Let’s not sugar coat the controversy on what is the difference between sugaring, escorting and prostitution. Why is important to know the difference, when sex work is not considered work, therefore not lawfully protected, and human trafficking runs unlawfully? In an earlier article, we explored Latinx feminism and sugar dating trend tips and advice we have seen on Tiktok.

While prostitution, escorting, and sugar dating or 'sugaring' may seem closely related to each other, some perceive them as entirely distinct practices. In essence, prostitution involves a direct exchange of sexual services for monetary compensation. Escorting, conversely, centers around the exchange of one's time and companionship for payment, often excluding sexual involvement. Lastly, sugar dating or “sugaring” represents a romantic involvement, where younger individuals connect with older partners in exchange for gifts and financial support. It's worth noting that in sugar dating, sexual activity may enter the equation at some point, but is not expected or assumed.

The main distinction between prostitution, escorting, and sugaring lies in the fact that, in the first two, individuals can be hired for a short period, such as a few hours or a day, without the need for a long-term commitment. Also people who engage in prostitution or sex work engage for three reasons: by choice, circumstance or coercion or forced (sex trafficking). On the other hand, sugar dating involves a long or short-term connection that typically includes agreements negotiated during the initial dates. All of this is part of a plan that encompasses romance and interaction in often luxurious settings and gifts, such as restaurants, vacation resorts, yachts, and more. Sugar dating is also by choice or circumstance but not coerced.

Also a crucial distinction between prostitution, escorting, and sugar dating lies within their legal system. While prostitution and escorting are regulated by laws that offer specific legal protections and avenues for recourse in cases of disputes, sugar dating lacks a well-defined legal framework to turn to.

For instance, according to the legal code of Washington, D.C., prostitution is defined as engaging in sexual acts or contact with another person in exchange for goods or services of value. Under this definition, it wouldn't be unusual to accuse those involved in sugar dating of engaging in prostitution. On the other hand, Maryland's law defines prostitution as the performance of sexual acts, sexual contact, or vaginal intercourse through a contract. The inclusion of a contract in the definition can complicate the consideration of sugar dating as prostitution. In contrast, sugar dating lacks a legal framework that covers such relationships, creating a legal void in cases of disputes or issues requiring legal intervention.

It's worth noting that in ten counties of Nevada, prostitution is legal and regulated by specific laws that provide legal protection when necessary. 

Isn’t sugar dating just prostitution?  

There's no definitive answer to this question. In general, couples around the world exchange gifts or provide mutual financial support. Sugar dating falls into a somewhat distinct category, as it involves a long-term committed partnership before any sexual activity.

Human Trafficking Search (HTS) offered a definition closely related to what it means to be a "Sugar Baby". According to HTS, "A sugar baby is a person who receives cash, gifts, or other financial and material benefits in exchange for companionship. It can include sex or intimacy, but it is not necessary." This suggests that the distinctions between prostitution, escorting, and sugar dating become less clear or evident.

HTS also points out that sugaring and prostitution are similar practices with different marketing strategies. HTS reads "The industry tries to sell the idea that sugaring is not a form of prostitution but is instead a way of being both 'empowered' and 'pampered.'"

This statement aligns with the growing popularity of "sugar dating" in the last decade. There is a tendency to assert that it is not a form of prostitution but rather a way to enjoy luxuries and meet successful men. Furthermore, the profession of prostitution and escorting carries a negative stigma, while being a sugar baby often appears quite attractive and more acceptable to young people.

"Being a prostitute sounds bad, but being a sugar baby might sound cool. That’s why I think it's so dangerous," said a woman who refers to herself as Ana, a sugar baby, to the newspaper El País.

Despite "Sugar Baby" practices appearing distinct from traditional prostitution, several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) deem it essential to warn young individuals about how this practice could involve and potentially serve as an entry point into sexual exploitation or human trafficking. Diaconía España, an NGO, has launched an awareness campaign, displaying posters in Spain at Madrid's metro and disseminating informative pamphlets on social media to highlight these risks. Organizations dedicated to combating sexual exploitation also caution about the dangers of content found on social networks, emphasizing that "eventually, sexual compensation may emerge."

HTS also cautions that young people might find themselves in financially vulnerable situations, making them more susceptible to exploitation of this nature. What initially may appear as a "fun agreement" can over time evolve  into a relationship characterized by imbalances of power, in which the "Sugar Baby" may feel compelled to submit and engage in sexual activities with the "Sugar Daddy" due to a sense of indebtedness, insecurities and dependency on the luxuries and money received.

Although not directly correlated, there have been news reports of much older men inflicting physical harm or even killing much younger women whom they were in a “relationship” with. The headlines show a man in his 40s, or 50s who inflicted violence on a woman in her early to mid-twenties without any word or allusion to sugaring but friends just say they were in a “relationship”. Although, can’t be proved those reports are related to sugaring HTS finds it important to give cautions.

Breaking down what Sugar Babies say?

Sugar babies don't consider themselves prostitutes, as indicated by a woman who anonymously goes by Mora, a 21-year-old who was interviewed by W Radio. She explains that she doesn't see herself as a prostitute because the conditions between prostitutes and sugar babies are very different. The compensation from sugar daddies is viewed as assistance to sugar babies rather than payment. Additionally, sex is not implied. It all depends on the agreement they reach during the initial meetings. Unlike prostitutes, sugar babies only engage with a sugar daddy they like, with no coercion involved. Mora explains that if she doesn't like the sugar daddy or feels uncomfortable, she can easily leave the date.

Moreover, sugar babies can ask for the gifts they desire. It's not an easy task initially, as indicated by a woman who goes by as Allison in an interview with CNN+, but it's necessary to receive these types of rewards.

"I was really afraid of meeting people; I was really afraid to ask for anything. I didn't know how to do it, but if you don't ask, you don't receive," she said to CNN+.

On the internet, you can find various accounts that provide advice on how to maximize your value as a sugar baby. You can even hire a coach to give you tips and explain what to do in specific situations. For example, Scott Nathan, a viral Tik Toker known to be a sugar coach after advising a friend to request gifts only from places where she could return them for a refund to her account. This turned out to be a valuable piece of advice because, as a sugar baby, you don't always have direct access to cash. His sugar baby friend reported that after a few months, she had accumulated $35 thousand.


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♬ original sound - Scott Michael Nathan

Credit: Scott Michael Nathan

Being a sugar baby is not as straightforward as one might think. It involves being in a medium to long-term companionship with a busy man. Furthermore, these arrangements may or may not include exclusivity, meaning that sugar daddies or sugar babies may see other people if they wish. There is also a significant need to cater to the desires and preferences of the sugar daddy, such as dressing in a manner that pleases him or using the gifts he has provided. In essence, being accommodating seems to be part of the agreement.

Undoubtedly, young women are taking charge of supporting themselves with the assistance of their sugar daddies. Despite this approach challenging the stereotypes that have been prevalent in the past century, it seems to represent a new form of empowerment, particularly for those who are pursuing their education and building businesses and face financial challenges.

We would like to hear your thoughts on whether being a sugar baby constitutes a new form of prostitution. Is it an empowering choice, a financial necessity, or something else entirely?

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