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Searching for a sweet deal

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, one of the few days of the year that the exchange of gifts and affection among couples is customary and expected.

With the pressure this day often brings for couples, it might seem implausible that a relationship based primarily on the exchange of presents or money could be successful.

However, Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddies and Mommies capitalize on this arrangement. Sugar Babies – typically young and attractive – seek relationships with older, wealthy Sugar Daddies and Mommies. With the help of the Internet, these relationships are beginning to crop up across the country and USF is no exception.

USF is ranked seventh on the list of schools with the highest number of Sugar Babieson – the leading Sugar Baby/Sugar Daddy dating site – with 93 students registered. These college students often look for Sugar Daddies and Mommies to help them pay for their tuition and university fees.

Founder and CEO of Brandon Wade said the Internet makes it easier to connect to people in a way that may be limited in the offline world.

“Now, people have numerous websites they can go to,” Wade said. “You have access to tens of thousands of people who are really looking for the same thing.”

Wade said privacy is a paramount concern for Seeking Arrangement. In order to browse the thousands of pages of Sugar Baby profiles, you must be a registered member on the site. On average, Sugar Daddies must pay $50 a month to create a profile.

Profiles of Sugar Babies include their Sugar Baby name, age, physical descriptions, locations and what they expect from their Sugar Daddy or Sugar Mommy. A come-hither photo typically accompanies the profiles, with some users choosing to expose more than others.

Georginaxx is 19 years old, and she is “looking to have some fun.” Eighteen-year-old Misss Fabulous says she’s “ready to party” for a negotiableamount. Jennababy is tryingto reel in her Sugar Daddy by claiming she’s a “Megan Fox lookalike,” though there is no picture to prove it.

The website states that profiles with photos receive “10 times more responses than profiles that do not contain a photo,” because physical attraction is an important part of the sugar relationship. However, to protect their privacy, Sugar Babies are encouraged to blur or block portions of their faces.

Elizabeth Bell, chairwoman of USF’s Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, said that the prevalence of the Sugar Baby/Daddy arrangement has been facilitated by sites such as Seeking Arrangement.

“I think it’s always existed,” Bell said. “What the Internet has done is provided a forum for making it more widely available.”

As these relationships become more prevalent, those involved are exposed to a greater degree of criticism, calling the intentions and moral compasses of both parties into question.

Shannon Donovan, a senior majoring in psychology, said during her first two years of college she befriended an elderly man who assisted her financially, paying her rent or giving her cash if she was struggling. She said she had her own job at the time and she said the relationship was entirely platonic.

If both parties are fully aware of the nature of their relationship, Donovan said there’s nothing unhealthy about these arrangements.

“A sociological arrangement where a man pays for sex is a fairly average one in Western culture,” she said. “I would only feel concerned about it if the woman felt controlled, exploited or that she had no other option.”

According to Bell, the existence of Sugar Babies exemplifies a woman’s ability to make choices in society and work the system.

“There are so many ways we can say, ‘This isn’t right, this isn’t for me, there’s a lack of independence and a lack of autonomy,'” she said. “But, it’s whatever the market will bear. If there are women out there making themselves happy, and those are relationships that work, I don’t have a problem with it.”

Bell said she acknowledged the similarities between a Sugar Baby relationship and a typical relationship. She said favors are exchanged for material goods, but conventional relationships are romanticized and idealized.

On the other hand, some critics of the lifestyle have equated it to prostitution.

Wade said that the connections made on may create normal relationships and are rooted in a greater level of honesty.

“We get couples who have met, taken the sugar relationship and turned it into a marriage,” Wade said. “It does have that potential. Where a lot of critics might have found it uncomfortable is that it’s a much more upfront way to go about a relationship.”

According to Wade, Sugar Daddies and Mommies that come to are looking to empower people and help them reach higher goals, particularly women who need help paying for their education.

“On a normal dating website, people tend to beat around the bush,” he said. “On Seeking Arrangement, people are upfront about why they are there and what they want to accomplish out of the relationship.”