A few weeks ago, I had a dinner date with my former thesis supervisor. She’s a sex workers’ rights advocate and a great ally to sex workers, and was very supportive of my work as an escort. Her and I became friends.
Randomly, we started talking about Seeking Arrangement. Like many escorts, I have dabbled with the website. I was really curious, and somewhat naive, and joined using my Nathalie Lefebvre pseudonym, and used all the pictures from my website. As men would contact me, I would send them the link to my website. I screened a few potential ‘sugar daddies’ (for me, clients) on the telephone and was under impressed. Most of the men from Seeking Arrangement wanted to meet with me first (for free) and potentially have sex with me to see if there was chemistry before negotiating an arrangements. I thought this was absurd.
I did meet one or two good clients from this website, but they had also seen escorts in the past. They were using Seeking Arrangement to find a long-term sustainable relationship with someone, with clearly negotiated boundaries, etc.
Anyway, since I did find one or two good clients on the website I decided to give it another go. Using my personal credit card, I paid for a ‘Booster’ which promotes your profile on the website. Within a day, my account was banned. I had no idea why, and then I found out the reason: escorts are banned from using Seeking Arrangement. My initial thought was “that’s weird” and then I became angry.
I’m a sex workers’ rights activist, and one of the first things I noticed about Seeking Arrangement is that when you join as a ‘sugar baby,’ you’re unable to see the profiles of other sugar babies. In fact, you can’t connect with other sugar babies at all. This isolation creates an environment ripe for exploitation. Women are more empowered when they are connected and can speak to one another, and can warn each other about bad people, awful experiences, and/or give each other tips and tricks just like the assholes on TERB here.
Fuelled by anger, I contacted PayPal and disputed the charge from Seeking Arrangement. After all, I paid for a service I never received. Here is how this exchange went…
The website Seeking Arrangement threatened to report me to Internet and Crime Complaint Centre in the United States. Suffice it to say, I told PayPal the issue had been resolved and never contacted Seeking Arrangements again. Holy shit!
…but this whole thing really got me thinking. While digital technology has facilitated sex work for some, it can also increase isolation and facilitate exploitation. The thread on TERB is a perfect example of that: people describing how to get the best deals from the best women. They describe what many women think of as predatory behaviour: waiting until the end of the month, driving to remote areas, seeking younger women or more ‘desperate’ women who have less bargaining power, etc.
Seeking Arrangement is a disgusting website, that profits off the isolation of women. Sugar babies have agency, and they are making a choice to provide their services on Seeking Arrangement. That doesn’t mean there is not power involved. Agency isn’t this thing you either have or you don’t have, agency occurs on a continuum. Seeking Arrangement has some power over the relationships between sugar babies and sugar daddies, and men have some power over women on the site. If power relationships didn’t except, neither would patriarchy, racism, classism, etc. The fact that people are suggesting you drive to ‘isolated areas’ where ’employment is lacking’ speaks to those power dynamics, right? (“Duh!” says every smart person everywhere).
My goal is to increase choices and opportunities for all sex workers and people who work in this industry, not reduce options by isolating people.
I realize there are forums where sugar babies share information amongst themselves, but how do you even become a part of those groups? You need to know someone who knows someone who knows someone. Through these connections these sugar babies have empowered themselves to demand better quality sugar daddies with better pay. That’s fucking awesome. The fact that the website targets and cuts off women, and the fact that men are actively seeking to isolate sugar babies to get ‘better rates’ disgusts me.
I don’t want to take Seeking Arrangement down (well that’s not entirely true but that’s a different story and I’m sure it would upset many sugar babies who rely on it as a source of income), but from a social justice perspective I can’t help but think there is something terribly wrong here and the website, as well as TERB, are complicit in it. We need to level the playing field here. Seeking Arrangement needs to encourage and provide a platform for sugar babies to connect with one another so they can share their concerns, share bad date information, and empower themselves. Clients have a responsibility to inform sugar babies about other options, not ‘mentor’ them (gross), but inform them about places like Lyla, TERB (ewww, but yes), Backpage, and connect them to other women who work in this industry for mentorship (that’s where the real work happens. Clients shouldn’t mentor them, sex workers should!)
Sugar babies, and all sex workers, need sex worker-led platforms to share information, knowledge, and experience…
That being said, I’m really proud of the women who have posted on the TERB thread. They have created a counter-narrative, or a different story, about how to be a gentlemen.
That’s all for now.