In “Selling Sex in the Springs,” an anonymous CC student reveals her first-hand experience finding a sugar daddy, and her ensuing feelings of commodification and empowerment. It’s an uncomfortable, honest examination of the complexities in sex work that is surprisingly relatable. Whether or not you’ve had experience as a ‘sugar baby,’ this piece hits on the universal experience of awkward encounters and the eagerness of wanting to make a connection.
Hot N’ Heavy Issue, 2013
My foray into the world of sex work began with vegetarianism. After eating chickpeas and lettuce for six years, I lapsed back into my old omnivorous ways. My good friend Tess criticized me, pulling faces every time she saw me take a bite of something fleshy. I explained to her that I was simply being an opportunist. My menu was composed of anything I could find for free. I was too poor to be picky about what I consumed. Always the third-wave feminist, Tess proposed an untraditional solution to my poverty: “Why don’t you get a sugar daddy? There are lots of websites where you can find one.” I promised her that once I found someone to pay the bills, I’d go back to salad munching.
Finding a sugar daddy is easier than you would think as long as you don’t mind the sketchiness of the internet. I logged onto a sugar daddy dating website and made a profile. Within days, I had more than 50 messages in my inbox. After weeding out the crazies and those who live far away (one man wanted to fly me to New York every weekend), I found one sugar daddy who looked promising. He said his name was Eggbert (name has been changed), he was married and he worked in manufacturing. Eggbert and I made plans to have lunch to get to know each other.
When the appointed day came, I glued on some false eyelashes and marched downtown. I was the first to arrive at the restaurant where we had agreed to meet, so I sat down at a table to wait. While Eggbert had emailed me a photo, the picture was blurry, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I scanned every new arrival. Did they look like a rich old sugar daddy? Finally, I saw him. Eggbert looked exactly the way I pictured a sugar daddy would look. Dressed in slacks and a blue dress shirt, he was middle aged, chubby, and a little red in the face. We made our introductions and ordered lunch. Eggbert ordered a sandwich, and I chose a pasta dish. I giggled when the meal arrived and Eggbert asked why. I told him that I’d just realized pasta is a messy food to eat on a date. Eggbert said he liked it messy.
The meal that ensued was one of the most awkward of my life. I usually try to ask lots of questions when I’m on a first date. I couldn’t ask Eggbert too many. He was going to break the law by paying me to have sex with him, and I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable by prying. I also didn’t want him to know the real me, so I lied about myself. Figuring that a Feminist and Gender Studies major would intimidate a conservative sugar daddy, I told him I was an English major writing my thesis on Shakespeare. Unsure of what to say to each other, we spent the meal looking at each other across the table and laughing uncomfortably. In spite of our awkward lunch, we made plans to meet the next week to have drinks and hash out the details of our arrangement.
While I believe that sex work is a legitimate choice for women, I know many disagree. Second-wave feminist Catherine MacKinnon writes, "In prostitution, women have sex with men they would never otherwise have sex with. The money thus acts as a form of force, not as a measure of consent. It acts like physical force does in rape” (2009). Prostitution is coercive when the prostitute has no other options. But what if she’s a girl like me, a girl with a college education who chooses to engage in sex work as a way to make some extra cash? One of my friends criticized me for making a commodity of myself. I did not make a commodity of my self; I was simply selling a sex act. Sex is a marketable skill I possess, much like word processing. I believe the real moral dilemma of sex work is not the selling of sex, but selling the illusion of friendship and romance. Pretending to be someone’s friend when you actually find them repulsive is more problematic.
Sex work is not inherently exploitative; the way we do sex work in patriarchal America is exploitative. Prostitution abolitionists argue that sex work encourages violence toward women. One study on sex workers shows 82 percent of respondents had been physically assaulted since entering prostitution, 55 percent of those by patrons (Farley and Barkan 1998). But these statistics alone don’t show that sex work actually causes violence toward its workers. Yet the real root of the violence is the social stigma against sex work. Many sex-positive feminists assert that stigmatizing sex workers by perpetuating myths of prostitute inferiority is what leads to the violence. Men are socialized to believe sex workers deserve violence because they are fallen women and therefore subhuman.
