L
ove is a complicated thing. We know this because of experience. Experience that’s been augmented because people like John Mayer, Nora Ephron, Nicholas Sparks, or any of the other countless fools that have proselytized about love have made it out to be this Big Deal — this monolithic weight to be carried around in the bottom of our chests, where it sits and settles, waiting anxiously until we find that one perfect person who, coincidentally, also has to find us perfect.

No wonder everyone just wants to fuck now.

In the past five years, nothing has played a larger role in shaping our cultural and social identities more so than technology. With the advent of social media, our online world has completely enveloped the way we interact with the real one, and dating, or whatever you want to call its modern day equivalency, is no exception. Yet while society continues marvel at how mediums like Facebook and Twitter have enabled a new era of communication without borders, sparking everything from political revolutions, to stalking of obscure highschool classmates, to uniting soul mates who may have otherwise passed by each other like two ships in the night, plenty of other outlets are leveraging the same network effects to expedite all manner of “other” forms of connections.

More and more, men and women are looking online — not just for books and flat-screen TVs — for companionship. Much like they’re shopping online, these guys and gals scroll through page after page of potential partners. But we’re not talking about straightforward online dating here. On the sites we’re talking about, users are looking specifically for who’s rich, who’s hot and who’s able to keep a secret.

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The statements in the image above are just some of the proclamations made on Seeking Arrangement, a popular website where men of means, referred to on the site as “sugar daddies,” can meet “sugar babies:” women, like those boasting above, who offer their company in return for a slice of said means. To be fair, there’s also a section for “sugar mommas” and male sugar babies, but it’s evident upon first glance — a picture on the homepage of a young girl giving the “hush” gesture with a finger over her mouth, and beside it, a picture of a smirking businessman — this site is for dudes willing to pay for a chick’s time.

Regardless of whether you find them to be illegal, tawdry, or simply an exceptionally unfair way to score, one thing is for certain: these sites are ragingly popular.

Men signing up for Seeking Arrangement fill out a profile that includes where they’re located, what they look like, their level of education, and how much they make a year, plus their net worth. Potential sugar babies also complete a basic profile, which includes a supplemental wish list of items that connects suitors to an online store where they can purchase everything from purses and jewelry to sunglasses and spa packages. If that weren’t enough, women also fill out how much they’re asking for in the form of an allowance.

For those that love to get away (pro tip to would-be sugar daddies: according to women’s profiles on these sites, they all love to get away) there’s Miss Travel, a site whose slogan boasts, “Beautiful People Travel Free!” The premise is much the same as Seeking Arrangement; it is, after all, the creation of the same man, Brandon Wade. In the case of Miss Travel, members are divided into two groups: Attractive Traveler (“a beautiful person who wants to travel for free”) and Generous Traveler (“members who are seeking to travel with a beautiful companion, and who are willing to pay for all travel expenses”). Generous Travelers, overwhelmingly straight men, connect with Attractive Travelers, and if the interaction is favorable, the former pays for the latter to go on a trip with them; based on the reviews of actual users, this can range anywhere from weekends in Charleston, South Carolina to weeks in Madrid, Spain.

For both Seeking Arrangement and Miss Travel, the users of means are encouraged to sign up for free and begin browsing the battalions of prospective benefactors — the caveat being that to actually interact with these people, you must pay. Seeking Arrangement’s lowest plan, a 30-day membership, is $59.95; Miss Travel is $95 for a month. That’s just to have the opportunity to talk to someone. Sites like Match.com in contrast cost $34.99 a month at the time of this article (eHarmony is also coincidentally $59.95), with the monthly price dropping steadily for members willing to commit for longer periods of time. Facebook is, of course, free.

Seeking Arrangement and Miss Travel both position themselves as online dating platforms, just like Match.com. At the bottom of the Miss Travel homepage, there’s even a bolded sentence proclaiming, “Escorts are not welcome.” Yet take a quick glance through the pages of women seeking a sugar daddy or generous traveler, and you’ll see that everyone here seems to be singing from the same songbook.

