The secret world of online sugaring

By Emma Darcy

We’ve all heard of sugaring, sugar dating, sugar babies, sugar daddies. However, the world of sugaring takes a dark turn when it seeps into the normal online world. There are many websites which offer a platform to find a sugar daddy such as Seeking and Seeking Arrangement, where women log on with the intention of being approached, but on websites such as Instagram and in particular, Tumblr, messages offering money for explicit photos, videos or even just conversation are often uninvited and unwanted.

This phenomenon will be known to a majority of female Tumblr users who post photos of themselves and have over a couple hundred followers. But this could unfortunately be a trap for younger girls who accept gifts and money without too much thought.

For Khloe Ryan, a 22-year-old from Kildare, her experience with the messages began when she was 17 and she received a message online offering to pay for a dress that she had shared an image of. “It was a silky black dress from the website dollskill and I just posted it, like just as to say I liked it, and I got this message from this account with no content or photos basically saying that he would love to send me the money to buy this eighty euro dress if I wouldn’t mind posting a photo of me on my Tumblr once it arrived.

Example of online Sugaring message

“I agreed thinking okay well this dress is too expensive for me to buy and if I had bought it myself, I would have been posting a photo of it regardless.”

Khloe received the dress, and everything seemed great, an anonymous person online buying her clothing just to see it on her.

“It got weird then because I was getting photos of chokers and expensive harnesses saying he’d buy them and I’d wear them for my Tumblr, when I would refuse, he would react in an ‘all I do for you’ type of way. I started to get uncomfortable and I just blocked the account thinking nothing of it. But he made numerous more accounts and kept messaging me, I even came home from school to a message saying he could track down my house based on my IP address which had me panicking for weeks.”

In reflection, Khloe has concerns of this behaviour, specifically on the basis that the anonymous person in question would have known that she was underaged as it was clearly displayed on her page.

“There are loads of girls who would say yes, and for more than what he was requesting. I think that’s really unnerving, realistically photos of a 17-year-old girl wearing harnesses and chokers is considered explicit. And demanding these photos to be put on my public Tumblr page for all the world to see is weird, if I had posted them then I would regret it now. But we can’t expect all girls to have that mindset when met with the offer of money.” 

On my own personal Tumblr page, with no hint of explicit content at all, my account has received hundreds of requests for photos and videos in exchange for PayPal transfers and Amazon gifts. Although Tumblr cannot directly monitor and filter messages, since  the 17th of December 2018, Tumblr began removing all adult and pornography-related accounts. This came after the discovery of child pornography on the platform.

Unfortunately, these accounts have still found a way to post and share pornographic content. This was still a step in the right direction towards filtering out accounts with unsuitable content and interests. There is still no help for girls receiving dangerous bribes or threats, other than a block button which puts no stop to the same person messaging an account under a different username, as experienced by Khloe.

Where do we draw the line between blatant online grooming and money-fueled manipulation and the opportunity for conscious girls to make money in the field of sugaring should they decide to do so? 

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