SeekingArrangement.com – the site wealthy men used to find attractive young women, before paying them allowances in return for some one-on-one time – is now called Seeking.com. Why? Because a US law change in April (dubbed "FOSTA-SESTA") made sites liable for any sex trafficking they even unknowingly facilitate. It's why, for instance, escort ads no longer exist on Craigslist, nor does the "personals" section they once inhabited – even in Britain, where prostitution is legal.
On Seeking.com, none of the sugar daddy-baby "arrangements" of the past are currently being made. Instead, it's merely a site where young women agree to meet up with older men, at boujie hotels like Claridge's and The Dorchester, purportedly for no payment at all. Of course, this isn't what's happening whatsoever: sugar dating is just becoming more like escorting, where money is exchanged almost always on a per-meet basis, where the purpose of these meets isn't to maintain a traditional sugar relationship, but, quite simply, to fuck.
Nowhere is this change more obvious than in London. One sugar baby – who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity – attributes the blame to daddies. "Most sugar daddies may work in London but not live here," she says. "These men can't offer being around on a regular basis – because of work, too. They want the trust being a sugar daddy carries, but they're too busy to commit to a regular [sugar] relationship, thus the escort feel."
Something else she describes – what she calls "the typical male ideology of wanting an escort but not wanting the label" – may explain the change more fully. Though moneyed men in cities like London have always been somewhat transient, not to mention busy, the recent popularity of sugaring might now be causing them to use it – incorrectly, in the eyes of some – as a source for straight-up sex.
For daddies who want more, the downside is that babies have become less willing to engage emotionally. Traditional sugar relationships require connection as much as they do Louboutins and dinners at Michelin starred restaurants. One daddy directs me to a two-month-old internet forum post, which, he says, "puts it better than me". Written by another daddy, it describes the London sugar baby pool as being full of escorts who "consider any kind of small talk 'wasting time".
Inevitably, the popularity of sugaring has led to traditional escorts posing as babies on sites like Seeking.com. However, attributing the collapse of how things were solely to these women overlooks the reality that even the most traditional of babies have become hardened by this fickle new climate. "Most sugar daddies like to tap in when they can," the London baby says, "so it means girls have to accept this – or search for a guy who can be a regular in their lives."
Traditional daddies' complaints don't end there. On the above-mentioned internet forum, daddies moan about flakes; babies having fake locations on their profiles; the rise of "pay pigs" on sugar sites, where men get off on sending women money; and a sugar daddy's worst nightmare: being "rinsed".
The threat of rinsing – scamming, essentially – haunts the sugar daddy the same way "salt daddies" do sugar babies. A salt daddy is someone who signs up to sites like Seeking.com but doesn't want to pay, either because he's entitled or just plain broke. In 2018, a big misconception about sugaring is that men hand over money easily. In fact, it's a grind for babies, who frequently get labelled entitled brats for having high expectations.
"I don't want to fuck a married man for free," the London baby says. "Why should he get all the benefits of my amazing pussy and I have nothing? Often they'll offer dinner and drinks. I can pay for my own meals, I have friends I can drink with. A 50-year-old paying for dinner isn't anything special."
In London, most daddies now offer around £350 PPM (price per meet), but some babies negotiate up to £500, while figures of £800 are rare but not unheard of. Allowances are just as rare, with secure monthly payments of thousands essentially relics of when sugaring wasn't the buyers' market it is today. On Seeking.com alone, there are currently over 26,000 daddies in London, but only about 7,000 babies. This means that, unless a baby is exceptionally beautiful, she'll probably get undercut if she sticks to a high price, leading now to some transactions around London as low as £200 PPM.
To cut through the bullshit of sites like Seeking.com, more guys – and some babies – are trying new tactics. One is called "freestyling", the method of attempting to meet rich men in bars or restaurants – often by pretending to read or work – before hopefully establishing sugar relationships. The upside is obvious: by putting themselves face-to-face with men, babies can see if they pleasant early on, not to mention whether they're actually wealthy. The downside is that, if they're unpleasant, it's not very safe.
"The key is to do a lot of research before going into this world, particularly around safety," another London baby I spoke to says. "Never put the money above your health or wellbeing. I think a lot of sugar babies feel forced into this lifestyle due to their circumstances, and end up putting more importance on getting the money than their own safety."
In London, most popular freestyling spots are in the Mayfair area: Novikov Restaurant & Bar; the May Fair Bar at the May Fair Hotel; the Long Bar at the Sanderson; and the Mandarin Bar at the Mandarin Oriental (temporarily closed because of a fire). It must be stressed that nothing illegal is happening at these venues – and that many other venues popular for freestyling exist around London – but that in researching this story these four popped up the most.
Some babies are also now using Tinder to connect with men. The first baby I spoke to describes her process: "Make a profile, elude to wanting some 'sugar' or 'looking for a generous man', and most get the hint. I use pictures showing my full body but not my full face. I get matches – if they're intrigued, we swap numbers. The great thing about Tinder is it's quick and opens up the field to men who aren't actively looking."
Instagram has also become a tool. The daddy I spoke to says he uses it to suss out babies: "I use it to display my life. Using it to attract girls that would like to be a part of it is a byproduct. There are those [women] with profiles that have a 'Serious enquiries: email…' tag, but I avoid those. In short, all she needs to do is look at my direct message, which leads her to checking out my Instagram."
Today, sugaring is experiencing a simultaneous death and rebirth: in that it's become so popular that it's not really sugaring anymore, just escorting; and a rebirth in that some are beginning to chase the original spirit of it in alternative ways. So if sugaring has been misunderstood by the public for years, and is now being misunderstood by those using it for straight-up sex, maybe we should ask what it is about this original spirit that's worth chasing around Mayfair and onto apps, other than, you know, the obvious.
The third London baby I spoke to has experience freestyling and on Tinder, not to mention a job in a "respected profession" where, she says, she earns six figures a year. Unlike some, she doesn't need the money from sugaring, but still enjoys the mental challenge. "I like that it teaches resilience and interpersonal skills," she says. "I've had to adjust my expectations and how I interact with people. I've had to embrace how I look, as I'm not the youngest, slimmest, prettiest of sugar babies. Yes, it is full of scammers and fakes and flakes, but it's also full of wonderful, genuine people who are fantastic, indulgent fun to be with."
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.