How Sugar Daddies Talk

Tom Abadie and Francesco Morelli explore the outlandish interactions with older men who don’t hold back

Online exchanges can be crude. Normal social-media interactions between users often get out of hand quickly. When a sexual component shapes the conversation, things might get nasty.  Boundaries start to loosen up. Moral inhibitions blur out.

“Sodomy, do you practice?”. This rather blunt question came up very early in one of our chats on SugarDaddyFrance, a website where older and supposedly wealthy men look for young girls they can spend time with. The business model is simple: a girl offers favours in different ways and a man pays for them in accordance. Most of the arrangements are not legally binding and are agreed upon privately. Favours range from platonic companionship to emotional investment and sexual intercourse. Meanwhile, men offer liquid cash, online transactions and luxurious gifts or experiences in exchange.

“Sodomy, do you practice?”

We talked to a small sample of these men online. Under an alias, that is. Originally, our intent was to understand why so many girls around the world are currently resorting to this form of sex work. However, the more we talked to these men, the more the nature of the interactions captured our attention. Even without provoking them, many of the messages that older gentlemen sent to us were, at the very least, peculiar.

But first, how did we manage to talk to them? Before landing on the French website, we tried signing up to 5 other more popular platforms. However, their moderately sophisticated security measures were trickier to bypass, and we ended up either getting suspended from them or refused entrance.

When signing up to SugarDaddyFrance, we went undercover as Francesca Tomlinson, a 22-year-old Parisian university student. We made up a basic backstory and downloaded three free stock pictures from an online provider. Out of those, we only used one for the website. Then we let the talking start: we consistently exchanged messages with 5 men. Some of them we contacted first, others wasted no time in getting in touch.

The first outrageous questions and statements did not take long to arrive at all. Messages along the lines of “do you like being dominated?” were seamlessly thrown in our direction. They were fully trusting a single picture with a short description. Two of them were hungry for more pictures, so they gave us their email address and their private phone number right away, with more accounts directly connected, such as LinkedIn. They also sent us unsolicited pictures of their own. It would have been incredibly easy for us to gather information about their whole lives within minutes.

“The online world lowers people’s perception of danger”

“The online world lowers people’s perception of danger”, explains Dr. Marco Inghilleri. He is a psychologist, sexologist and vice-president of the Italian Association for Sexologists and Sexual Education. Alongside this false sense of safety, he believes that in the minds of these men, sharing personal information helps them develop trust with their counterparts. This is often far from being true. Above all, Dr. Inghilleri says that these men see their interlocutor (a young girl, in our case) as a “projection of their own fantasy”.

This is why they showed no interest in keeping any degree of personal prudishness or conversational décor when elaborating on said desires. They were all very quick to explicitly outline their sexual preferences and fantasies, which often followed the plot of a poorly-produced pornographic movie.

For instance, one of our not-so-lucky men, a 65-year-old called Christophe*, demanded that we go to a formal work dinner in a fancy restaurant, with no underwear whatsoever. Regarding the rest of the attire, he wrote several paragraphs detailing how, in his imagination, we should have looked, down to the socks. Then, things got a bit darker. Christophe* wanted to “spice up our relationship” by using roleplay outfits. One of the two mentioned was “the little school girl”.

Another gentleman did not care as much about clothing, but he was rather interested in giving us a clear picture of his past sexual adventures. Among the recounts, he was very proud to admit that he was once given a handjob while sitting “on a train full of people”. He was far from being the only one to share their sexual history, in a debatable attempt to arouse ‘Francesca’.

Just when we thought we had seen it all, a man named Paul* put forward an idea he had in mind for us. In the middle of a conversation, he abruptly explained a whole new venture he wanted to explore. “Would you be ready to be taken by a perfect stranger that I would present to you?” The concept of cucking is certainly becoming more common, but the abrupt nature of his message was at the very least surprising. He developed further, by asking whether we could go to a sex club, where he could watch us engaging in intercourse with other men.

