Ever wondered which is more lucrative, being a prostitute or a sugar baby? Well, SeekingArrangement.com, the dating site for those seeking “Mutually Beneficial Relationships®,” has decided to answer that question — in a completely scientific and unbiased way, I’m sure.
In a new report, the company has determined that “in order for a prostitute to earn as much as a Sugar Baby, she would need to put in 25x the effort, and put herself at a serious risk of personal safety and mental and physical health,” according to a press release. Seeking Arrangements makes the following calculations: “The average Sugar Baby dates one to three men annually, receiving an average yearly allowance of approximately $36,000. If a prostitute makes on average $250 per transaction, she would have to have sex with presumably 100 men, performing over 144 sexual transactions.”
OK, where do we start? There’s the simple problem of grouping together all forms of prostitution — or all forms of prostitution that don’t take place on SeekingArrangements.com — when the services, transaction fees, forms of payment, workers, clientele and associated threat of violence can vary greatly. Then there’s the fact that the sugar baby income is based on not only cash handed over but expenses paid (which could include expensive dinners sat through with pretty undesirable company). Calculating the cost/benefit of such things is more complicated, and individual, than Seeking Arrangements suggests — and maybe, just maybe, better trusted to more objective researchers.
Sarah Elspeth Patterson, founding organizer of Persist Health Project, a health organization supporting sex workers, takes issue with the report’s claim that “having sex with strangers puts a prostitute at a great risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease or infection.” Patterson explains, “Having sex with strangers does not put people in the sex trade at any greater risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease or infection than the general population” — although having a greater number of partners in general does increase the associated STI risk – and she notes that prostitutes are often very familiar with safer sex practices as their jobs depend on it. And in response to the press release’s claim that sex workers are at greater risk of violence, Patterson argues that “harmful laws expose sex trade workers to victimization, through both sexual and physical violence, as well as the institutional violence of being afraid to talk to medical professions about their experience or report an assault to the police.”
But to the real point of Seeking Arrangement’s press release: The company is attempting to not-so-subtly distance itself from the vast spectrum of sex-for-money services that we sometimes call prostitution. The press release email’s subject line? “Sugar Babies are Not Whores.” It certainly isn’t the first time the company’s tried this, but it is perhaps its most blatant attempt at marketing itself for these recessionary times. (Next, I fully expect to see Seeking Arrangements showing up at college job fairs.) Patterson isn’t surprised by the attempt to banish the p-word: ”The term ‘prostitution’ is very historically loaded and the behaviors that fall within that category are varied and diverse,” she says. “Being involved in sexual exchange for money, goods or services is very specific to the person who is engaging in it and can only truly be defined by their individual experience.”