Working in the sex industry has taught me two things to be flexible, and to stay curious. Of all my adventures, the only one I wouldn’t revisit is my attempt to become a sugar baby. When it comes to sexual services, sugaring is the ‘odd one out’. My definition of sex work is pretty broad any exchange of sexual (or sexy) services for payment. This includes a range of roles - escorts, brothel workers, and street-based sex workers, strippers, cam performers, porn performers, kink pros, and phone sex operators. Whatever the job, the exchange is clearly acknowledged. But when it comes to sugaring, the situation is less clear. There are a range of websites that promote themselves as facilitating ‘relationships with fringe benefits’ (aka ‘sugar relationships’) but few sites are upfront about what this actually means. One site called Devozki, for example, says, ‘An arrangement is where people are direct with one another and stop wasting time. It allows people to immediately define what they need and want in a relationship. Our profiles allow members to effortlessly state their expectations.’ But surely all relationships are about communicating your expectations How is a sugar arrangement different A friend who has worked as a sugar baby for years offers a more direct explanation. For her, it’s about ‘spending time with an older man for the pleasure of his company, social or sexual.’ In exchange, the (sugar) baby may be offered advice or mentorship and is paid a pre-agreed allowance.’ She points out that there are sugar mommies too, and sugar babies can be any gender. Although the stereotypical situation involves a younger woman and older, financially successful man, that’s not always the case. Many of the websites that promote sugaring – and many of the clients – say it’s not sex work at all. Dan Savage interviewed Brook Urick, spokesperson for Seeking Arrangement, on the in 2019. In the interview, she insists sugaring is ‘a relationship that continues beyond just sex’. She claims it’s not a commercial exchange, while admitting that sex is often – but not always – involved. Classifying an arrangement where money changes hands and dates happen as ‘not sex work’ didn’t sound logical to me. So, shortly after hearing the Savage Love interview, I decided to explore for myself. I’d already had a lot of sex industry experience. I originally started out in brothels, tried. All these jobs have offered different thrills. Brothel work was very much about fast sex - getting customers out of the room on time was priority – with conversation an optional extra. ‘Rub-n-tug’ work was fun, with clients appreciating sensuality rather than intercourse. Independent escorting is the best of all worlds for me – a variety of clients and situations, from companionship to crazy sexual adventures. No matter the type of work, I’m always looking for a good connection. And long-term regulars – people with whom an escort has an ongoing professional relationship – are what keep us in business. I thought sugaring might work for me; surely a sugar daddy would appreciate the intimacy, company, and conversation that I value so much I signed up on a popular sugaring site. First things first – the terms and conditions specified that membership wasn’t open to escorts. I ignored that rule. After all, what I do for a living isn’t anyone’s business. Apart from the overt whorephobia, it was very much like a regular dating site. I uploaded photos, wrote a bio. The difference was in the criteria offered – not just age and appearance, but also income level. I had no idea where to start – when you’re looking for a sugar daddy, does 200K per year cut it Or should I go for millionaires only With little guidance, I figured I’d set the bar low and see where it led me. And this was probably my first mistake, because I immediately realised that a lot of the men who sent me messages simply weren’t legitimate. This wasn’t unexpected - I’d heard friends talk about their sugaring experiences in Australia, saying ‘a lot of guys are just scammers’ or ‘they all want something for nothing’. To be fair, escorting also has its share of timewasters and scammy clients. But the proportion of shady profiles was higher than I’d hoped. It was less like waiting for a good match, and more like regular online dating sorting through a lot of trash to get to the treasure. What some blokes wanted was outrageous. ‘Three dates a week for two hundred dollars,’ one said. Mate, you couldn’t even get a back rub three times a week for that rate! Many requested explicit photos. Some listed an income well below the threshold needed to support a sugar baby of any description. I’ve heard that this situation is different in America, where wealthy men are more comfortable with the idea of supporting their mistresses. Perhaps in Australia we’re just too cheap, determined to wring every benefit from the lowest possible dollar. Eventually I received a message from someone who claimed to have experience and sounded kind of legit. And he wanted to meet! My friend told me to make sure I was being paid. ‘Say, “I expect you to make a donation, so I know you’re serious.”’ But no amount was agreed – I’d simply have to turn up and take what was offered. We met at a Carlton café. He was older, white-haired, and confident. He’d done sugaring in the UK and continued upon his emigration to Australia. After speaking for only half an hour, he gave me six hundred dollars - way more than I would have been paid for a social date as an escort. Between that and his fancy sports car, I was sure he was a genuine sugar daddy. But he had a few hang-ups. ‘I don’t like escorts’ he said, ‘I only want to date real women.’ I was a little offended by his insistence that escorts are fake – and baffled as to why he’d think a sugar baby would be any different. He invited me to spend the day with him at the Hilton. We had a drink together in the lobby at ten am, then went upstairs to his hotel room. An hour later we’d shagged, and he was ‘off to a business meeting’. I was somewhat disappointed, having packed for a fun day out…where was all this companionship that sugaring fans kept talking about As he left, he put an envelope in my hand containing a thousand bucks – precisely my two-hour rate as an escort. I never heard from him again. In hindsight, perhaps this encounter was a test that I failed. Maybe I was supposed to string him along, withhold my affections to prove I wasn’t a pro These hidden rules were tiring and frustrating. I worry that sugaring etiquette might be doing everyone a disservice - the clients, who risk hurt feelings because the relationship isn’t clearly defined, and the workers, who can’t negotiate openly for what they deserve. Over the years, I’ve learned that good sex work requires communication; how can we set those boundaries when we can’t talk about fees or expectations To be clear, this is just my experience - and one sugar date is hardly a career. My long-term sugar baby friend loved her work and would do it again if given the opportunity. ‘I met interesting people, ate out at some of the best restaurants in Melbourne, was spoiled with romantic weekends away, drank lots of champagne, and was gifted with super sexy lingerie,’ she says. ‘I also felt very appreciated, my daddy always made me feel special and wanted - a great boost for self-confidence.’ My experience wasn’t as convincing. My standalone date seemed to suggest that sugaring was exactly like escorting – the same type of customer, encounter, and rate of pay. I value conversation and connection with my clients too, and they’ve given me enough self-esteem-boosting compliments to last a lifetime. As far as I’m concerned, sugaring IS sex work…and when it comes to work, I’ll take an open request, a flat fee, and some honest fun any day. From stripping to porn...from street-based work to escorting…the roles we fill are endlessly adaptable. Different kinds of work provide for a huge range of different client needs excitement, flirting, companionship, connection, exploration, and ecstasy. Everything I’ve tried my hand at – and everything I’ve seen – has increased my admiration for the smart, strong, and generous folks who do these different kinds of work…sugar babies included. But, thanks to my experiment, I’ve learned is that sugaring isn’t for me. I’m too direct, too impatient with subtle social cues and unspoken expectations. Asking what someone needs from me - then giving it to them for a fair price - will remain my greatest joy as an escort.