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The H-Word: "The Pricetag is High."

portion of a white woman's face close to the camera. she is eating a sucker.The H-Word presents first person experiences from sex workers across the country. Here, Liv compares her job as a sugar baby to her perceptions of other forms of sex work.

I go by Liv and I'm 33.  I live in Texas and I'm a college graduate.

I got started sugar daddy dating a couple years ago. I was running a business and the stress and the hours were killing me. In addition to working all the time, I was also a new and single mom. I remember one day, sitting and wondering out loud, "Wouldn't it be so much easier to just have sex for a living... without getting arrested??" and this gal I worked with was saying "you can, I just saw it on a talk show. It's called sugar daddy dating." I googled it and the rest is history.

A sugar daddy relationship is traditionally an arrangement between an older wealthy gentleman and a younger woman who needs help financially or even a job or mentorship. However, a lot of my potential clients were actually younger than I am! I think in our culture, a lot of guys go through school, get a good job or start their own company and then all of a sudden they realize they're lonely. They're wealthy but very busy working and also often without social skills or the confidence to ask women out in the traditional way. Every sd relationship is going to be different, with different levels of connection and different boundaries. I consider it to be sex work as almost all guys seeking this type of arrangement expect intimacy in the deal. It's different because you actually get to know the person and become part of their life, even if you only see them once a week or once a month. There's also a level of caring that occurs when you have a regular thing with someone—I've also noticed a lot of guys are kinda hardwired to want to take care of a female. It's usually not a pay-as-you-go arrangement here. I had one client who was very busy traveling with work who I didn't see for a month and he was actually stressing about getting my monthly allowance to me. It was sweet that he cared so much!

I meet my clients online through sugar daddy websites. I try to get as much of my criteria out of the way as I can through emails, and you can start to get a feel for the person that way too. It's important to always meet first in person in public before you begin an intimate arrangement. My shortest arrangement lasted three weeks; we just didn't click. My longest was for over a year. I still talk to two old sds, even though our arrangements ended. I consider them friends.

This type of sex work feels safer to me. I'm able to control the situation better and there's a level of caring there which I don't think exists in many other types of sex work. It's interesting though, there's a line you walk where you want to keep it business and not get too attached, but at the same time you want them to care enough to respect you and so that you do not get hurt. And because it is sex, the pricetag is high. It is very lucrative.

Sd relationships are different from every other kind of relationship I've ever had. I've never been able to '"et go" and really relax with a sd. There's always a part of my brain where I know I'm being paid for this hour and I want to give them what they are looking for and keep them coming back. I do however feel a gratitude towards these men that I've never felt in other relationships.  

The risks in this line of work are the same as anyone who has sex for a living. You can never be sure that someone isn't a serial killer/rapist/psychopath but you help your odds if you use your intuition, screen as much as you can, let them know who's boss, and never act in desperation. I've walked away twice after meeting someone... something just wasn't right. I trust my gut. Emotionally, it can scar you. Some of my clients have been married. I don't think I could ever get married now—I just wouldn't trust them.

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Comments

14 comments have been made. Post a comment.

I did this.

I did this. Several times.
I was young though. 19, 20, 21.
I found that the men typically treated me like I would expect them to treat any other prostitute. Without much regard to my feelings or situation... They often said hurtful things. Made fun of me for things like my body or the things I owned.
Many of them were looking for a relationship like that, because they were incapable of maintaining a relationship in which the women wasn't motivated by money.
They would also quibble over cash and try to get a 'deal.' Which, I found offensive. Sometimes, they would even straight up lie to you about what they might give you.
I once had a man offer me an amount for 'gas' (because I was coming from a distance). It was higher than you might expect to give someone for gas, much higher. But, that was the agreement. I dedicated several hours of my time, energy and resources to coming to his workplace to give him a blowjob (he was a doctor in an ER). The next time he called me, he cited the last amount of money he had given me, like it had been a balloon payment for my services. Because, apparently blowjobs delivered to your workplace whenever you want are only worth a few hundred dollars.
I'm glad this woman has had just a good experience, overall. But, in my own experience, these men are just looking for a cleaner, cheaper hooker - And, they take advantage of women that are young or struggling financially to get that.