“You like being dominated, but you have never been attached?? Would you be ready to be taken by a perfect stranger that I would present to you?”

In the meantime, the men did not hold back on pressuring us into fulfilling their wishes. While talking to Pablo*, messages escalated quickly. It took him just 4 messages to go from “I’m looking for hugs” to “can you send me some pictures?” and finally say “I want nudes or lingerie pics”.

In our scenario, all these kinds of behaviour can be explained in a couple of ways. “In our current society, states Dr. Inghilleri, human beings are subjected to reification. We are raised within neo-liberalism; we are raised to consume”. If sugar babies see sugar daddies as nothing more than a jackpot hit, the men see the girls as nothing more than real dolls. The psychologist says that when the relationship is transactional, there is no emotion at play and therefore no empathy. When empathy is taken out of the picture, there is also no moral or ethical code to abide by.

“Aggression, Dr. Inghilleri continues, comes from a client who is not satisfied by the service he’s provided with, as it doesn’t immediately match their expectations”. The ‘other’ therefore becomes a product that deserves no respect. The clinician also discusses power: the online environment gives man a taste of power and, with that, a sense of wellbeing.

Rosie Mason

How do actual sugar babies experience all of this? We talked to two of them. The first one is Rosie Mason, an Australian 23-year-old from Brisbane. She does not have the highest opinion of ‘sugaring’, in her words it is “the worst kind of sex work”. From a business perspective, the time invested and the emotional labour that goes into the chats is far less profitable than other forms of sex work. She adds that “the chats online are the worst”.

Over the years she learnt to keep things short. In the space of five messages, she either starts setting up an agreement or drops the client. By being this straightforward, she cuts to the chase. When she was properly active as a sugar baby, there was no other way to operate, as she was receiving over 200 texts per day.

On sugaring websites, like the one we signed up to, there is a very specific demographic, Rosie says. “There are a lot of people from lower socio-economic jobs, with no disposable income, who have no conception of what the real fares look like”, she explains. According to her, wealthier men are more drawn to higher-end escorts, as they have a clearer picture of the price and they can afford it. Rosie describes this last set of men as a way different type from the ones we’ve talked about until now. They cherish her, they are respectful, they sometimes want an ongoing relationship. 

Dash Preistley

But there are different approaches to sugaring and sex work is not the only one. Dash Preistley is a 25-year-old former sugar baby and now dating coach from Atlanta, USA. She doesn’t engage in sexual activity with any of her clients and has a completely different outlook on the messaging part. “Before I meet someone, I spend at least two weeks getting to know the person”. She wants to understand what these men are like on a personal level. During these exchanges, she feels that a lot of men come out as deeply pretentious. “Most of them think they’re entitled to you just because they’ve got money” she explains.

Sometimes, they also get aggressive when a girl asks too many questions. For them, as a sugar baby you are “just a flex piece who goes out to be shown off”, she says. That’s why she believes in the importance of building connections and getting to know the person, even from a safety perspective. In that sense, Dash recommends that red flags, such as strange or out of line requests, are not to be ignored. So much so, that just like in Rosie’s case, one misstep from a man is enough to kill any possible arrangement.

Additionally, while apps like Tik Tok and Instagram seem to portray sugaring as quick and easy money, Dash believes the connection between clients is crucial in this business. You cannot simply ask any stranger to pay upwards of 7,000 euros a month without giving anything in return. “Sugar baby world is a transactional world, but to be successful you have to build connections with these people”. They will not necessarily ask for sexual favours in return, but they will at least require somewhat of a conversation to know who they are ‘investing in’. “How do they know you will not stop talking to them as soon as they give you the money”, she adds when talking about sugar daddies.

No matter the approach, however, sugaring is one of the many underworlds that allow people to express themselves and interact in ways that do not belong to the normal sphere of conversation. Clearly, most individuals feel that they can overstep the boundaries of decency and politeness, while others might show a bit of consideration. From what we’ve seen, this business doesn’t look that glamourous.

*All names followed by an asterisk were changed for confidentiality reasons.

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