Eggbert was having a midlife crisis. He enjoyed slumming and pretending to be younger than he was. He had been a high school quarterback, but years spent on the couch had since taken their toll. Eggbert wanted to relive his glory days. In light of his desires, we reconvened our business dealings at a dive bar. I sipped my gin and tonic and listened to Eggbert talk while the bearded and mohawked men at the bar cast questioning looks in our direction. Eggbert told me people are only poor out of laziness. To get rich you simply have to do the jobs no one else wants. I wanted to laugh and say, “What do you think I’m doing right now, Eggbert?” Instead, I smiled and nodded politely. Eventually, he asked me what I was looking for. Seeing as how we met through a sugar daddy dating website, I was unsure why my motivations weren’t already clear to him. “Well, I’m a student, and I’d like some help paying the bills.” He told me he wanted to help me, but he didn’t want a simple sex for money exchange. Eggbert wanted sex, sure, but he also wanted to be with a girl who wanted him. So I lied through my teeth. “Don’t worry. I really like you. It’s refreshing to talk to someone with different political views after being at CC all day.” He bought my bullshit, and we agreed that we’d be, in his words, “physically intimate,” and meet once a week. Eggbert would pay me $200 per encounter.
We left the bar to seal the deal. Eggbert was one of those city guys who drives big, shiny pickup trucks for no apparent reason. In the truck, with empty energy drinks rolling on the floor was the first time we were alone together. I clutched my pepper spray through my coat pocket during the ride to the motel. I explained to Eggbert that, while he was a friend of mine, I was in a delicate situation. I’d require the money up front. He agreed I was being reasonable, and pulled into the litter-strewn parking lot of the motel.
“I’ve never had to pay before,” Eggbert said. I told him I’d never been paid. We stood in the motel room with its cheap art prints and hypoallergenic pillows and looked at each other. I decided to take matters into my own hands and kissed him. We sat down on the bed and made out. I’d be lying if I said the kissing wasn’t gross. I always thought that sex work would be great. I love sex, so why not get paid to get laid? Unfortunately, Eggbert was old enough to be my father—and flabby. He took off my clothes, struggling with the zipper on my dress, and proceeded to eat me out. I was confused. Wasn’t I being paid to pleasure him? It feels less personal just to get some guy’s rocks off. The reciprocity made me uncomfortable, so I laid him back and took off his pants. His penis was short and broad; his scrotum, hairless. On some level, I was touched. Did he manscape for me? I took his dick in my cold hands and sucked it, making sure not to let him come too quickly. After he came, we lay back on the bed while he stroked my flank. I made sure to get up and get dressed quickly. We weren’t dating. I didn’t want to cuddle. He got dressed as well and drove me back to campus.
As I walked from where Eggbert dropped me off to my apartment, I was surprised by how thrilled I was. Wasn’t I supposed to feel ashamed? I had never held a $100 bill before, let alone two. I couldn’t believe they were real, and so easy to make. I showed them to my roommate and we jumped up and down screaming. We threw the bills off of our stairs at each other and pretended we were wildly wealthy. I could afford a steak, or a fancy salad. I could have anything I wanted.
I haven’t seen Eggbert since the first time in the motel. My parents came to visit the week after I saw him. Hilariously enough, they stayed in the same motel where Eggbert and I had sex. I told Eggbert I would be too busy to see him that week. He had to go on a business trip the week after that, and then I came down with the flu. A month passed with multiple missed opportunities to increase my savings account, and then I heard from Eggbert. He wanted to see me again, but now I’m not sure if I want to. While I only have nine dollars to my name, I want to devote the remainder of my senior year to spending time with my friends, not with some patriarchal sugar daddy.
Where did my initial jubilation go? I want to have sex with people I care about, not with a repulsive old dude. While my current partner is an enlightened sort of guy, on some level I would still feel like I was cheating if I were to have sex with sugar daddies. The money is good. I didn’t feel ashamed of myself for what I did; but, life is short, and I want more pleasant experiences in my life. While I’m not sure whether I should see Eggbert again, sex work sure beats the hell out of word processing.
Archival Issue | March 2019