When I was doing the Craigslist thing

When I was doing the Craigslist thing I had a couple guys who claimed they were looking for a "sugar daddy" situation. I saw these guys once, and never again (they never called or emailed after the first encounter). Had I been counting on something more than a one-time deal, I might've been very hurt/disappointed. I actually preferred meeting new people-- seeing the same guy more than once or twice became a sort of work I was less interested in doing.

DEAR SUGAR at The Rumpus.net gives some really solid advice to one potential sugar baby: http://therumpus.net/2011/01/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-62/. If I could offer some advice, I'd say that if you're willing to become a sugar baby, be prepared to be called/treated like a prostitute-- just like any other prostitute, possibly but not necessarily cleaner or cheaper than any other hooker. Otherwise, it's like working at TGIFridays and hating on the gang over at Applebees because they've got 10 cent wings and your uniform's cotton instead of polyester. At the end of the day, we're all waitstaff.

Disagree, but respect your choice

As a feminist, I try not to be judgmental towards other women's choices. I fight for the right to choose as often as I can, but more liberal feminists would call me a "prude." I don't support selling one's body, especially a female. When you sell your body, you become a commodity. Possibly a prized one, but a commodity nonetheless.

I would rather work long hours and respect myself and my partner, rather than be bought by men. If your job was stressing you out, why didn't you try another and live more humbly? Your world doesn't have to be materialistic if you don't want it to be.

It is your opinion and choice, however, and thank you for sharing something so personal.

Clarification

I think this was covered earlier-- the misconception that sex workers sell themselves. As I understood it (and correct me if I'm wrong), they sell sex.  It's a service, not a good. Right? 

Exactly! I keep hoping if

Exactly! I keep hoping if this point is reiterated enough times it will stick. Wishful thinking? Sex IS a commodity (at least in this circumstance). The body/self is not. Please recognize the difference.

Right. And it is a very

Right. And it is a very interesting dynamics:
You usually see sex workers constructing their work as selling a service while maintaining full agency over their own selves.

And then you have outsiders imposing the "you are selling yourself" narrative on them. The only situations I've seen where people involved use the same language come from victims of trafficking or survival sex.

It's also ironic that upon graduating with my Bachelors, when given advice for resume writing and interviews for the corporate world, I was explicitly told to approach it as selling myself.

I found myself in a sugar

I found myself in a sugar daddy type situation a few years ago. I really disliked the men I spent time with, but I would grit my teeth and bear it. I was never too sexual with them, when things did happen I found it very unpleasant. Knowing that money would be coming my way made it easier though. During conversation I would think to myself, if you weren't giving me there's no way in hell I'd be here, speaking to you right now. It made me realize that if a man has to pay someone for sex/attention/whatever they probably aren't that great of a person. Obviously it wasn't a good fit for me, and I quit. One day a while afterwards, I saw one of the sugar daddies at the clothing store I worked at. He was taking a young girl shopping. At first I wished that I could be taken shopping rather than working a shitty job, then I thought about what she would have to do for those clothes. I knew it wasn't worth it. Quitting also helped my relationship a lot.

if a man has to pay someone...

"It made me realize that if a man has to pay someone for sex/attention/whatever they probably aren't that great of a person."

Many men pay for intimacy or other social interaction with a woman because it is the only way they can actually have any type of relationship with a woman. Dating today is only for women and men who are rich and/or "hot" according to the media. If a man is not either, then he has virtually no chance of finding a woman to spend time with him. Sure there are times he may be able to convince a woman to date him once, or even to become a girlfriend, but those are few and far in between.

I know many great guys, many would take a bullet for a friend, many are honest, trustworthy, funny, caring, imaginative, educated, sensible, etc. But they can't get a woman to date them more than once, ever. Most women just want the guy who is "hot" no matter what personality deficiencies they may have. They will jump from "hot" guy to "hot" guy all the while saying that men are bad because they never stay with her.

