INDIANAPOLIS - College "sugar babies" have never been more plentiful in Indiana, according to a website that matches "sugar daddies" with much younger women.
The website, Seeking Arrangement, pairs women, often college students, with older men for what the site calls "mutually beneficial relationships and mutually beneficial arrangements."
It's admittedly controversial, but business is booming. Seeking Arrangement said 404 Indiana University students are signed up, and that's only counting those using university email addresses on their accounts.
IU's representation, up 43 percent 2013, makes it No. 18 on the site's annual list of growing sugar baby schools in the U.S.
Though no other Indiana schools ranked in the top 20 growth list, 144 Ball State students are signed up using a campus email address and 138 Purdue students have done the same.
It is unclear how many more students at Indiana schools did not use their campus email account to sign up, not to mention those using similar sites.
What's the appeal?
Chelsea, 24, dreamed of going to college ever since she graduated with honors from high school at age 16, but she hadn't been able to afford it until now, thanks to a relationship she orchestrated on Seeking Arrangement.
Chelsea is a sugar baby
"After a few months, I found a few gentlemen who messaged me, and they had seemed like exactly what I was looking for, just a mutually beneficial relationship for us," she said.
The "mutual benefit" is an exchange of cash and gifts for companionship.
"It's all about meeting one another's needs. So, if a man is looking for a girl who can go out to dinner twice a week, maybe go on a trip, he doesn't maybe necessarily have the time for traditional dating, doesn't want to have to text her all day," said Brook Urick, Seeking Arrangement public relations manager. "So, a sugar baby is definitely a good option."
Chelsea sees her 56-year-old sugar daddy about once a week.
"He'll call me when he's in town, and we'll get together and go out to the movies, or we'll go out to dinner," she said. "Sometimes, we go to his house and just stay at the house and watch a movie and cuddle."
Chelsea said her sugar daddy never pressures her for sex, and she never asks for money. He offered to pay for all her college, plus take her shopping. He has also talked about buying her a new car, she said.
"That's kind of what those gentlemen on that site are looking for is someone that they can, I guess, kind of spoil," she said. "Because most of them are older gentlemen, so they're looking for a younger girl, I guess you would consider like arm candy, to take out to dinner and look nice with them."
If the relationship and agreement continues, Chelsea will graduate with no college debt. Her sugar daddy will have paid for about $50,000 worth of school, just for her companionship.
Without the influx of cash and gifts, Chelsea's financial situation would be more difficult.
"It's like you're going to school for four years or so, and then you're spending six years after that paying off the rest of your loans," Chelsea said. "So, you're not even making money for almost 10 years."
Response to critics
Some critics consider the service a form of prostitution.
Brook Urick, Seeking Arrangement public relations manager
"Prostitution is illegal, and anyone who tries to use our site for that is in direct violation of the terms. We do take some precautions to remove those people from the site," Urick said. "Also, prostitution is the black-and-white exchange of sex for money, whereas our site builds relationships, and if there's romance, if there's a relationship, then perhaps romantic relationships involve sex, but it's never expected or part of the arrangement."
"It's his choice to pay whatever he wants to for me to be around. I mean, I know plenty of boyfriends and girlfriends that are just regular couples that didn't meet on any kind of site, and they help their girlfriends out with all kinds of things," Chelsea said. "I guess I would say to (critics), 'What couples don't help each other out?'"
Some sugar babies juggle multiple relationships at once. Chelsea said she's only interested in the one she has and that there are no expectations on either side after she graduates.
"We really are looking to change the opinion of a sugar daddy," Urick said. "We're turning it into a modern benefactor, someone who seeks to empower others and less of someone who just wants to pay for time."
Seeking Arrangement offers background checks. A third-party company ensures sugar daddies are who they say they are and that they don't have any prior disputes, earning them a badge on their profile.