To help offset the rising cost of university, students both on campus and across Canada have taken to a modern twist on an old-fashioned arrangement.
‘Sugaring’ — as it’s come to be known — is defined as the practice of one person financially supporting another in exchange for companionship. Here, ‘companionship’ can range anywhere from time spent talking to dominatrix-like services.
For hundreds of thousands of Canadian students, this isn’t just an abstract concept, it’s their saving grace. Over 200,000 Canadian university students use the Seeking Arrangement service as their golden ticket to graduation. Globally, more than one million students signed up for the service in 2016.
‘Sugar Baby University Canada’ is Seeking Arrangement’s tailored web page for Canadian students seeking relief from crippling student debt. The welcome page of their website features a ‘debt-clock’ as a banner, hanging as the numbers slowly creep upwards.
The current total student debt amount in Canada? $16,658,861,051.
According to Statistics Canada, university students today pay 40 per cent more on average in overall tuition fees than students did in 2007. The average price of tuition in 2016-17 was $6,373 — a three per cent increase from the previous year. Last year, the Canadian University Consortium surveyed 18,000 students across 36 universities in Canada and found that the average graduate owed $26,819 in provincial and federal loans.
For students in this situation, sugaring is an increasingly popular option. Seeking Arrangement currently has 6 million worldwide users, most of which are located in the United States. Of the 631,678 Canadians are currently signed up for Seeking Arrangement — 65 per cent are female ‘sugar babies’, 15 per cent are male ‘sugar babies, 29 per cent are ‘sugar daddies’ and just one per cent are ‘sugar mommies’.
In 2016 alone, Queen’s had 86 new sign ups. This placed them in ninth place amongst Canadian universities, 52 behind the top ranked University of Alberta.
For Sarah* — a current student at Queen’s — joining Seeking Arrangement was an escape from the realities of her impending graduation. “I was at this quintessential transition period in your life where you finish undergrad and you think: is this it? Now what?,” she told The Journal.
During her time on the site, Sarah was offered a wide range of companionship offers that she turned down. These included $5000/month to meet up in a hotel room for weekly blowjobs, an $80,000 salary to marry an immigrant from China, move to Vancouver and bear his children (for $2-million a head), as well as $50 to film a five-minute video of her squashing baby micewith her feet.
On the other end of the spectrum, Sarah said she also experienced meaningful relationships with some of the men on the site.
“It’s been tough because there have been times when I wanted to talk to someone about how I was feeling about a relationship but I couldn’t. I legitimately haven’t told anyone,” Sarah said, “That part is isolating. I would never tell my friends and family.”
The feelings of isolation and lack of control are growing concerns when considering this newly-evolved line or work. While many users are simply on the site for enjoyment or out of curiosity — Seeking Arrangement offers students free premium memberships — many young users are left without other options for paying their tuition.
Meghan* joined Seeking Arrangement after one of her friends told her about being put up in hotels by sugar daddies when she visited Toronto. “She would get in touch with one of those guys. You don’t really have to do anything with them, but they would just set her up in a hotel, so it would make sense.”
Meghan’s experience going on dates never went beyond dinner and gifts: “Basically guys will get in touch with you and tell you what they’re looking for and you can just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I’ve been on a dinner date [and been paid] for my time.” The range of payment for the companionship varies greatly between arrangements but in Meghan’s case, $200-$400 was the standard for a few hours.
While many students have direct tuition payment arrangements with their partners, others like Meghan consider the benefits of sugaring to be more along the lines of instant gratification and extra spending money.
Highlighting the true range of diverse arrangements that Seeking Arrangement has facilitated, Meghan added, “But I mean, I know some girls who make a living off of [Seeking Arrangement]. You could get on [Seeking Arrangement] and go on a date that day.”
Seeking Arrangement is technically classified as just another dating service. “The reason we’re unique is that we let people chose how much time and money they want to invest in a relationship before” Brook Ulrick, a Seeking Arrangement spokesperson, told The Journal.
According to Ulrick, the average allowance paid to ‘sugar babies’ is around $2,500 per month which can include tuition, vacations, bills or other gifts.
The benefits that have drawn the millions of worldwide Seeking Arrangement users don’t end at having their bills and tuition paid. According to Ulrick, a common desire among students is to develop connections with mentors and older professionals.
“I would say most of the sugar babies on the site are looking to get ahead in life,” he said. “I was just talking to one sugar baby who did an interview here on the radio and she was saying the only way she got into the program she got into — pre-med — was because her sugar daddy was a professor and he helped her get that spot.”
Although it might seem like a new trend that has started in the 21st century, it’s not a new phenomenon.
“Students have been doing sex work as a way to support themselves through college for generations,” Samantha King, Head of the Gender Studies department said via e-mail with The Journal.
“My concern is that attending university in Canada is increasingly expensive, forcing many students to work long hours in a variety of paid jobs and still graduate with mountains of debt.”
Sex work is widely known as the “world’s oldest profession,” and with that (like any other job) comes the possibility of violence, discrimination and health and safety risks.
“For students doing sex work, control over the conditions of their work and freedom from [risks] are key to their health and safety,” King said.
*The names of the two female students have been changed in this story to protect their identities.
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