I honestly believe that if women were to allow normal men into their lives and not have such astronomically high standards then there would be virtually no need for sex workers or the issues that come with that type of work.

you can call it what you want, it's still hooking

As one of the comments remarks that she was happy to know this young sugar-baby had good experiences, I find that not to be so true, well maybe she did if she was in control of the game. And it is a game at that. Young or older as a female you have too: 1st) have a hot body and face to sell, 2nd) not take any shit from these morons, 3rd) realize you got what they want, 4th) never settle for less than your asking price, 5th) watch out for cheap asshole, they will always try to pay less, because its really boils down to, having you for free, never be emotional or show you care about who they are, don't get person it will only get you into trouble, hooking is hooking call what you want, but if it gets what you need for the time you need it, more power to you. This kind of work will only last so long anyway, always have a back up plan, because it can become very un fulfilling. As for the woman who is the feminist that made comments. I don't disagree with you entirely, however even in a traditional relationship the woman is always giving more than what she gets and is that considered sell your self short?

Women don't need men but it would be nice to have a genuine man, if you can find one and even when you do, you still have to watch him and never trust or allow him to control your life, men are weak and stupid when it comes to our needs and yet only consider their own first. This is one reason many women don't want traditional relationships and prefer to be hookers. As for the young woman who commented on those men talk down to you, don't every be afraid to tell a Jon to the fuck out or fuck off and kick him in the head. There are plenty of Jon's out there that will treat there working girls right, because they feel compelled and obligated you just need to find the right ones.

This sounds like what she did interview talk to them and see if they are worth investing, because nobody needs to waste there time. You call the shots not the man. He's lucky your utilizing your time to interview him. You have to display this kind of mentality to be in control of the situation, not the him.

Just a note...

Gender essentialism does us all harm.

Remember the lesson about the master's tools...

Another Note...

Just a note...

As a graduate student in sociology and women's studies, I appreciate your comment. However, something I find continuously frustrating is the kind of class divide that becomes more and more evident as dialogue surrounding sex work becomes more and more mainstream. Again, of course I agree that gender essentialism does us all harm, but no one--save for privileged intellectuals (including self-taught scholars interested in gender specifically)-- are going to have any idea what that means.

I point this out, not to be an asshole, but because, from what I can tell, the woman you respond to seems to have experience in the sex industry. As an academic and sex worker myself, I can tell you that the vernacular of academics is highly inaccessible to the very people whose lives are affected most by these dialogues. I only bring this up because I think so many of us forget that there are, in my humble opinion, two levels of discussion happening when we talk about sex work; two levels that seem to get conflated to the detriment of the movement. First, there is the level of gender theory, which is what you allude to. Yes it's important to deconstruct language, specifically as it relates to gendered interactions. But at another level, we are talking about the very real, material experiences of people in a world where the very real consequences of gender binaries shapes lives.

I guess, essentially, I get frustrated when academics/intellectuals critique others who don't speak their language when, in fact, the language we should all be speaking is that of the population being discussed. Again, that is not to say sex workers don't speak the language of academics (exhibit A), but it is to say we (intellectuals) need to be humbled by sex workers (us) and stop vehemently critiquing them (us) with feminist language that is potentially inaccessible.

