Sex for Tuition

Forget for a moment the questionable “research” behind an article posted on The Huffington Post about college women searching for financial support from “sugar daddies” (i.e., rich, generally older men who will pay a lot for sex), on such Web sites as There, the young women find men who, in exchange for the women’s being nice to them and having sex with them, pay the women handsome sums that, according to the article, the young women then use to pay down their hefty college-tuition debt (and, well, OK, the occasional expensive dress or nice dinner in a good restaurant). The article mentions that although some debt-ridden college-educated men also search out sugar daddies, the phenomenon mostly concerns women.

Admittedly, much of the article relies on soft journalism—the kind with multiple unnamed sources telling multiple unsubstantiated stories, making it impossible to know to what extent what’s talked about is actually taking place. Yet I figure that where there’s smoke there’s at least some fire. It seems likely that some college women—and as the recession has deepened, perhaps more than whatever the “usual”number has always been—choose to pay off college loans by making nice-nice to “sugar daddies.”

To some, the whole story is a non-story fitting into the category of “‘Twas ever thus.” Others like to argue that the institution of marriage itself—built on the tradition of the hubby taking care of the wife in exchange for sex with the wife—carries with it a whiff of prostitution.

To strict libertarians, as long as everyone involved is a consenting adult, there’s no problem. To those who are in love with modern free-market capitalism, a successful dot-com business is ipso facto a good thing. For feminists who believe that whatever a woman does with her body is her own business, what’s to fuss about? And in a society that values educational success in terms of the money it brings in, if a young college woman can earn more money by having sex with fat-backed 60-year-old strange men than by slogging away at some “regular” low-paying job that’s the best she can find during this deep recession, well, all power to her. The sugar-daddy deal is a rational solution to the problem.

“Education is the key,” we’re repeatedly told—by which we really mean, “Education is the key to making money.” Well, darn if there aren’t men out there who like educated women for their paid sex, and if there aren’t women out there who don’t mind selling it to them. If education led a young woman into debt, no problem; she can use it to climb out of it. Bolstering this ratiocination is the educational mantra that knowledge—especially knowledge in the moral realm—is constructed, and can be damn well deconstructed and put back together again in inventive new ways.

Ah, human reason! To think that a college-educated woman can conclude that having sex with strangers for pay is not prostitution, and even if it is, well, so what? In a hyper-sexed age where sex is considered a mechanistic need easily divorced from love, it’s a perfectly viable way to pay off a college-tuition loan. No wonder Jean-Jacques Rousseau went ballistic at Enlightenment thought!

Can it be that the situation of women has circled back two hundred years—to the start of the industrial age, when women turned to prostitution out of necessity? Well, not quite. Things are at least a little improved. Then, the poorest and most poorly educated women were the most apt to sell sex. We’ve come a long way, baby. Now the most educated women can easily carry more debt than those with a sixth-grade education, and, best of all, are able to use their own free will, backed by their reasoning and their education, to choose to solve their debt problems by charging money for their sexual encounters.

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.




Return to Top