- On TikTok, videos in which sugar babies show off their luxury lifestyles have become hugely popular.
- They can make the profession look easy, and ignore the labor and risks involved.
- Experts told Insider these misconceptions are dangerous for women considering a sugar-baby career.
Using quick-cut montages, TikTok user @nikitagonzalez_ posts snapshots of her jetsetting lifestyle. In one video, she pans the camera across stacks of money, designer shopping bags, and Louis Vuitton accessories. In the next, she posts snippets of her five-star trip to Disneyland.
Text overlaid onto the videos suggests she paid for none of it, saying her sugar daddy “flew me out,” and bought her the gifts “because he upgraded me to be his mistress.”
The influencer is one of many who posts under the #sugarbaby hashtag, a growing corner of TikTok which has attracted over one billion views. While sugar-baby relationships exist in all gender configurations, the hashtag is overwhelmingly populated by young women who provide emotional or sexual favors to usually older, wealthy men known as sugar daddies in exchange for money or access to a luxury lifestyle.
The videos are hugely popular, but the genre also has detractors.
Some veteran sugar babies and experts are concerned that TikTok influencers are promoting misconceptions about what sugar dating truly is. They’re worried it could have damaging consequences for young women who learn about the lifestyle through social media, as the videos gloss over key parts of the profession.
Sugar babies say some of the TikTok videos paint an unrealistic picture of the lifestyle
Brook Urick, a 29-year-old marketing consultant and former sugar baby from Nevada, believes sugar-baby TikTok videos — which often feature opulent vacations and bouquets of roses wrapped in $100 bills — set unreasonable expectations, as it’s only “the top 1%” of sugar babies who achieve such a lifestyle.
“There aren’t many men out there who have that sort of expendable income,” Urick told Insider. “Unless you’re the pinnacle of attractiveness, the chances you’re actually going to get a lifestyle like that are slim to none.”
Dash Priestley, a 25-year-old former sugar baby and entrepreneur from Georgia, told Insider that while TikTok sugar baby videos match her own experiences, she wants young women to know it’s not the norm.
“It’s about who you are and how you carry yourself. Most girls aren’t working at that level,” said Priestley. “The sugar baby TikTok world is more clout-based than information-based. This is not how things work.”
Online portrayals of being a sugar baby muddy the waters between legal and illegal sex work
In their videos, sugar influencers often claim to conduct completely virtual relationships with sugar daddies, who shower them with money and gifts without expecting sex in return. But Priestley told Insider sugar dating without sexual relations is uncommon.
“Sex is 100% going to come up in the conversation. You need to know how to avoid it, and know how to talk about it when it comes up,” she told Insider, adding that she now coaches sugar babies in these techniques.
She believes sugar babies need to learn tactics she describes as “manipulation” and “teasing” in order to make non-sexual relationships work. “It’s truly a game. You have to figure out how to play your cards,” she said.
Srushti Upadhyay, a PhD candidate at the University of Buffalo, New York, has published academic research on sugar babies. She told Insider there’s a thin line between sugar dating and sex work.
“It depends on how it’s advertised, the conversations happening, and understanding. Sugar babies specifically work to differentiate themselves from sex work,” she said.
According to the research charity ProCon, prostitution is illegal in the United States with the exception of 10 counties in Nevada, and most states punish the sex worker and customer equally, so openly exchanging money for sex would leave sugar babies vulnerable to prosecution.
Urick thinks TikTok is overrepresenting the opportunity of becoming a sugar baby without any sexual element. She estimates a maximum of 10% of sugar baby relationships do not involve sex.
“It’s very easy to lie about what’s really happening. That’s the dark side to this. There’s a culture of shame and secrecy because if you’re having sex for money, you certainly don’t want to put that on TikTok,” she said.
According to Upadhyay, discretion about sex is an important skill for young sugar babies to learn due to the legal implications. “It is absolutely possible for sugar babies to get themselves into trouble if they don’t know the legal risks involved in navigating these blurred lines,” she said.
Even the TikTokers themselves are worried about this trend.
“To be frank, a lot of sugar babies on TikTok that post such extravagant sugar daddy lifestyles came from pure luck,” said Summer Saito, a 23-year-old sugar baby TikToker from Hawaii, who often posts videos about the money she makes from platonic meetups with older men. “Many can try out the lifestyle and gain nothing from it. It’s very hit or miss.”
People may be enticed to become sugar babies without realizing the skills and labor required
Even without sex, sugar dating is an incredibly difficult lifestyle to navigate, according to sugar babies. Many sugar-baby TikTokers promote the lifestyle as a way to make easy money. They brag about cash and gifts sent by sugar daddies they’ve never met, often secured in exchange for texts.
In reality, successful sugar babies engage in a hefty amount of emotional labor to keep getting paid.
“It’s so much work and energy, especially when you’re trying to avoid sex,” Priestley told Insider. “If you want a man to take care of you, you have to put a lot of effort in to build respect without giving away anything.”
Taylor B. Jones, a 40-year-old former sugar baby and dating coach from Georgia, thinks the art of successful sugar dating requires huge amounts of inner work. “It’s a mindset thing. Do you believe you’re worth it, to have someone willing to provide to you?” she said. “You need to work, and you need to own your values.”
Upadhyay said the very essence of sugar dating is a hustle mindset. “Just to qualify for the sugar world, you have to put in the work. You have to set up profiles, talk to different prospective sugar daddies, and negotiate,” she says. “It’s a lot of emotional labor, and it also creates time constraints. On top of this, sugar daddies have their own requirements, and sugar babies need to work to meet them.”
Urick is worried that young women will get the wrong idea from TikTok. She’s concerned they’ll overlook the emotional labor involved, and more importantly, the risks of abuse, coercion, legal troubles, and reputation damage they take on when entering the sugar world.
“There are young women who see this lifestyle and see dollar signs,” she said. “It opens up the possibility for these sugar babies being victimized.”
Jones agreed that the lifestyle is more challenging than it looks from the outside. “I wouldn’t want a girl to navigate this lifestyle alone,” she told Insider.
There is hope that sugar-baby TikTok could become a force for good
Despite her concerns, Upadhyay has high hopes for sugar-baby TikTok. “There’s huge potential in terms of networking and mentorship. Some sugar babies have been able to find mentorship and have even achieved upward mobility through those connections,” she said. “You could look at it as networking, which is an essential part of any work.”
More recently, many sugar babies have started to intersperse their flashy videos with warnings about scams, and safety tips for new sugar babies who are just beginning to navigate the lifestyle.
Saito thinks it’s a sign of positive things ahead.
“I’ve seen a handful of helpful accounts that have given amazing advice and safety tips that would greatly help out someone just starting out — and I’ve had brands send products to try, sugar daddy sites reach out to promote their sites, and reporters reach out to get in an interview,” she says. “It does have its benefits.”
For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider’s Digital Culture team here.