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Why Matt Gaetz proves that college-age women should be wary of sugar dating

<h6>“Matt Gaetz” by Gage Skidmore / <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Matt_Gaetz_(48512185331).jpg" target="_self">CC BY 2.0</a></h6>
“Matt Gaetz” by Gage Skidmore / CC BY 2.0

Following the indictment of former tax collector Joel Greenberg, Florida representative Matt Gaetz is under fire for alleged sexual misconduct. An inquiry is underway, investigating the possibility of Gaetz having had sex with a 17-year-old girl. I find Gaetz’s accusations so pertinent because of my closeness in age to the woman Gaetz may have had sex with — myself and my first-year female peers are merely a year older than her — and because of the frequency with which college-aged women — possibly even Princeton women — use sugar dating apps like Seeking Arrangement. It is thus out of disgust for Gaetz and concern for my colleagues who are, or are considering becoming, sugar babies, that I feel it is so important to warn Princetonians not only about Gaetz’s sexual deviancy, but also its inextricable connection to sugar dating, which can often fuel problematic behavior.

Indeed, the accusations against Gaetz have career-ending implications, so it is necessary to uphold Gaetz’s right to due process before undoubtedly declaring his guilt. However, as an individual far removed from the justice system, it is within my rights to suspect truth in Gaetz’s accusation; I ground this suspicion in his alleged use of the dating platform Seeking Arrangement. I admit, when I first heard about the allegations against Gaetz, I found myself assuming his guilt as a consequence of our drastic political differences. For as long as Gaetz has been a recurring presence in the media, he has possessed a striking disregard for morality, but my assurance of Gaetz’s guilt is ungrounded in his staunch conservatism. Deviation from my own political and ethical compass — even if this deviation includes defense of white supremacists and the belittlement of democracy — does not necessarily implicate Gaetz in rape or pedophilia.

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It is instead his alleged use of the app Seeking Arrangement that provides support and explanation for Gaetz’s abuse of power as manifested in his pedophilia. Seeking Arrangement is a dating app designed for individuals looking to engage in sugar dating, a transactional relationship which typically consists of an older man with significant financial assets and a younger woman in need of said assets. (There are also sugar relationships consisting of an older woman — a sugar mommy — and a younger man, but sugar mommies are much less common, and outside of the scope of this column). The age difference between sugar babies and daddies can span a few years to a few decades: about 40 percent of sugar babies are college students, whereas the average age of sugar daddies is 45. In Princeton terms, this is the equivalent of one of our peers being wined and dined by a University parent — although this may not be statutorily illegal, it would be objectively uncomfortable and vaguely predatory.

Gaetz’s alleged participation in sugar dating is a common prerequisite for the attitudes necessary for a sexual relationship with a minor. In a sugar relationship, the sugar daddy generally allocates an allowance for his sugar baby. Although this allowance is perhaps welcomed by the sugar baby, the concept of allotting and limiting funds for one’s significant other is both paternalistic and a form of passive assertion of dominance. Allowance fosters dependence and power imbalance; once a sugar relationship has been curated, the sugar baby becomes reliant on their sugar daddy analogous to the reliance of a child on a parent. The disparity in power between the individual with financial means and the individual without creates the framework for manipulation of and violence against sugar babies by their sugar daddies.

Sugar relationships are not inherently non-consensual, but they possess the foundational qualities necessary to empower and enable men like Gaetz to pursue minors — many of them resembling the young women of Princeton’s campus — and think they can get away with it. Gaetz and his parents are together worth about $30 million; in almost every romantic relationship Gaetz pursues, he will be in possession of both monetary and legal advantages. The immunity that wealthy men feel in regards to sexual capability is only perpetuated by the existence of sugar daddy relationships in which money is framed as a means of “access” to a young woman’s body.

I possess no disdain or judgement for sugar babies — I have plenty of friends who have at times considered sending amorous texts or foot pictures to older men on Instagram in exchange for a hefty Venmo once a week. I am sure young women at Princeton in a financial pinch have been tempted by sugar daddies on Instagram who have direct-messaged them. If it is seemingly safe to use the sugar daddy obsession with the implicit power of wealth disparity to one’s advantage, then one has the right to do so. However, these men can be, and often are, dangerous — Gaetz is an example of just one in a sea of many who are blinded by their privilege and believe that money equates to sexual prowess. I fear that this entitlement is an inevitable consequence of sugar dating; this dating field is based on the notion that one’s body will be granted in exchange for an allowance, which enforces the idea of ownership on the part of sugar daddies. A natural consequence of the misconception of external ownership of a sugar baby’s body is the mistreatment of this body as an exemplification of dominance. With my Princeton colleagues in mind, I worry that there is a very real risk of abuse if participating in a sugar relationship; I therefore urge Princetonians entering such relationships to reconsider.

Gaetz is in full possession of the knowledge that both his financial resources and his congressional power put his sugar babies at a complete power disadvantage — his embrace of this disparity serves as evidence both of an obsession with ego and ultimately, a gateway to the sexual violence I presume he has committed. Gaetz’s suspected relationship with the 17-year-old in question enforces the norms established by the sugar dating community — namely, that power imbalance is desirable, and the more reliant the young woman on the older man, the bigger the power trip and the more successful the arrangement. I hope that sugar dating will eventually go extinct; perhaps then the sexiness of this imbalance will follow suit, and with one less outlet for sexually-driven egomania, women will find themselves in possession of an additional layer of protection from the Matt Gaetzs of the world.

Andi Grene is a first-year from Manhattan. She can be reached at agrene@princeton.edu.

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