ST. LOUIS - It's called the sugar world: local sugar babies and sugar daddies are finding each other online and entering into what are called "mutually agreeable" relationships.
Hundreds of local college girls say being a sugar baby is a great way to pay for college. One website, Seeking Arrangement, says the average sugar baby makes $3,000 a month.
Seeking Arrangement is where University of Missouri-St. Louis student, Lauren, found her sugar daddy.
The 23-year-old marketing major joined Seeking Arrangement looking for someone to foot her tuition bill.
"Whenever we're together he'll usually give me some type of money," said Lauren.
The website bills itself as a site pairing young people of little financial means with older people willing to support them in exchange for companionship. But, that companionship is pricey.
Lauren's sugar daddy gives her between $500 and $2,500 every time he sees her. She says they meet an average of three times a week, meaning he gives her at least $1,500 a week, but she says sometimes her weekly cash haul from her sugar daddy is more than $4,500. Lauren says she saves the cash to pay for her UMSL tuition.
In the NewsChannel 5 viewing area, it appears Lauren is far from the only young woman looking to pay for college this way. A manager at Seeking Arrangement tells us 411 college girls in our area have profiles on their site to find sugar daddies. And that's just on one site. There are several others that offer the same service.
"Tuition is expensive and minimum wage doesn't cut it," said public relations manager Brook Urick.
Here is the breakdown of local college women with profiles on the site according to Seeking Arrangement:
UMSL - 6
Washington University - 7
Fontbonne - 7
Webster University - 8
Lindenwood University - 11
Saint Louis University - 31
University of Missouri-Columbia - 31
SIU-Carbondale - 45
SIU-Edwardsville - 86
University of Missouri-Rolla – 179
When NewsChannel 5 asked Lauren what she supplied to her sugar daddy in return for the cash, she said, "When we first met he was new to the area so a lot of it was taking him around town, showing him things, helping him furnish his new place that he got, definitely company. Then he started a new business, so definitely being a buffer with him and clients."
Lauren calls her relationship with her sugar daddy dating. She says she has been dating him since she enrolled at UMSL nine months ago. She also admits she is intimate with him explaining, "I mean, are you intimate with people you date? It happens, it's natural."
When asked to respond to the argument these arrangements are dressed-up prostitution, Lauren passionately disagrees.
"I say no, you don't have to do anything you don't want to do," she said.
The website's brass also rebuts the naysayers.
"Prostitution is illegal. Anyone who tried to exchange money for sex via our website is in direct violations of the terms," said Urick.
Urick added, "If there is a romantic relationship than sex is probably aspired to but never expected."
Lauren says it's worth every penny she won't have to pay back in student loans.
"I can definitely go into the work force stress free," she said.
Lauren says she does not have a job outside of being a sugar baby but could absolutely juggle work and school if she had to do it.
"It's not that I can't, but if I have the opportunity where my focus can be school and I can put all my energy into that, then why not?" she said.
As for a young woman's safety? The website says they do offer validation. Sugar daddies can opt to participate in an income verification and also a criminal background check. If they pass, there profile is adorned with special badges.
But relationship psychologist Dr. Sandra Shachar says that's not all the protection sugar babies will need.
"The danger in this is not anticipating what can happen in terms of emotional attachment, what kind of physical position you put yourself in when there is a sense of entitlement by the person who is paying for your service and what they expect from you," Dr. Shachar said.
The website Seeking Arrangement says the average sugar daddy on their site is 42-years-old and the average sugar baby is 26-years-old. Lauren says she and her sugar daddy do not disclose to their families and friends how they met. They just simply say they met "out in town."