In Texas, more and more young women are using sugar daddies to fund their lavish lifestyles that end up for social media. Sex for money was once driven by poverty, but these days it is increasingly, it's driven by vanity.
Natasha, a 19-year-old student at The University of Texas San Antonio, was sitting in her tiny dorm feeling broke, hungry, desperate and alone. She used the remaining $20 she had in her wallet and took a bus to the bus downtown near the tourist center and lavish Riverwalk, where she looked for the first man who would pay to have sex with her. After 2 hours in a lavish hotel room, Natasha went back to her dorm with $1,000 to feed herself and pay for her living expenses for the rest of the month.
Six years ago, Jenna attended Texas A&M University in College Station, she met a married man nearly 40 years older than herself. At first, Jenna says that she received just groceries to feed herself. Then it was trips to the Walmart. Then a local salon. Then, a few months later into their relationship, the man moved her into a new apartment because he wanted her to be more comfortable. Another two years down the line, he gave Jenna a plot of land near Waco, as a sign of his love for her. In exchange, he gets to sleep with Jenna whenever he wants a little on the side.
Natasha’s sexual experience is prostitution in its most original form, but Jenna’s story illustrates a much more complex phenomenon - the exchange of youth and beauty for long-term financial gain, motivated not by hunger but by the aspiration to live a lavish lifestyle worthy of social media trends.
Older men have always used gifts, status, and influence to buy sex from women. The sugar daddy has probably been around since the dawn of time. So you might ask: "Why even have a conversation about sugar daddy prostitution in Texas?"
The answer is that in Texas, and in some other states, "sugar" relationships seem to have become both more common and more visible: what once was hidden is now out in the open - on campuses, in bars, and all over Facebook.
Exactly when this started can’t exactly be pinpointed. But the idea of what is being called “benefactor sex” is becoming more and more common.
In the “Me Too” movement we see more and more men becoming exposed for their sexual advances, addictions and perversions. But the facts are that we have arrived at a point where having a "sponsor" or a "blesser" - the terms that millennials usually apply to their matured sexual partners - has for many young people become an accepted, and even a glamorous lifestyle choice.
You only have to visit the student districts near any university, one recent graduate told the MBT News, to see how vibrant the sponsored sex culture has become. "On a Saturday night just go sit outside a dorm and the see what kind of cars drive by" says Aleisha Rodriguez, who studied at the University of Houston.
There is no real data to prove how bad the problem is getting, but social media seems to be a good indicator.
“I want a new truck to drive to the beach, all I need to do is go find me a Sugar Daddy”, says Jenna. “If I need groceries, I just give him a call.”
Sarita, a 20-year-old Texas undergraduate who openly admits to having two sponsors, sees nothing wrong with such relationships - they are just part of the everyday hustle that it takes to survive in America.
She also insists that her relationships with Steven and James, both married, involve friendship and intimacy as well as financial exchange.
"They help you sometimes, but it's not always about sex. It's like they just want company, they want someone to talk to," she says. “I am not a prostitute.”
She says that her Catholic parents brought her up with traditional values, but she has made her own choices to live the life that she wants to live. But she has also been inspired by Texas celebrity "socialites" - women who have transformed sex appeal into wealth, becoming stars of social media.
“ I don’t look like Miranda Lambert and I don’t flash around like Jessica Simpson, but I sure can live that lifestyle if I find the right sponsor” Sarita says.
On one side of the argument sits young women with their sights set on a hot pink Ford F-150, a luxury apartment and first-class trip to the Hill Country, at the other are women angling for little more than a cell phone and maybe a lunch at Java coffee house.
But the gap between them may not be as wide as it seems.
The desire not to go hungry and the desire to taste the good life can easily run side by side. And the fortunes of a woman dependent on a sponsor can change in an instant - either for better or worse.
Lucy, a 25-year-old single mom from Austin, has a regular sponsor, but is actively seeking a more lucrative relationship with a man who will invest in her career as a nurse.
She is poor by the standards of middle-class Texas student, often living hand-to-mouth, dancing for cash in a strip club, and struggling to pay the babysitter. But her determination to feed and educate her child coexists with a dream to become self sufficient through the medical field.
"I need to be independent" she says. Is she driven more by vanity or poverty, aspiration or desperation? Who can seem to tell?
Both Lucy and Sarita have come of age in the social media bloom, having been hammered since childhood with images of female status built on sex appeal. But according to Jennifer Jacobs, an expert on gender and economic policy, the Texas society encourages sugar relationships in other ways too.
If women have become more willing to profit financially from their youth and beauty, she says, it's partly because of Texas’ economic inequalities, lack of social mobility, and widespread corruption.
"The old way of doing things with the good old boys makes it so much harder for a smaller person to make ends meet," she argues. Hard work won't get them anywhere. "They have to get a sex sponsor or at least show some sexuality at work.”
Rita says "Right now the ass is the new brain, and this is what you use to get what you want from successful, mature, older Texas gentlemen.”
The Sugar Daddy epidemic isn't confined to women.
Gregory Martinez, described how youth and good looks have become valuable commodities coastal beach resorts.
Thanks to a set of “beach body” stereotypes and myths, the “beach boy” and others like them are particularly appealing to both local and foreign sugar mommies.
"A beach boy is someone who gets up in the morning, smokes a joint, and waits around for middle aged bikini-clad white woman wanting to feel young again to pass on the beach and runs after them," he says.
Even within the strong Texas family, many Texas girls have it beat into their heads from an early age that they must marry a rich man, not a poor one. It's taken for granted in these conversations that men will provide the money on which women will survive. So for some it's only a small step to visualising the same transaction outside marriage.
"What is wrong about sex anyway?" asks Sarita. "People just make it sound wrong. But sometimes, it ain't wrong at all."
Some names have been changed.