In 2016, Hal learned that one of his friends was a sugar baby, someone who goes out with usually older and wealthier individuals in exchange for gifts or regular allowances. This friend, a man who dated both sugar daddies and mommies, made sugaring sound like “a way to make easy money.” That appealed to Hal, then in his mid-20s and fresh out of a stint in the military. He’d been struggling to make ends meet while searching fruitlessly for a job, so as a fairly handsome and fit man, he figured he’d give it a try.
He made an account on a purposefully unspecified sugar dating site, and found a guy who was willing to pay him $500 per date, on the condition that they’d chat regularly and see each other once a week. Though his description paints this daddy as demanding and not always pleasant to be around, those dates usually ended in sex. “At the time, $500 was a lot for me,” Hal, a pseudonym, recalls. “It was a little for someone making millions.”
This is a pretty archetypal sugar dating story, down to the sums Hal earned every month. Except for one detail, that is: Both Hal and his friend are, as he puts it, “pretty much 100 percent hetero.”
It can be hard for some people to wrap their heads around the idea of a straight man with a sugar daddy. Even insiders like Kimberly De La Cruz, a spokesperson for Seeking Arrangement, one of the biggest sugar dating sites, tells me she’s never heard of an arrangement like Hal’s. Likewise, Maren Scull, a leading sugar dating academic, says that neither she nor any other scholars she’s aware of have studied male sugar babies’ demographics or behaviors, so it’s impossible to say how prevalent this sort of dynamic is.
But dig into the bowels of the internet and you’ll find many tales like Hal’s. Forums like Let’s Talk Sugar actually have a standard term for men like him: gay-for-pay sugar babies. Likewise, sex therapists tell me they’ve met a number of straight men who’ve had sugar daddies. Joe Kort, a therapist who specializes in male sexuality, believes “this is more common than we know.” “It’s underreported because of the stigma around straight men having sex with men, and around exchanges of cash for sexual relationships,” he explains.
The prevalence of gay-for-pay sugar babies may also be difficult to detect within the sugar world because many straight men find daddies outside of sugar sites like Seeking Arrangement. Instead, they find each other on dating apps like Grindr and OkCupid, on social media sites like Tumblr and via in-person connections. They don’t always know or use sugar dating terminology when they talk about their experiences either, notes sexologist Susan Block. Instead, they may use more direct phrasing and general language — for example, “forming relationships with other men for cash.”
This might be the case because the terms “sugar baby” and “daddy” originated over a century ago in reference to wealthy men with young brides or mistresses, and to the women who sought them out. As sugar dating sites cropped up in the early 2000s, they adhered to the gender norms embedded in this language, encouraging young women to embrace the transactional aspects of mainstream dating scripts — like men paying for nights out — and capitalize upon them by forming explicitly commodified relationships that revolve around the exchange of resources for intimacy. In fact, some sugar dating sites exclusively hosted young female babies and older daddies in the past, though many have softened that stance. By the 2010s, the term “sugar baby” had popularly come to signify a twentysomething woman with college debt and few good ways to make money, catering to the whims of lonely older men.
Despite this early history and positioning, the prospect of paid dating has also long enticed a growing number of younger men. Seeking Arrangement claims they currently have over four million male sugar babies looking for sugar mommies, and almost two million looking for daddies, with a fair amount of overlap between the two (as some male sugar babies are looking for both). But De La Cruz and other experts admit sugar mommies are rare, and that straight male sugar babies with mommies are few and far between. (Disappointingly, there’s not a lot of info available on what proportion of the sugar mommy population is looking for a queer dynamic.)
Sugar daddies — whether straight, queer or questioning — are far more common, though they’re often outnumbered by at least five-to-one by babies on these sites. Insiders chalk this up to gender norms that encourage men to act as providers and trade their wealth for one-sided emotional labor and physical intimacy, while also discouraging women from doing the same.
As such, most successful male sugar babies date daddies. Seeking Arrangement acknowledges that it has no way of knowing these men’s sexualities, but the standard assumption seems to be that, if a guys has a daddy, then he must be queer. “If you’re a male who identifies as straight but also engages in sex with other men, aren’t you really just sort of bi-curious? Don’t those two things contradict each other?” muses a befuddled De La Cruz. “I wonder if it’s just about these men not wanting to come out yet. I honestly have a hard time understanding that sort of dynamic.” Nevermind that it’s this exact assumption that’s led many bisexual and queer people to feel invalidated and unseen — it’s still an unfortunate example of how binary we assume male sexuality to be.
