By Georgiana Scott, Investigations Editor
After three years of working as a sugar baby and an escort throughout her undergraduate study, a fourth year UoB student shared her story for the first time with Epigram.
Hannah* is a fourth year University of Bristol student who worked as a sugar baby and engaged in transactional relationships with older men throughout her undergraduate study.
For the first time, she is speaking transparently about the series of events that led her to discover the world of adult-work and how she became completely immersed.
It started during her gap year when Hannah received a message on Twitter from an unknown account, asking if she would accept £40 for three pictures of her feet. Despite being taken aback she thought, ‘this is an easy way to make money’ and 'didn’t think much of it', so agreed to send the photos.
After agreeing to do it a few more times, for a few more men, Hannah had ‘gained a reputation in the foot fetish community as a trustworthy seller’, to the point where men were sending her shoes to ‘wear-in’ and then send back. To do what with, she didn’t know.
‘Many of my customers had actually asked to meet me. So, I started wondering if there was a way to make more money, but in a safe and regulated way.’
Hannah's journey progressed when a friend pointed her to a sugar dating website, where she obtained a free premium membership by signing-up with her University email.
At the end of her first year at Bristol, when she found herself spending Summer alone in Redland, she properly began to engage with the men on the site.
Having received numerous messages from potential sugar daddies that were explicit and overtly sexual, she recalled; ‘There was one guy called Andrew* and his message was very normal, he just asked to take me for a drink’.
She remembered being reassured by how the information on his online profile, including his salary of 75k, was verified - a feature the company no longer provides. She agreed to meet him at a pub along her road, which again reassured her because ‘if he was a creep’ she could ‘just run home’.
Confessing her naivety that no one knew what she was doing or where she was going, Hannah recalled how upon arriving at the pub, she counted its CCTV cameras and made conversation with the waitress so that someone was aware she was there.
Pushing her nerves aside, she walked through to the pub’s garden, where Andrew was waiting for her.
To her surprise, despite being 59, which she remembers because of their 30-year age gap, he was actually ‘quite good looking’.
Introducing herself with a confident kiss on the cheek, he went to get them both drinks from the bar. While he was gone, the couple sat next to them asked whether ‘that man’ was her dad, to which she quickly replied ‘no’ as she was concerned that later they might see him try to kiss her.
She described her first meeting with Andrew as ‘relatively normal’.
‘Throughout, I was thinking “I can’t believe I’ve done this”, but I also thought it wasn’t that bad. A lot of my nerves were alleviated, and I told myself “I can do this”.’
‘It was clear he just wanted someone to talk to. He spoke a lot about himself, his work and his family back in New Zealand.’
The date concluded with another kiss on the cheek and the exchanging of numbers.
Thereafter, Andrew was ‘more comfortable asking for pay-per-meet arrangements’ (where money is exchanged for one-off meetings - an act the dating-site strictly prohibits) and he offered to pay her £150 to go to dinner with him on his next visit to Bristol.
Hannah followed through with his dinner-offer, and the offer that followed that and she fondly described how during their meetings the father of two gave her ‘good life advice’ and she appreciated the sophistication of the dinner-dates.
After one of their meals, a month after their first meeting, Andrew invited her back to his apartment.
Despite realising what would ensue, she admitted that ‘he was an attractive man’ and agreed to have sex with him.
From then on, after their dates she said ‘I would ask him whether he wanted to go back to his or to mine, so I would always initiate it.’
However, their relationship rapidly deteriorated as the couple-like activities (dinners, cinema screenings and museum trips) progressively began to get shorter and less frequent.
‘Towards the end, he would pay me for the day and sex was expected.’ She disconcertingly described how she began to feel like she was being ‘used’ and at times ‘felt like some sort of masturbatory aid.’
‘It would affect me quite negatively. It made me really wary of men. Even now I get self-conscious with my boyfriend and I’ll question whether he really likes spending time with me. There’s just something about the knock-on effect that made me quite untrusting.’
She ended their arrangement after a year and a half. ‘I just ignored him, and he would message, or phone and I would just say I am busy that day, and eventually, I didn’t reply. It felt like a break-up in a way.’
‘Towards the end, he would pay me for the day and sex was expected.’
For her third year of study at UoB Hannah moved away from Redland to avoid bumping into Andrew and continued working as a sugar baby, balancing any escorting activities with university work and excusing her disappearances from her friends with cover stories of a Tinder date.
At the expense of her safety, she became desensitised to the possible dangers of the industry she was working in and became numb to the impact on her mental health, recalling; ‘There were times where I would think “this is what life is” and I just accepted that.’
One offer she accepted was to pick up a man’s dry-cleaning, who she had never met before, take it into his house and lay it down in front of him. For this, she received £200.
She described many occasions where she had to hide in public bathrooms for long periods of time to escape meetings where she felt uncomfortable.
‘Even now I get self-conscious with my boyfriend and I’ll question whether he really likes spending time with me. There’s just something about the knock-on effect that made me quite untrusting.’
‘Some of them would go on a date with you under the pretence of “I just want to get to know you” and then they’d say, “I want to go back to mine now”. When I said no, that would be frightening because I wasn’t sure what would happen after that. They could be very pushy; they would say "you could make so much more money with a body like yours."’
‘Sometimes I feel guilty for not telling them to “shut-up”, but I was there for a reason and I fulfilled my half of the transaction.'
I could see Hannah was unsettled as she talked me through her experiences. I asked if she had ever sought-out counselling for the clear impact sugaring has had on her mental health. She confessed that I was the first person she had ever told about her secret sugar baby life and escorting activities.
Although admitting in retrospect, that specific mental health support was something she needed at the time, she explained to me how she was consumed by the fear of the truth spiralling out of control.
She told me, ‘It was like, this is what I am doing, and I have to deal with it myself.’ She continued; ‘I don’t know the legal ramifications of it, and I don’t know what action the Uni would take on it if they knew. I do know, that if you are soliciting money for sex you can go to jail for it.'
By the end of her undergraduate study, Hannah had earned just under £4,000 which is now contributing significantly to funding her master’s degree.
However, she continues to be concerned that her escorting activities could prevent her from obtaining a profession in the education sector.
I was more concerned with how the exploitative situations she encountered continued to be a burden on her brain and body.
*Names have been changed to keep anonymity.
Featured Image: Epigram / Georgiana Scott
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