnected, reinforcing each other in a dangerous, self-perpetuating continuum. For example, sex buyers have been consistently proven to demonstrate significantly higher rates of pornography consumption. Additionally, increases in real-world rates of sexual harassment and sexual violence have been shown to directly correspond with increasing depictions and normalization of violence within mainstream pornography itself. The sugaring industry exists as one instrument perpetuating this troubling system where the varying modes of exploitation serve to amplify and perpetuate one another in a cyclical, ever-worsening fashion.

6. Severe Psychological and Mental Health Consequences

Beyond the deeply unethical power dynamics at play, there are serious psychological and mental health risks for those drawn into the sugaring industry, particularly the young students who are so actively targeted and groomed by these predatory operations. Financial desperation and profound economic vulnerability, compounded by imbalanced power arrangements, lack of true consent, contradictory messaging romanticizing the lifestyle, and the inherent transactional expectation of performing sexual acts, create psychological conditions rife for trauma, emotional distress, reinforcement of unhealthy coping mechanisms, disassociation, deterioration of self-worth, and increased rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse issues.  

7. Aggressive Grooming Tactics Aimed at Struggling Students

Perhaps most disturbingly, sugaring websites are transparently and aggressively marketing their services directly on college campuses across the nation, shamelessly glamorizing the sugar baby lifestyle while strategically capitalizing on the deeply intimate vulnerabilities faced by students during this tumultuous stage of life: insecurity, isolation, feeling adrift, difficulties securing jobs, dwindling mental health, and towering student debt sending them into financial destitution. By dangling the mirage of a moneyed, indulgent companion before those in their most impressionable and financially precarious years, these companies are able to coerce and methodically groom economically desperate individuals into these exploitative arrangements under the rebranded aesthetic of empowerment.

In unflinchingly exposing these shady practices of the sugar dating industry, the intent is not to apply an uninformed moralistic judgment but rather to pull back the veil on the coercive and exploitative realities that are so frequently obfuscated and minimized through corporate rhetoric about "consenting relationships." As a society, we have an obligation to engage in more candid dialogues about the harsh truths and far-reaching social consequences inherent to this predatory, commercialized form of sexual exploitation.

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