Giggles trickled around the table as a few of us huddled around my laptop. "Should I be called Busty Babe?" I joked. Everyone agreed it was one way of grabbing attention. In the end, I settled on the much more modest pseudonym of Melanie Green for my Seeking Arrangement profile, the website that arranges a "mutually beneficial relationship" between rich older men and younger women.A month on, however, my experiment turned out to be a lot less humorous than that initial sign up.
It all began when me and another student came across the statistics of people at our university signing up to the site. The University of Kent, where I study journalism, has the highest number of female 'sugar babies' in the country. Currently, there are 208 of my female colleagues that are members of the site, and thousands more across the country. I wanted to know why so many students were signing up to the site, hence why I adopted the persona of Melanie Green, an English Literature student living in Canterbury.
Men first started approaching me after around a week. The first man, Rob, claimed to have a private pilot's license, and used his annual income of £75,000 to fund his flying at weekends. He described how he saw his role as a 'sugar daddy' as a "part-sponsor, part-mentor, part-lover and of course a great friend". Take money out of the equation and the next sentence wouldn't have been as bad as I thought it to be. However, Rob saw me slotting into his life as a "friend with benefits", and it really made me think of how joining this site could put a lot of pressure on a young woman who is short of money.
It wasn't Rob that made me feel pressured, or think other young women like me could be pressured into a paid-for sexual relationship void of emotion, it was the volume of the same requests. Another guy called Jay had the same idea. He was "not seeking a relationship but just a very sweet and simple mutual beneficial friendship". He went on saying that this wasn't because he was "incapable" of having a girlfriend, just that he was "not interested in having any emotional relationship and neither [was he] interested in one night stands or paying an escort". In total, seven men contacted me across the month.
My issue with the site, however, isn't the men. I genuinely think they are career-orientated and don't have the time to engage with someone on an emotional level. The real issue is that students are clearly incapable of affording the massive hike in student fees and living costs, therefore are having to find ways of coming up with large sums of cash, fast.
Studying a degree implies the girls signing up to Seeking Arrangement have their own career prospects and don't want to rely on a man for money, let alone sleep with them for it, yet they are resorting to just that. In my eyes, it is not a coincidence that the number of students from the University of Kent becoming members has risen from 57 in 2012 to almost four times that after tuition fees rose by thousands of pounds that same year.
More needs to be done to help students who are unable to cope financially to prevent them resorting to such drastic measures. It is possible women are being forced into, what is essentially, the sex industry by their lack of money and ability to fund their education. In a leading economy such as ours, I find it difficult to digest that this is happening on such a large scale. This is not a faraway issue, it is affecting people in our classes, our halls, and our campus pub. Our friends and colleagues are suffering in a silence imposed upon them by a broken education system, and something needs to be done.
This is the end of Melanie Green and me. But for thousands of others, quitting their role as a 'sugar baby' may not be so simple.
Seeking Arrangement statement:
"We strive to create a high quality and safe environment for those looking to engage in the Sugar relationships through our website. To do this, we review each profile to try and vet new users. We encourage our users to use safe dating practices, just as they should for any other dating website or when dating through traditional means. We post guidelines and tips regularly on our blog. Using common sense such as, meeting in a public place when meeting for the first time, dating background verified members, etc. Our members take part in reporting any suspicious activity or individuals who might be using the site for the wrong reasons. We suspend any individuals that violate our user terms."
- Note from the author: I, myself, did not express my interest in or initiate a sexual relationship in any way during my time in the site, nor did I approach someone first.