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Sugar daddy arrangements are on the rise but there's a dark side

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When times are tough, where do some cash-strapped university students turn? Sugar daddies and sugar mummies, of course. But it's not all Gucci bags and fancy dinners. These arrangements can have a dark underbelly.

According to the latest numbers released by matchmaking site, SeekingArrangement, this sugar industry - mentoring, as the company puts it - is going strong.

Melbourne is no longer just the capital of sport or the arts, it is now also the capital of sugar daddies. It boasts the top two universities and three of the top five. Monash University has 257 so-called sugar babies, far more than the University of Melbourne, the second place-getter with 186. Macquarie University and the University of Sydney share the third step of the podium with 169 sugar babies each.

the dark side of sugar daddy arrangements

SeekingArrangement CEO Brandon Wade attributes his platform's popularity to the rising cost of living and a battered job market.

"Australia's high cost of living has always been a subject of contention, and this is a serious concern among university students who struggle to take up part-time jobs to cope financially thanks to hectic course schedules," he says.

"Sugar daddies and sugar mummies offer mentorship and comfortable lifestyles to their sugar babies."

The Universities Australia Students Finance Survey, conducted every five years and published most recently in 2018, found that 51% of students are worried about their finances, 10% go without food, and 20% regularly miss class in order to attend paid employment.

This is sure to have deteriorated further since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of November last year, unemployment sat at 6.8%, while underemployment was 9.4%.

These kinds of relationships may be enticing, but they can turn sinister.

"In these arrangements, gifts are traded for sex or intimacy," says Dan Auerbach, a psychotherapist with Associated Counsellors and Psychologists Sydney.

"While they may seem innocent, they tend to appeal to men who want to have control over someone. There are real risks that these men won't want to abandon rights they perceive they have and will continue to push the boundaries to get more of what they want."

Auerbach also points out the pitfalls of a relationship with, by definition, misaligned interests.

"By introducing a financial deal into an intimate relationship you are blurring the boundaries of what one party may see as a romantic partnership and the other party sees as a paycheck. It often doesn't end well which I have seen in clinical practice with some sex workers who blur their relationships with their clients."

Need to talk?
1800 RESPECT - sexual assault and domestic violence counselling:  1800 737 732
Beyond Blue - free counselling and crisis support: 1300 224 636
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David Thornton is a journalist at Money magazine. He previously worked at Your Money, covering market news as producer of Trading Day Live. Before that, he covered business and finance news at The Constant Investor. David holds a Masters of International Relations from the University of Melbourne.
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