Please help me undertand

I'm really starting to second guess my membership here. Maybe I need to be enlightened? Please, explain to me why so many feminists see nothing wrong with prostitution.. Really... I need to know what is motivating this thinking. I'm getting a little tired of these "intellectuals" running around spouting off a bunch of crap they read in college. Intelligence and experience are not one in the same.
I was molested by my father's brother when I was a little girl. The family swept it under the rug. When I started to have problems as a teenager my grandmother said, "She better not try to say this has anything to do with my baby".
At fourteen I was brutally raped by a thirty-seven year old man. He went to jail, only to be released 21 days later. Again, family swept it under the rug. The rapist is a now a minister.
In my early 20's I became an escort. It was easy to remove myself from the actual act... I'd been doing it for years. Then I started doing "doubles" with my best friend. It was unbearable to witness. Her first sexual experiences were with her father. I watched her relive that abuse in her own detached way every time we were with these disgusting pigs. It killed me. I could see and feel her pain but not my own. I was always taught to disregard my own trauma. Sweep it under the rug. So I did. Sometimes it took a lot of dope to get to that place where I justified it as selling a service, not my self, but for the most part I managed. It took being raped by a client for me to second guess my profession. I haven't traded sex for money in three years.
Sure, there are a few women out there who do this because they really enjoy it... I've never met one, but I don't doubt they exist. I don't believe that the world is black and white. I don't expect that my experiences are yours. I do, however, believe that we are accountable not only to ourselves, but to each other. I have met many, many women who trade sex for money. All of them share some history of abuse. All of them had dreams before this "service" world, dreams of doing something amazing with their lives. Some of them still hold onto those dream. Most of them don't realize how amazing they already are.
Prostitution will never be absent from society. Does that mean there should be such a widespread acceptance of it? And who's side are you really on? Yeah, we're cashing in on it, but the men are still coming out on top. They don't respect us for our "service", we're just the same old whores we've always been in their eyes. And what about their partners? Never mind the infidelity, what about the diseases these men are bringing home... to their wives, their unborn children. Where is their choice in all this? Where are their liberties? Why should they have to pay for a "service" they never asked for? And trust me, it's an issue. Most men try to "bareback", and a lot of providers oblige.
This is a real issue. Women struggle through this daily. I understand the need to take hold of our personal freedoms, but what happened to solidarity? I thought feminism was about standing up for and with each other, not perpetuating the same excuses that have oppressed and killed us since the the beginning of time. If you have had a good experience with prostitution, good for you... but know that most women don't. Yes, we each make a choice, but some of our choices are deeply motivated by our fucked up conditioning. I would hope that women with strong voices would use them to liberate those who never learned to speak. As long as your voices are condoning prostitution, women will suffer through it and men will gain from it.

Thank you for sharing your

Thank you for sharing your experience. I'm truly sorry that it was as horrific as you describe. Some individuals' experiences in the industry are just that-- horrific. Some aren't-- some are neither entirely good nor entirely bad-- and, yes, there are prostitutes and other sex workers who thoroughly enjoy their work. I have met them, this is what they tell me and I believe them. I believe that we are each the expert of our own experiences, and that we only become more reliable narrators by being allowed to speak, and listening to ourselves and to other women's stories. I have also met many, many people who have traded sex for money (myself included). You're right: the majority of people's experiences are not black and white. That is pretty much the only statement I would say about "the majority" of sex workers. While it may be your experience, for example, ALL current and former sex workers do not share some history of abuse. The prevalence of this, and the application of appropriate interventions when it is the case, is only made more difficult by the erroneous belief that such a statement describes an entire population. The purpose of this column is to challenge such monolithic beliefs about current and former sex workers, which are profoundly affecting not only to those of us innacurately described by them but also to those within our numbers who they do describe.

I hope you continue to read the column and read through the archives. Women choose sex work for a constellation of reasons and, in many instances, as a response to circumstances beyond their control-- societal realities beyond our "fucked up conditioning." The idea that being in solidarity with other women means that one should never make this choice denies this whole category of women the opportunity to contribute to our movement. That you would make such a statement, having yourself engaged in sex for money, seems to lack compassion for the woman you were just three years ago. Statements like "If you have had a good experience with prostitution, good for you... but know that most women don't" have the effect of silencing those wishing to share their point of view. Feminism, as I see it, honors the truth and wisdom in first-person experiences, whatever that experience. It listens and seeks to understand, rather than insisting to be understood. Your experience is just as relevent as Liv's-- no less, but certainly no more. 

"Prostitution will never be absent from society. Does that mean there should be such a widespread acceptance of it? And who's side are you really on?"

I'm on your side. And Liv's side. And my side. And on the side of the woman you were three years ago. I am thoroughly pro-woman, sex worker or otherwise.

Two-edged

I'm a bit uncomfortable about sugar relationships, as they blur the lines between sex work and real dating. Historically prostitution may be the norm for marriage, but I strictly want to keep the personal and the business side apart and detest prostitution outside of sex work. As an escort i know how important boundaries are- else you can quickly have a manipulative, "love"-crazed stalker. Also, I want to be able to clearly state how much I charge for my time, and of course charge in the beginning of a date. As far as I've seen it's not this direct in the sugar culture. My impression on sugar daddies is that they're just searching for cheaper escorts who are easy to take advantage of as they know less about clearly communicating boundaries than other prostitutes.