Yet, while it’s true that some ostensibly straight male sugar babies may be queer, others, like Hal, are comfortable and confident in their heterosexuality. “I’m pretty secure in myself, so I never really questioned what I ultimately liked,” he tells me.
Over the last three decades, a large and ever-growing body of research has shown that many straight men engage in queer sex, without ever questioning their sexualities or feeling any real desire for other men. In some cases, they do this when it’s the only sex available and they need a release; in others, it simply feels good and that’s that. In certain cases, they may just need cash, and sex work is on the table. There’s a long and storied tradition of gay-for-pay actors in the porn world, and MEL has covered straight male sex workers who cater to queer male clients on sites like OnlyFans. But outside of the world of sex work, Block says that “straight male-on-male sex is pretty secretive, especially among older men.”
“Some men who are only having sex with other men at a given moment might still identify as straight,” she adds. To them, this is just a physical process or a moment in time, not their whole identity.
Hal points out that it’s not that hard to have sex with someone you’re not attracted to — people of all orientations do it all the time. “I just thought of it as a job,” he explains. “I was pretty much up for whatever.” That said, he says he did use alcohol to “zone out.”
Other men use Viagra or similar pills to get and stay hard while they’re intimate with their sugar daddies, Block notes. Some watch straight porn beforehand or during sex, too. A few just don’t think about who they’re with and enjoy the raw sensations of penetrating an anus, prostate stimulation or oral sex in the moment — things they could experience with female partners, too.
It’s also worth noting that not all sugar relationships involve sex. Sometimes they’re just about lonely people seeking some companionship. Queer male sugar babies say their daddies often mainly want to mentor or guide them, or to fulfill some sort of authoritative role. Even when things do get sexual, intimacy might be about kinky role play — like getting bossed around or degraded by a baby — than intercourse. It’s not hard to imagine a straight guy feeling comfortable fitting into such a quasi-platonic transactional relationship with an older queer man, for the right gifts or allowance.
However, sex therapists say that straight men who have sex with men often draw lines around certain forms or expressions of non-sexual intimacy with the men they get involved with. They may not kiss or hug them, or they might put hard limits on how long they talk with their sugar daddies every week, as well as what they talk about. They may choose to reserve these parts of themselves for relationships with women, if they pursue those as well. (This sort of boundary-setting is pretty common in most successful sugar relationships.)
Even if they can square their personal sexualities with their sugar relationships, though, straight male sugar babies often hide this element of their lives from everyone else they know, lest they face confusion and stigma. Hal says that was one of the hardest parts of his time as a sugar baby. “Basically lying about that side of my life — it can affect other relationships,” he tells me.
Many babies, be they male, female, straight or queer, also struggle to set or enforce firm boundaries with daddies, who may push for more and more of their time or affection. Much as sugar dating sites like to depict sugar relationships as mutually empowering, babies’ heavy reliance on their daddies’ cash, and the scarcity of available daddies versus babies, can easily lead to one-sided pressure and blurred lines. Unless you know how to hustle like a champ, and hold firm emotional-physical boundary lines, sugaring can get real draining, real fast. (That’s not to say that sugar babies and daddies never form healthy, mutually-empowering relationships, however — many do.)
That’s why Hal put an end to his sugar relationship after about a year. “Even though we were supposed to meet up once a week, it sometimes felt like a full-time job,” he says. “I had to consistently communicate with him. I lost my weekends, when he wanted to have our mandatory meetups. Our relationship got less discrete, as he started introducing me to his friends” without consent.
“Then I got into a serious relationship with a girl, and it felt wrong, juggling a sugar relationship and an actual relationship,” Hal continues. He wanted to give more of himself to her than his less fulfilling, increasingly pushy sugar daddy allowed, so he ended things.
Overall, Hal, like many other former sugar babies, doesn’t think the complexities of these relationships are worth the money for most people. That’s why he says he’ll never sugar for a daddy again. Well, that and the fact that he’s getting older and “a lot of daddies seek younger people.”
It’s telling just how similar Hal’s story is not only to those of other straight men who’ve had sugar daddies, but to those of most sugar babies in general. That uncanny sameness speaks to the core promises and pitfalls of purely transactional relationships, but it also gets at the surprising mundanity of a straight man sleeping with another man. No matter how unfathomable or rare the flavor may seem, all sugar tastes like sugar in the end.