WASHINGTON — Pretty young women and older men of means -- 'sugar babies' and 'sugar daddies' -- are pairing up thanks to a US website that openly offers companionship for money, but balks at the word prostitution.
SeekingArrangement.com (SA) -- which bills itself as the "premier Sugar Daddy dating site" -- does not beat around the bush.
"We are a matchmaking website for wealthy benefactors, and attractive guys and gals," its front page says.
It is one of dozens of Internet sites that centers around the age-old idea of a "Sugar Daddy" -- an older man who pays to maintain the lifestyle for a younger, beautiful companion.
On SA, the idea is simple: a man who is "rich and successful... single or married" sets up an online profile that reveals the amount in his bank accounts and the monthly allowance he can provide to a willing woman.
Amounts range from at least $1,000 to more than $20,000.
"You have no time for games. You are looking to mentor or spoil someone special," says the site.
Men pay $50 a month for an account, plus $1,000 a year for the site to certify his wealth.
For the woman, who is ideally "attractive, ambitious and young," membership on the site is free.
"You seek a generous benefactor to pamper, mentor and take care of you, perhaps to help you financially?" asks the site.
The couple will meet, dine, travel together -- and maybe more.
"If it was just money and sex, people would go to an escort website," SA founder Brandon Wade told AFP.
"People meet, they negotiate and feel the chemistry, and if two people don't like each other, then nothing happens."
The 41-year-old Wade, who graduated from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said people are often overly judgmental of these types of relationships.
"The point is that there's nothing wrong with dating somebody who is rich and who is willing to spend money on you in a relationship, and that's what it is about," he said.
On the site's blog, "BellaSavantNYC" describes herself as an an educated career woman and says that helps her attract even more men.
"For me, having a sugar adds enjoyment and companionship without any of the general relationship issues. I have been in arrangements where it was platonic as well and it was just as fulfilling," she writes.
Of course, money is at the heart of SA, an idea the website reinforces with their logo, which is a red heart with a $ symbol in the middle.
And of course, there are Sugar Mommies too, dating younger men.
Ronald Weitzer, a sociology professor at George Washington University and author of several studies on the sex industry, says under US law, there must be talk of money for sex from the start of the process to constitute prostitution.
In the case of SA, he says, the specific amount is not asked for right away.
"Prostitution is normally a direct exchange of some kind of material resources for sexual services," Weitzer told AFP.
"It's considered a very direct transaction but it gets complicated when you start looking at a more long-term relationship between the person who is paying and the person who is receiving," he says, calling SA's service "borderline."
He adds that most of the women on the site would not define themselves as prostitutes.
"But if you would ask them, 'Are you basically exchanging sex and romance for economic benefit?' they would have to say yes. Basically that would be a definition of prostitution."
According to Wade, 35 percent of the Sugar Babies who use his site are students who often use the money to pay for their studies, though that number cannot be independently verified.
So are Sugar Daddies truly searching for romance or fixed-rate love?
"I don't know what they are looking for," said Weitzer.
"Clearly what we do know is that they have resources. They are not the type of person who would go out on the street, looking for a prostitute -- they are lawyers, corporate people, bankers."