Tobold's Blog
Saturday, September 23, 2023
The normalization of sex work

One of the cultural differences between the USA and Europe is that prostitution is mostly illegal in the USA, and mostly legal in Europe (please check for details before trying that). And I never thought that the USA would ever change that. Then I read a “funny story” about social media, got curious, googled, and was surprised by the result. The “funny story” was about a trend on TikTok, where some influencers were promoting the sugar baby lifestyle, with the hashtag #sugarbaby getting over 720 million views. Branded as “rich sugar daddy paying holidays / rent / shopping trips to sugar baby”, that is just, let’s say, sugarcoating. The reality behind that is the exchange of money for sex.

Now by itself that story wasn’t very surprising. This is in parallel with the rise of online services like OnlyFans, and a growing social acceptance. A congressional candidate in the 2022 election was on OnlyFans, and other politicians at various levels have been found to have sold sexual images for money. In the UK tabloid press I have seen a shift, where stories now present examples of the big money ordinary people can earn on OnlyFans in a rather positive light. There are also growing “sex work is work” social trends, although somewhat surprisingly the resistance against that these days comes less from conservatives, and more from progressives, who have a really hard time believing that women aren’t necessarily victims in sex work. In another surprising twist of fate, porn on the internet these days isn’t regulated by governments, but by Visa and Mastercard.

What was surprising to me was the scale of sugar dating. The largest site, previously called “Seeking Arrangement”, now rebranded to just and promoting “luxury dating” instead of sugar dating, has 40 million users, with more women than men. As opposed to sites like Tinder where men outnumber women up to 4:1, at one point had a ratio of 1:3. I didn’t push my research as far as signing up for the site, but the secret appears to be that asks men for their net worth and there are different levels of verification. Pay $250 for a premium account, and get your net worth fully verified, so the woman looking for a millionaire can be sure that he is the real deal. According to statistics the site published before rebranding, the average sugar daddy was 38, the average sugar baby 25, and the average monthly payment from sugar daddy to sugar baby was $2,500. The sugar babies wouldn’t call themselves sex workers, but at the end of the day an older man or woman is paying their rent plus extras, and that probably isn’t just for holding hands.

For comparison, Germany with it’s legal and regulated prostitution had 40,000 prostitutes before the pandemic, which went down to under 30,000 since. The millions of sugar babies on and other sugar dating websites seem to be of a much higher scale. While different people will have different moral ideas about sex work, I would say that economically the spread of sugar babes is not a good sign. It shows that the sugar babies don’t make enough money to live comfortably otherwise, while the sugar daddies (or mommies) have more than enough money for two. Another sign and consequence of rising inequality.

"#sugarbaby getting over 720 million views"
Would that be exclusive clicks on that or every instance where that was used to beat the algorithm? #LOL #funnyvid #freestuff #sugarbabe #sugarbaby #sugar #babe #baby #ad?

"with more women than men"
Yes. They are the commodity that's being pimped out by those sites. They probably also don't pay a fee and they get money "for free".

"It shows that the sugar babies don’t make enough money to live comfortably otherwise, while the sugar daddies (or mommies) have more than enough money for two. Another sign and consequence of rising inequality."

I don't know if I would put it down to "inequality" but rather a type of survivour bias promoted on social media: young kids without much knowledge about the world see the successful (and only those) on their feeds and go "hey, look! I can do that too!" instead of putting their time into an actual profession. Fast and "easy" money. And those who learn an actual profession often don't have the need to sign up for this kind of stuff.

Yes, influencer, streamer and the oldest profession in the world don't require a regular skill, vocation or education - but they still require dedication, resilience and of course to some degree, luck. So you end up with few super successful people at the top and a large portion of people trying to get there, wasting their time.

There is also some sort of notion of not wanting to be "exploited" by corporations and "slaving away" 9 to 5 - and instead they work gigs and exploit themselves for less money, then complain how everything is bad and due to evil capitalism?
I wouldn't say that prostitution is legalized in Europe. There's a big divide. Some countries such as Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands have legalized it.

But then there is "the northern model" which makes it legal to be a prostitute but illegal to visit one. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of brothels which market themselves to the French where I live, in Belgium, close to the border.
@Carra Sorry, Blogger held your comment temporarily in the Spam filter. I am having more and more false positives like that, including funnily my own comments.

You are absolutely right, which is why I said “mostly” and advised to check details. Note that prostitution hasn’t disappeared from France, because the police mostly cares about kerb crawling. In the first 5 years of the law, just 5,000 fines were handed out, while the number of prostitutes in France is estimated to be 40,000, the same as in Germany.
Link not working:

Like many things in the US, being wealthy or at least having a good deal of disposable income, allows you to circumvent laws. Prostitution is one of them. Prostitution may be illegal in all states except for Nevada but Escort services are not.

And while every single escort service will claim money is not being exchanged for sex its fairly common knowledge if someone hires enough time from an escort they are likely to have set with them.

Even for the less well off there are fairly common Prostitution options in the US that police turn a blind eye to, like Massage Parlors that offer sex work services. There are similar websites people can subscribe to in order to share reviews and tips of which places offer sex services and yet they continue to operate despite this being a known thing.
> The reality behind that is the exchange of money for sex.

Well yes, but how does it surprise you? Prostitution is "the oldest profession" ever known, this is just the modern-era version of that profession.
“the oldest profession” is new on TikTok
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