Editor’s Note: The name of the woman featured in this report has been changed for privacy.
Jenna sits in a park with her best friend, watching her visiting nephew play. She is a junior studying kinesiology at UNLV and she is a sugar baby.
A sugar baby is a person who enters a relationship in exchange for gifts, cash and other benefits. Their benefactors are known as sugar daddies.
“I don’t really like to share it,” Jenna said. “A lot of people, when they hear sugar baby, they think I’m a prostitute, but I don’t have sex for money.”
Last summer, after finishing her general education courses at West Los Angeles College, Jenna moved to Las Vegas.
For a year, she was part of SeekingArrangement.com, a sugar baby site that advertises itself to college students, but she stopped short of participating.
SeekingArrangement.com was founded in 2006 by MIT graduate Brandon Wade. The website currently boasts 6 million members worldwide.
Around 2010, the company noticed a huge increase in student sign-ups, according to SeekingArrangement spokesperson, Brook Urick. Seeing the potential in this growing demographic, the site began offering a free premium membership to students who signed up with their .edu email addresses. Using the student’s email addresses, they are able to track which universities students are coming from.
Currently, SeekingArrangment.com has 356 registered UNLV student members, according to Josette D’Espyne, the public relations official for SeekingArrangement.
UNLV ranks 38th on SeekingArrangement.com’s annual list of fastest growing “Sugar Baby Schools,” according to a press release from the company. Fifty students joined the site in 2016, a 15.24 percent increase from the year before, according to the site.
The allure of the site for students is deeply rooted in their need for financial help through school, Urick said.
“That’s kind of why I got on the site,” Jenna said. “I was so frustrated. I felt like I was just working to pay for school. I wasn’t even able to use my money for things I needed.”
Away from the support of her family, Jenna found paying for school increasingly difficult.
A study by the U.S Department of Education showed that student debt has nearly tripled since 1992. At UNLV, the average student loan debt is $18,542 according to the Institute for College Access & Affordability, an independent nonprofit organization that works to make higher education more affordable.
After seeing acquaintances have success with the site, Jenna gave it a try. She’s been an active member for a year-and-a-half now.
“I’ve had only positive experiences. No creepers,” she laughed. “Thus far.”
Jenna currently has a sugar daddy in the Los Angeles area who is helping her through school. They’ve been together for a little over a year.
“I have strong feelings for this person and I see it continuing,” Jenna said.
Barb Brents, a professor of sociology at UNLV, specializing in political sociology, gender and sexuality, says the rise in popularity of sites like SeekingArrangment.com among students isn’t a surprise.
“It makes sense in contemporary culture that we would have increasing ways in which we are trying to commodify some sort of intimacy and connection,” Brents said. “It’s kind of an interesting arrangement and I think it fits into a larger cultural move to commodify all aspects of relationships. You can say that’s terrible but your therapist, education, restaurants; all [of] that commodifies things that used to take place in the private sphere.”
Sugar babies on the site are able to meet people beyond their socioeconomic class and bolster their career prospects through connections, according to Urick.
“A married sugar daddy that has three kids might not be able to provide a traditional relationship, [but] he can offer to pay someone’s bills,” Urick said. “It’s not a relationship style we invented, it’s just something we’re being honest about.”