"I'm just looking for a generous guy who wants to spoil me like I deserve," Rachel croons into her cell phone, leaving a not-so-subtle message with the cool, coquettish tone of a practiced phone sex worker. Her voice is high and childlike, but in reality, the black 20-year-old is all womanly curves.
Rachel pushes a button and saves the message — a voicemail profile that potential mates can listen to — before turning to a New Times reporter.
"That's how the professionals do it," she says matter-of-factly. "You've got to choose your words carefully, because to someone on the outside, it could sound like, you know, prostitution. But you've also got to sound confident to get that money."
Two hours ago, Rachel was sitting in a university lecture hall, circling letters on a multiple-choice final exam. Now she's reclining on her unmade bed, smoking weed, and looking for suckers to pay her bills. There is no shortage: Miami is full of busy black businessmen who want sex with no strings attached, old white men who want to unleash their fantasies on her, and married men who want her to help them discreetly cheat on their wives, she says.
After updating her voice profile, Rachel browses the selection of males currently prowling for companionship. "There are six men in the live lounge," drones a robotic voice from the cell phone's speaker. Rachel pushes another button, and a husky Southern twang fills the room. "I'm a 54-year-old white male looking for a sugar baby to treat right..." begins the man's message.
"Ewww," sneers Rachel's wisp-thin friend in short shorts from the other end of the bed. "He sounds like a murderer."
Fast money, fuzzy morals, and fearsome risks. They're all in a day's work for a sugar baby. Rachel, whose name New Times agreed to change for this article, is one of thousands of young women in South Florida who share their time — and often their beds — in exchange for older men's money.
Though such relationships are nothing unusual in a city like Miami, where squat, silver-haired male millionaires wear teenaged models on their arms like designer watches, a wave of internet websites is now courting a new demographic of sugar babies: college students.
One company in particular is leading the trend. Seeking Arrangement promotes itself as the nation's biggest "sugar daddy" dating site. Its founder, a self-described "shy MIT nerd," has courted a million college coeds by offering them free memberships to the site, which he markets as a way to pay off student loans.
With even entry-level jobs requiring a college diploma in today's job market and the price of a degree skyrocketing, Florida's female students are becoming sugar babies like never before. Our universities dominate the list of schools with the fastest-growing number of Seeking Arrangement users. Forget sunshine. Florida is on its way to becoming America's "Sugar Baby State."
Meanwhile, critics claim that Seeking Arrangement and similar websites are just prostitution 2.0. "These [websites] are a way of commodifying women and their bodies," says Laurie Essig, a professor of gender, sexuality, and feminist studies at Middlebury College in Vermont. Calling them sugar baby relationships "masks what might in fact be the sex trade in the language of familial relationships."
To understand the phenomenon, New Times spent six weeks speaking to nearly a dozen student sugar babies. They were white, black, and Hispanic; pretty and plain; wild party girls and no-nonsense businesswomen. Some make as much as $7,000 a month: enough to splurge on sports cars and fancy clothes, let alone stay in school.
Yet the hidden costs are even greater. Innocence is the least these women can lose, with sugar babies occasionally beaten or raped by men they meet online. Some slip from being college students to straight-up prostitutes. Several have wound up in jail for blackmailing overeager sugar daddies.
The biggest problem for Rachel, however, may be knowing when to quit.
As pot smoke swirls around the small room and the refrain of a rap song chimes "Pull out his dick, pull out his dick" from the stereo's speakers, she says of her extracurricular activities: "I don't want to get hooked... but it's so much fun."
"I have a fetish," the man admitted sheepishly. He was dressed in a baggy white T-shirt and basketball shorts. A ring of gray hair crowned the sexagenarian's scalp. Less than a third his age, Rachel sat on the couch next to him wearing a tight black dress and high heels. A bottle of Patrón Gold glowed on the coffee table in front of them. The two had met a few months earlier on Seeking Arrangement. Now they were on a "date" at the sugar daddy's house in Kendall.
"Ooh, that's kinky," Rachel replied, tossing back a slug of tequila to wash down her fears of being tied up or pissed on. "That kind of turns me on. What is it?"