For some young gay men, sugar daddies have more value than just sex and money, but the arrangement can come with serious drawbacks.
Scott plans on being the CEO of his own media enterprise by the time he is 37.
Today he's 29. He's unemployed and he's out of school due to outstanding debt. But unlike other 20-somethings with big dreams and discouraging finances, Scott isn't the least bit worried. That's because his sugar daddies are pretty damn generous.
Over the last four years, the former University of Toronto student has dated sugar daddies around this city who have provided him with over $10,000 [$7,000 USD] in cash and gifts, plus professional guidance, which he says is helping him toward his entrepreneurial goals.
"I hope I don't come across as a gold digger or crass," he says as a preface to his lifestyle, "But money makes the world go 'round, and if you can find those that have it, then great!"
Scott is hardly the only man with this particular plan. Several young men in the city are sick of dating broke guys their own age and are securing sugar daddies who can appeal to their more aspirational standards.
When you think of sugar dating, a familiar image usually pops up: a 20-something college girl struggling to pay tuition, paired with a rich guy who could be her dad (or granddad). Websites like Seeking Arrangement and What's Your Price let sugar babies, daddies, and even mommas obtain "mutually beneficial" arrangements. Sugar babies advertise themselves along with their desired allowance, and sugar daddies and mommas disclose what they can offer, including a net worth and income.
According to Seeking Arrangement rep Brook Urick, 10 percent of the site's Canadian user base identifies as LGBT. There are currently around 52,000 LGBT sugar babies and 3,700 LGBT sugar daddies and mommies registered in Canada. Urick says membership is growing throughout all communities partly because sugar dating is becoming more mainstream.
"There's a lot of girls and guys on the site who are dating people that are subpar and it's not something that they have to do," said Urick. "They can reach outside of their college realm and find someone they would actually meet otherwise that's able to provide a certain lifestyle for them and also mentor them."
But it's not always a free ride. The male sugar babies I interviewed for this story revealed that this exchange of money, gifts, and guidance often results in extreme daddy control.
Scott had his first sugar daddy in 2012, and has been in and out of sugar dating since. Three years ago he met Peter, a 40-something hair salon owner and Scott's longest lasting daddy, on a hookup site.
From the beginning, Peter made it clear that he would treat Scott with fancy dinners and gifts and provide him with professional guidance, but sex was off the table.
"He had a lot of sexual relations and that's not what he was looking for with me. He was looking for someone to mentor," Scott told me. Despite his attraction to Peter, he accepted this boundary to maintain the other perks.
"He told me, 'I will financially support you, but you have to do whatever I say because essentially, it's not free.'"
Peter's rules included being available at least once a week, being punctual, not slurping food at dinner (!!!), speaking clearly at all times, and maintaining a professional appearance and body language.
"There were times when I was late and he was not happy about that. You can't be late especially if the person is financially supporting you," Scott said. Peter criticized his clothing, confiscated bad carbs from his apartment, ordered him to keep his hair short and styled, and prohibited him from wearing running shoes. The relationship ended after two years because Peter went bankrupt.
"They do want to help," Scott said. "At the same time they don't want to be seen with someone who looks sloppy."
With that being said, he isn't oblivious to the control he forfeits whenever a daddy whips out his authority, admitting that it can be "disempowering and very emasculating." But like the flick of a switch, he brightens up to his belief that sugar daddies are the way to go.
"In this world, you need money to make money," he said.
I'm Not Your Son
Elijah, a 20-year-old student at George Brown College, has always been attracted to much older guys. He unintentionally started dating one sugar daddy a few years ago and has had four since then: a lawyer, an accountant, an IT professional, and a teacher.
"I wanted to date an older guy because they seemed to be the ones who were more interested in a relationship," Elijah said. "I felt like a lot of younger gay guys just wanted to have sex and that's it."
Elijah met three of his daddies on Grindr and the other on Scruff. The men were generous with their cash, and while he was never really struggling for money, he knew he could use the extra bucks. They gave him money for cabs and leisure, high-end dinners and expensive gifts.
Unlike Scott, Elijah's relationships were sexual, but they didn't last long. Out of all of his daddies, the accountant gave Elijah the most extravagant experience—but he also exhibited the most control. After weeks of pampering, he became super overprotective.
"Whenever he would call or text me, if I didn't respond in a reasonable amount of time, he would call, text, call, and text again until I did respond," Elijah said. It got to the point where he was literally treating Elijah like his son, so the younger man broke it off after two and a half months.
"I feel like [sugar daddies] definitely get very possessive because they realize how much money they've spent on you," Elijah said.
Daddy Issues? It's Not That Simple
During my interview with Elijah, he suggested that the absence of a father figure in his life could be a reason for his interest in older guys. When I asked Scott about his relationship with his dad, he said that they didn't speak for four years when he was a teenager, and are still patching things up.
"I've never really had a strong or close relationship with any of the men or father figures in my life," Elijah said. "I don't want to put any type of shame on anybody, but I feel like a lot of younger gay guys have father issues."
Alex Borovoy, a Toronto-based psychotherapist who works with LGBT and straight couples and singles, agrees that this attraction can be magnified by a lack of a paternal presence, but wouldn't prescribe such a sweeping hypothesis to every gay sugar relationship.
"There is the desire for guidance, mentoring, caring from an older man," Borovoy says. "It's simplistic—possibly an over-simplification—but it also makes a lot of sense."
Borovoy also looks at the daddy's side of things when it comes to a possible lack of a father in his life.
This factor recurred multiple times in my conversations with male sugar babies, and though it's impossible to generalize an entire community, the idea does seem to carry some weight.
Barry, a midtown Toronto man who prefers to leave out his last name, has wanted to find a sugar daddy for many years. While he is currently in a long-term relationship with a woman, he is attracted to the idea of having an older man call the shots and pamper him. He too brought up his relationship with his dad.
"My father died when I was five, which makes me wonder about my attraction to a father figure," Barry said.
I should also mention that Barry is 55 years old. When I contacted him through a gay sugar daddy page on Facebook, I naively assumed he was a sugar daddy. But male sugar babies can range widely in age, and after having been with older men in the past, Barry is interested in having a sugar daddy—if he manages to leave his current partner.
He's not worried about any daddy drawbacks. "I can't emphasize enough how nice it would be to be treated for a change," he said.
A Golden Cage
When Scott and I had our last interview on his 29th birthday he seemed genuinely happy. These days he's single and active on Seeking Arrangement. A couple of months ago he met an older gentleman at a seminar who brought up possibly helping him with his tuition debt.
Sitting across from him inside Yorkville's Hazelton Lanes, one of Toronto's most high-end shopping areas and Scott's choice of location, I noticed his hair was long and he was wearing running shoes. If he were still with Peter, that would have been a no-no. He arrived 20 minutes late, and while I wasn't exactly peeved, a sugar daddy would've rubbed two fingers at him.
Almost in harmony with my internal observations, Scott admitted that he does keep an eye on the dangers of sugar dating.
"My fear is being trapped," he said. "The last thing I want is to meet someone who's super wealthy, who puts me in a condo, and I have all my needs taken care of, but then I'm in this gilded cage. I mean, a cage made out of 24 carat gold is still a cage."
Follow Ebony-Renee Baker on Twitter.