Sugar babies and sugar daddies – a muddle of thoughts


This post – in which I attempt to explore some of my thoughts around sugar babies and sugar daddies and the sex industry in general – may get me into trouble. I hope it won't, because honestly? I haven't even decided where I stand. For one thing, I'm for the decriminalisation of the sex industry. I wish it were safer for the women involved. I would like them to be able to get support, without fear of repercussion. The way it currently stands – it's a criminal offence in Ireland to solicit or to pay for sexual services (although prostitution is not, in and of itself illegal) – sex workers are in a difficult position. If they are physically abused, for example, they're often afraid to report the incident. There are very few "safe" ways to operate as a sex worker; it's all cloak 'n' dagger stuff, and therefore subject to a huge amount of abuse.

Ultimately, I would prioritise women's safety over any moral or ethical dilemmas that have somehow informed our law. (See also: the 8th amendment.) I also support a woman's right to choose what she does with her life. That being said, I won't always support her choices. (In other words: it's complicated.)

Sugar babies on Snapchat

All of this is to say: we need to talk about @rionabig. That's the Snapchat username of an 18-year-old woman from Kildare, who describes herself as a "sugar baby". Her snaps combine her explaining the (if you'll excuse the pun) ins and outs of her profession and distinctly explicit photographs – of her body, in various states of undress.

(As an aside, this is a perfect example of why parents need to monitor their children's social media activity. Riona's account is public and anyone can follow her.)

Sugar babies are women in relationships who receive compensation for being in that relationship. Payment comes in the form of cash, gifts or, according to the internet, "other benefits". It's not about coercion or control; in everything I've read about sugar babies, consent is paramount.

So, what's my problem with sugar babies?

Here's the thing – I'm not quite sure. But something about following Riona – and I know I could unfollow, but I just can't look away – has me feeling very unsettled. Last week, she did a Q&A with her sugar daddy. He's a 29-year-old businessman from the UK. He sounded smart and funny – they seem to have a good rapport, at least, insofar as I can gather from the other side of a smartphone screen.

But Riona is 18. Without being condescending, she hasn't been an adult for a full year yet. She just finished school. She can't legally drink alcohol in the US, yet she's posted photographs of herself, fully naked and handcuffed, on Snapchat for the entire world to see. Is it really true consent if – in my opinion – she doesn't really know what she's doing?

Everything is a feminist issue

Of course, any time a woman criticises another woman's choices, she's seen as anti-feminist. But what could be more of a feminist issue than a young woman being paid for providing services (sexual and otherwise) to a man? Feminism is about celebrating the fact that we have choices; it doesn't mean having to agree with the choices other women do make.

As for this, well, it bothers me. I don't think it's ideal to be selling young women the idea (Snapchat is a sales tool, whether you're selling InStylers or selling yourself) that this is a great way to make a living.

Then again, we live in a world where, for a lot of women, their best chance of success – be that financial or otherwise – is to monetise their looks. Maybe this is just another way of doing that.

Like I said, I don't have the answers – I just have a bad feeling and I can't seem to shake it. I'd love to know your thoughts!