The middle-class women who charge for sex
Published 16/10/2010 | 05:00
Like many women, Lisa is looking for her perfect match online. But right now that means meeting a man who is willing to pay for the privilege of her company.
The 25-year-old, who describes herself as from an "upper middle-class background", has two parents in high-income jobs with a nice house in a leafy suburb.
She is a student with a part-time job -- but is also signed up as a 'sugar baby' who dates and has sex with wealthier, older men in exchange for financial help and gifts.
When the news broke that Wayne Rooney had been caught having a threesome with two privately educated middle-class girls, the public's shock wasn't directed at the fact that the footballer had been caught with his pants down, but that the two girls were from well-to-do backgrounds and had been offered every privilege in life.
The parents of 21-year-old Jennifer Thompson, or Juicy Jen as she now goes by, were so horrified by their daughter's antics that her PA mum and oil executive dad issued an apology to the Rooney family. Helen Wood's mum and dad, a primary school teacher and university lecturer, were similarly appalled.
But the tawdry world of selling sex as a means of income is one an increasing number of middle-class women are choosing to dabble in. And, with the latest figures predicting that the average student will graduate with a debt of around €22,271, it's little wonder that undergraduates are considering extreme measures to subsidise their university costs.
"I had extreme money problems when I signed up to sugar daddy dating and these have definitely been lessened," says Lisa. "Meeting my sugar daddy once a week amounts to about €1,000 a month. I've been offered both more and less than that, but money is not the sole issue in the arrangement."
Lisa, who lists her interests as good wine, good food and nights at the theatre and opera, is one of 1,100 women in Ireland signed up to SeekingArrangement.com, the world's number one sugar dating website and brainchild of Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate Brandon Wade.
The entrepreneur, who launched the site in 2006, is also the founder of SeekingMillionaire.com and SeekingFantasy.com. He says: "I knew people who quietly lived the sugar lifestyle. I suspected there were a lot more out there who fantasised or thought seriously about forming such attachments but had no idea how to begin or where to find partners."
The premise of sugar daddy dating is simple. A sugar baby offers her company, and usually sex, in return for gifts or financial support from a wealthy, older man. On Wade's site, men pay a monthly subscription of around €30 to meet potential sugar babies who advertise their availability for free.
Wade explains: "The majority of Irish sugar babies are in their 20s and looking for sugar daddies to help them fund their studies. Most sugar daddies are generally in the upper middle-class income bracket. They're white-collar workaholics looking for the fun they're not getting outside the office."
It all sounds a bit like harmless fun, where everyone knows exactly where they stand, but the fact is that 50 per cent of the men using the site are married and the vast majority of arrangements involve sex as part of the financial arrangement.
"I would say sex is involved about 99 per cent of the time," says Lisa, who admits that she signed on to the site because of 'severe money problems' but she insists that there's nothing sinister about sleeping with dates who pay.
"In a normal relationship, sex is expected anyway, so it's not a huge issue for me.
"I would usually have met the sugar daddy quite a few times before an arrangement is reached so I probably wait longer for sex than I would in a normal relationship.
"There are things I'd feel uncomfortable doing, but these would all be discussed before meeting to ensure compatibility."
Despite the tricky stigma of money being exchanged for sex, Wade is adamant that SeekingArrangement is a bona fide dating site and that not all arrangements involve sex or financial exchange.
"When people hear about sugar arrangements, they invariably jump to the conclusion that it's prostitution -- an utterly false assumption.
"Prostitution is offering your body for a specific period of time for a specific amount of cash. In a sugar arrangement two people negotiate terms of agreement -- some about sex, some about money and some about any number of issues. There's much more than sex to a sugar daddy and baby relationship."
Put words or phrases such as tuition, tuition help or tuition grant into Google, and chances are an ad will pop up for SeekingArrangement.com or a similar site.
Mary, 21, comes from Co Mayo. Her dad is a successful businessman and her family live in a generous detached house.
The first-year student was searching online for an answer to her spiralling student debt when an ad popped up for a strip club in the UK town where she was studying. "I was £1,500 (€1,700) in debt, which might not sound like much, but I was terrified my parents would find out," she says. "The lap dancing club was hiring and I couldn't find anything else. I panicked and went for it."
Mary started stripping regularly, earning more than £200 (€227) a night but handing over £70 (€80) in commission to the club. "A three-minute dance was a tenner, then longer private dances would be more and lesbian shows were loads of money. There was a lot of money in it," she explains.
"There were plenty of times when I was told I could earn so much if I had sex with them for an hour -- I was offered £1,000 (€1,137) -- and I thought about it. But the idea made me sick."
And making money soon came at an emotional cost. "I felt worthless and very low," says Mary. "I found I was spending more than I was earning some nights because I was drinking so much in the club.
"I hated myself and was terrified people would find out and think that I liked to get naked and tease boys. I hated it and it wasn't worth it; I quit after five months."
But in a world where sex is used to sell everything from bottled water -- think Dita Von Teese drenched in Evian -- to crisps and deodorant, is it such a surprise that more intelligent, young women are buying into the notion that sex is currency?
Billie Piper's portrayal of Belle du Jour in ITV2's Secret Diary of a Call Girl reeled in 1.9 million viewers but was lampooned by critics for glamourising prostitution.
Her role, based on the 2003 blog of the real-life London call girl was defended by Piper, who insisted: "We've only been exposed to the drug-fuelled sex-traffic side, but the fact is that there are middle-class, cultured, well-read women who do this job."
But Gerardine Rowley from Ruhama, a Dublin-based organisation that works with women affected by prostitution and the sex trade, warns strongly against viewing the sex industry though rose-tinted glasses.
"I don't agree with terms like 'high class' because they mask the reality that it is prostitution. Likewise with this trend of sugar babies, which is something that is news to me, it sounds like a dangerous slippery slope."
She explains: "If someone is entering into a situation of selling sexual services for money or benefits, then that is prostitution. It may be seen as more covert or subtle or both parties may be under the delusion that it's not prostitution, but it is hugely harmful and could be the first step towards standing on the street.
"Many women enter the sex industry thinking it will be short term only to find themselves trapped. It's a huge worry that young girls think they can enter into a business-like agreement of selling sex for money and come out unscathed.
"After working with women involved in the sex trade for many years, I don't think there's anyone who comes out without some form of psychological or physical damage."
Anyone who has been affected by prostitution can contact Ruhama through www.ruhama.ie.