According to this Huffington Post article, a good number of young people, mostly women, are paying for college or paying down student debt by hooking up with "sugar daddies" — wealthy men who pay for companionship and sex.
And according to information provided to the Huffington Post, the University of Wisconsin is among the national leaders in producing "sugar babies" — young adults willing to provide these services.
"This phenomenon has been around for some time," Janet Hyde, a UW-Madison professor of psychology and women's studies wrote to Campus Connection in an email. "I have never had a UW student actually tell me that she was in such an arrangement, but it wouldn't surprise me that there are some out there."
The Huffington Post piece is an interesting read, although it relies on a range of unnamed sources to tell much of the story, which only indirectly notes the UW.
Among the most popular sites used for these hook-ups, according to the article, is SeekingArrangement.com. The site says it promotes "mutually beneficial relationships."
Brandon Wade, the 41-year-old founder of this website, tells the Huffington Post that his site values college students. In fact, those who use an ".edu" email address to register on SeekingArrangement.com automatically get their free, basic membership upgraded to a premium membership, which allows these students to send unlimited free messages and gives them exclusive access to the site's "VIP sugar daddies."
At The Huffington Post's request, SeekingArrangement.com produced a list of the top 20 universities attended by "sugar babies" who are registered on the site.
Perhaps surprisingly, the figures provided to the Huffington Post — which appear in a chart on page 2 of the story — indicate there are 345 SeekingArrangement.com "sugar babies" who attend the University of Wisconsin. Only New York University (498), the University of Toronto (471) and Ohio State University (398) have more.
The lengthy Huffington Post piece notes that some scholars in the United Kingdom have been studying patterns of sexual behavior among college students and have linked them to rising amounts of debt. The article says Ronald Roberts and Teela Sanders, two social science professors in the U.K., believe that a "combination of rising tuition, increased debt, a culture of mass consumption and low-wage work are luring students to the sex industry in greater and greater numbers."
Roberts recently asked 315 college students at a university in London about their participation in sex work, with more than 16 percent admitting they would be willing to participate in the sex trade in order to pay for their education. Another 11 percent said they'd be willing to work as escorts. A decade ago, only 3 percent said they'd be willing to do this, the Huffington Post reports.
So, what does this all mean?
Laurie Fendrich, who is a professor of fine arts at Hofstra University in New York, has some interesting thoughts worth checking out on this topic and the Huffington Post article. Writing in her blog, which appears in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Fendrich concludes: "When Mary Wollstonecraft wrote her great tract, 'A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792),' she argued vehemently against the social pressures and laws that together compelled women to lead their lives in order to please men. She reasoned that this led neither to virtue nor happiness, either for individuals or for society. Perhaps I'm missing something here, but I cannot see how young college-educated women having sex with sugar daddies marks anything but a step backward."
Dr. Sarah Van Orman, the executive director of University Health Services on the UW-Madison campus, read this Campus Connection post and wanted to weigh in on the debate.
"We certainly have no knowledge of this as a widespread or increasing phenomenon," she says in an email. "I am very skeptical of the methodology used to determine both the prevalence of this as well as the institutional predominance."
Adds Van Orman, who is very skeptical of the reported number of "sugar babies" on the UW-Madison campus: "If their ‘statistics' are driven from email addresses, then they are likely pulling from the entire UW System rather than just UW-Madison. As a proportion of 180,000 students (across the UW System), this number looks different. Nevertheless, this not a serious examination of the issue, if there even is an issue."