#ProjectWinter: One Post, 30 Replies: Find Out What Happened When We Used Seeking Arrangements

Hannah Bentley

Since its launch in 2006 Seeking Arrangements has garnered over 20 million users worldwide. 

Sugar daddies (and mummies) pay a subscription fee for their accounts to be active in order to view the potential sugar babies.  

At £79.95 a month many users are keen to reap the rewards the site promises so are quick to propose arrangements. 

Sugar babies can link ‘gift lists’ on their profiles picking from a range of products, anything from designer jewellery to sex toys.  

The idea being the sugar daddy buys you a gift to persuade you into an arrangement.  

As part of Project Winter’s investigation into how students are coping with the cost-of-living crisis, we wanted to see how hard – or easy – it was for a student to get offers of money for an “arrangement”. 

Meet ‘Emma’.  

She’s a 22-year-old single female and describes herself as “Fun, flirty and fabulous!”  

She joined Seeking Arrangements because she is “a student looking to make some extra money 🙂 ”. 

Emma, in fact, does not exist.  

She’s an artificial intelligence-generated face and we are the twenty-something year old students looking to see how the users on Seeking Arrangements act.  

Within 24 hours Emma had received more than 30 messages and had been favourited over 20 times

After making the profile in less than 10 minutes, complete with a bio and picture, the profile was live.  

Within 24 hours Emma had received more than 30 messages and had been favourited over 20 times. Nearly all the profiles were over the age of forty. 

At a push some responses might be considered sweet.  

Many are downright creepy.  

First is ‘Rob’ who claims he’s 49-years-old. He wished Emma a happy valentine’s day: 

Next was ‘Captain Jack’, 45. He shared how pleased he was that Emma didn’t use a filter and gave us access to his private photos… 

Davinovi, 40, also shared his private photos and was obviously very attracted to the AI face! 

Professional guy Mike, 47, thought Emma would be a great match. 

Venuscharm’, 39, wasted no time getting straight to the point. 

‘xxx190’, 41, was keen to learn about Emma’s non-existent body… 

41-year-old SexyShoulders’ was very informative: 

‘Chris’, 53, proved he certainly isn’t new to these sorts of arrangements: 

‘Smart Artist’, 48, sent a whole damn essay! 

EstablishedMember’, 50, was veering on the creepy side with the adjective “adorable”… 

But this “older gent”, 50, certainly wins the prize for most unsettling response describing Emma as “innocent”: 

The site’s official line is they are an “online dating service” helping people to “find relationships that fit your lifestyle”. They’re keen for users to be “direct” and “honest” about what they expect from the arrangement. 

If Emma was indeed real, the next step would be replying to these men and deciding who she wanted to meet up with and who she’d have an online relationship with. Meeting in person incurs some risks as these people are strangers.  

Some sugar babies (and daddies) find some peace of mind in only meeting up with people who have their identity verified through the site. This way it’s more likely the person is who they claim to be in their profile.  

But we did not need to verify our identity or prove that we were 18 or older to have the account activated.  

Seeking Arrangement’s blog posts offer sugar babies ways to keep safe whilst dating such as keeping your real name concealed and video calling sugar daddy/mummy before meeting with them. 

These tips don’t negate the fact that people, particularly the men, could be using the site to take advantage of young women in tough financial situations.  

Whatever your stance on sex work, it’s somewhat depressing to think about the site’s huge popularity and how many men are eager to make offers to women… and potentially their bodies. 

Seeking Arrangements is not the only site providing this sort of ‘dating platform’, others include SugarDaddy.com, Ashley Madison and even groups on Reddit r/SugarBaby which is free to use. 

All the profiles who reached out to Emma were significantly older than her and more financially stable.  

They all seemed eager to help this struggling student make some extra money… and expected ‘Emma’ in return.  

A relationship with any of these men would be one of a power imbalance.  

Viewed in this way, some of the men’s claims at being “respectable” and “normal” seem dis-ingenuine. In particular, the last two men were clearly enticed by Emma’s “adorable” and “innocent” look (I think she looks like a normal woman?), which when considering the implicit message that these men were willing to pay for an “arrangement” with Emma it certainly makes our toes curl.  

Emma’s situation resembles many other young peoples’, struggling to make ends meet whilst studying and needing flexible work to cover living costs

The existence of Seeking Arrangements and its large number of users exposes societal issues of how particularly women are still viewed through a sexualised lens.  

We contacted the site offering them a chance to comment but they did not respond. 

Emma’s situation resembles many other young peoples’, struggling to make ends meet whilst studying and needing flexible work to cover living costs.  

Financial security and expensive gifts are exactly what these men appear to promise in return for… well, as Emma was created by AI, we’ll never find out. 

And we don’t want to.  

What the Nottingham universities have to say….

A spokesperson from the University of Nottingham said: “The University of Nottingham has increased its Student Hardship Fund by 50% to £750,000 to provide grants and interest free loans to any student who is experiencing financial difficulties, as well as providing access to cheaper food options on campus, free kitchens, shower facilities, heated study spaces and period products. Students can find out more about the University’s support for them at https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/studentservices/money/cost-of-living.aspx

“The University is also working hard to shield students from significant price rises during the current cost-of-living crisis and has absorbed all cost increases for University accommodation this year rather than pass them onto students. We have also fixed 2023/24 increases in accommodation charges to 5% – the same level as last year – at a time when inflation was running at more than 12%.

“We are continuing to lobby the government for further support for students through our roles in Universities UK and the Russell Group. Together, universities can be a powerful lobby and we are collectively calling on government to: provide targeted hardship funding for UK students; reinstate maintenance grants for those most in need; ensure that support for students is protected against inflation; increase financial support for postgraduate researchers; and ensuring that any government action to support people with rising costs, such as energy, can be accessed by students across the UK, including those in halls.”

A Nottingham Trent University spokesperson said: “We recognise the impact that the increases in the cost of living can have on our students and we work in partnership with our students’ union to understand the kind of support needed. We provide a range of advice and guidance around managing money whilst studying and information about deals, perks and discounts.

“We regularly promote all that we offer to ensure that students know how we can help them. We have increased our hardship funds, have frozen prices at all our catering outlets and provide free fruit on campus. We have also targeted support for those most in need, such as bursaries or food parcels. We are also funding the costs of graduation gowns for all of our final year students.

“We’ll continue to listen to our students to ensure that we are doing all that we can to support them in the most appropriate way.”

Hannah Bentley

To read more about what our Project Winter investigations revealed, click here

Featured image courtesy of Joe Shields via Unsplash. Image license found here. 

In-article courtesy of Hannah Bentley. Permission to use granted to Impact. 

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