A recent Huffington Post article on the phenomenon – although it is not at all clear if this is anecdotal or widespread – of college graduate women resorting to "sugar daddy" relationships to pay off student debt is making the rounds. I can't be certain of the author's intent, but the final product is offensive in ways she probably never intended.
Briefly, the article covers websites that connect older, wealthy individuals with young women (note: it mentions young men in passing as well) who are willing to provide "companionship" in exchange for "being taken care of" financially. If this sounds an awful lot like prostitution, I agree. And let me clarify one thing before everyone jumps all over me: I have no moral, legal, or ethical qualms with whatever consenting adults agree to do. If a young person is willing to provide an older person with "companionship" in exchange for money without either force or coercion being involved, then in my mind everyone is fully informed and participating willingly. Fine. If men or women, young or old, are comfortable entering into such an arrangement then that is their right and my feelings about it are irrelevant.
But here is the aspect of this story that bothers me. A lot.
"I'm honestly surprised there aren't more college students doing this," says Jennifer, not blinking. She's a 23-year-old recent graduate of Sarah Lawrence College.
Fed up with young, unemployed men her own age, Jennifer recently began trawling for a sugar daddy to pay down about $20,000 in student loan debt. She also wouldn't mind a clothing allowance or rent money for her studio apartment in New York's East Village.
A week ago, she boarded a plane to Florida to spend the weekend with a 30-something banker she met on SugarDaddie.com. He told her his house was undergoing a renovation and instead drove her to a nearby hotel, where they spent the night together…At the end of the weekend, the man handed her 10 crisp $100 bills. They next plan to rendezvous in Orlando in August.
Jennifer doesn't label what she's doing as prostitution. "I'm not a whore. Whores are paid by the hour, can have a high volume of clients in a given day, and it's based on money, not on who the individual actually is. There's no feeling involved and the entire interaction revolves around a sexual act," says Jennifer, who wears a $300 strapless dress purchased with money from her most recent conquest. The rest of the money, she says, went towards paying down her student loans.
"My situation is different in a number of different ways. First of all, I don't engage with a high volume of people, instead choosing one or two men I actually like spending time with and have decided to develop a friendship with them. And while sex is involved, the focus is on providing friendship. It's not only about getting paid."
To most of today's undergraduates, this is the biggest benefit of a liberal arts education: learning how to intellectualize their own life choices in a way that belittles others and enforces class barriers. Again, in my mind there is nothing wrong with "Jennifer" or her choices. These are willing adults. But I subscribe to the Call a Spade a Spade school of logic. Jennifer, you are fucking someone in exchange for money. That is called prostitution. Deal with it.
Instead of looking into the mirror and saying "OK, this is the choice I made," we see the wheels of a six-figure private school education turning in her head. People who go to Sarah Lawrence and meet rich men on websites aren't whores – whores are poor people! Brown people! Whores are people who live in ghettos and bang guys for $20 or some rock. I'm certainly not one of them! Look at my expensive lifestyle. Look at how effectively I can segregate us into clearly defined groups. I am a good person. They are not.
If the only way you can defend or feel good about what you're doing with your life is to demean or denigrate people of a lower social class in order to elevate yourself, there is an excellent chance that you're trying to placate yourself as much as you are trying to convince others. Oh, and as a general rule, much like the phrase "I'm not a racist, but…" is used exclusively by racists, anyone who feels compelled to explain why "I'm not a whore" is probably exactly that. Lobbyists, take note.