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“Don judge me,” the Pittsburgh university student said nervously to a close friend as she prepared to answer a question she had suspected was coming.

After almost dropping out of college because of money problems, the student, 21, suddenly was flush with cash, her tuition and rent bills paid on time, her collection of designer clothes and shoes growing.

Millions of people in the United States and abroad have joined “sugar daddy” dating sites, which charge male users and the occasional “sugar mommy” monthly fees or purchased credits to message attractive younger users seeking money, gifts or access to a financially elite lifestyle. “It is an exchange of intimacy for access to mentorship, someone who can open doors for them.”

A rapidly growing demographic on several pay for dating sites is college students, just as student debt tops $1 trillion and tuition keeps climbing. In 2014, sugar babies received “allowances” ranging from $4,587 in Seattle to $5,874 in New York, for an average of about $3,000 a month nationally, the website reports.

“I tell (the men) straight up I started this because I don have the money to pay for college; my parents won help me pay for anything,” Jasmine told the Tribune Review. She did not want her real name published for fear of repercussions from her parents, school officials and potential employers.

In her third “arrangement” since the spring, Jasmine says she has not had sex with any of the men, although she not opposed to a relationship getting to that point. She said she knows plenty of other arrangements get there quickly.

Of 25 to 30 introductory meetings with potential sugar daddies, Jasmine recalls several times feeling like she didn live up to the man expectations, “mainly because I wasn going to have sex with them on the first date.”

“I don want to be paid for sex,” she said firmly.

The sites reject criticisms that liken their services to prostitution. They say their administrators regularly delete profiles of users seeking explicit exchanges for sex, as well as men flagged by other users for being too aggressive and women using the site to promote their adult webcams. Perkins, chief marketing officer of Arrangement Finders. Its 2 million users include 40,000 in Pennsylvania and 3,400 in Pittsburgh.

Asternack, 50, got the idea when he moved to Miami and came across women having trouble in finding successful men who could afford to take them to fancy restaurants and spoil them with gifts. He said he does not market to college women, although they are on his site.

“Generally, everybody always imagines Anna Nicole Smith with an 80 year old man in a wheelchair that not what this website is about,” Asternack said.

In fact, Asternack said he thinks some marketing approaches by newer sites take the money element too far. Some sites, for example, list what a man is willing to pay monthly or per date and his net worth.

“Once you start negotiating, that a business transaction,” Asternack said. It has nearly 20,000 Pennsylvania members, including 1,101 “generous males” in Pittsburgh, and 1,376 “attractive females” and 123 “attractive males.” Most users are 25 to 35 years old; 37 percent are in college.

One user, an unmarried, 48 year old health care salesman from Hershey who uses the pseudonym “Randy,” said he enjoys bidding for dates as a way to cut out the weeks of messaging it took him to arrange a date on more traditional dating websites.

He estimates he spent about $10,000 over the past year on five women.

“I really like the concept that you can meet people from pretty much all over and get to a date pretty quickly,” said Randy, noting he travels for work, including to Pittsburgh.

Randy said he has never offered a woman an allowance, although he has paid an occasional phone or cable bill. He said some relationships evolved to the point he no longer pays for dates. He hopes his connection with a Miami woman becomes a monogamous relationship.

“I really am looking for love,” he said.

“The women, believe it or not, have so much power in these sorts of arrangements,” Perkins said. “They call the shots of what they want to do and what they don want to do, and money only part of it.”
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