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Emoticons aside, it’s easy to wonder how sites like this aren’t cited for prostitution. The quick answer, one that we’re sure various legal representatives can retort in their sleep, is because they’re not actually selling anything other than a means to communicate. These sites have monetized their forebear, the infamous “Casual Encounters” section of Craigslist, by making it more glossy and accessible. What members do with that accessibility is their own deal.

There is also a much higher-level argument that speaks to the way we socially interact as a culture: that sites like Seeking Arrangement and Miss Travel are simply concentrating what we already do on a regular basis. To follow the basic rules of sexual courtship: Person A takes Person B out. Person B has good time. Person A repeats the process with a desired goal that inevitably includes sex with Person B. The process may take hours. It may take months. Other means of accelerating this types of interaction have always existed. With a site like Seeking Arrangement, there’s no need for headaches, awkward confrontations at bars or shady street side negotiations. You want the desired goal and are willing to pay? Person B wants you to pay and is willing to give you what you desire. Everybody wins.

Ashley Madison’s website pulls no punches. Their tagline speaks exactly to their users’ shared goal: “Life is short. Have an affair.” Setup is similar to other online dating sites, with the exception that Ashley Madison users are expected to fill out categories like “Preferences and encounters I am open to” (checkboxes include “Light Kinky Fun”, “Threesomes” and “Experimenting with Tantric Sex”). And while membership rates begin at $50 for 100 credits (sending/receiving one message costs 5 credits), the website also offers a $249 Affair Guarantee package, which promises you’ll have an affair within your first three months or your money back. In the case of Ashley Madison, the site doesn’t qualify as illegal because (1) again, they’re simply selling the communication pipeline, and (2) presumably, everyone is there because they want to have an affair, not because they want to pay for sex.

There is also a much higher-level argument that speaks to the way we socially interact: that sites like these are simply concentrating what we already do on a regular basis.

Formal websites are just the tip of the illicit iceberg. Grindr and Blendr are examples for those of varying sexual preferences that leverage the power of location-based mobile technology to help find hook ups with those nearby. Simply open either services’ free app on your phone or computer, and you’ll be guided through a list of potential DTFs. Another application, Bang with Friends, built to work on top of Facebook’s social graph, allows users to anonymously browse through their friends list in a Pinterest-style format. Should the desire to get more intimate with one of them arise, clicking on the appropriately blunt “down to bang” button below their picture is one way to make a note of it. If they’re also on Bangs with Friends and reciprocate the button click, presto — a new, er, friendship is born.

In the end, regardless of if you find them to be illegal, tawdry, or simply an exceptionally unfair way to score (Ed. note: don’t think that, it’ll just come off as jealousy), one thing is for certain: these sites are ragingly popular. Blendr, which launched in September of 2011, has nearly 200 million members. According to web metrics site Alexa.org, Ashley Madison gets over 1.8 million unique visitors per month. Bang with Friends reportedly gained 20,000 users after just four days of being up.

Navigating through the catalogs of Blendr and Ashley Madison, it’s surprising to see the normalcy of the online and eager. Bad lighting. Even worse spelling. It’s fascinating how commonplace these sites have become, and to quickly realize that they’ll continue to exist and thrive as society continues to expand its dependency on technology. With those shockingly massive subscription numbers looming overhead, it almost seems like the only one who may not be trying to get some, digitally, is you.

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Yet hooking up using tech still has its quirks.

Miss Travel, with its promises of globe-trotting and meeting exciting new people, has a list of safety tips, which includes “never travel out of the country or to a different city to meet someone you do not know well”. For $50, Seeking Arrangement offers to do a background check on you. Assuming you pass, you become a verified member, earning all of the benefits the title entails, including a checkmark badge on your profile that assures women you’re not a rapist, murderer or other legally defined social deviant browsing a dating site promoting sugar daddy/baby relationships.

All of these sites, with varying levels of veiled promiscuity, are fueled by the internet, and the internet, for as long as anyone can foresee, will always be The Internet. People have, and always will, find a way to utilize it for both good and bad. It’s of little matter where most people fall in the argument for sites like this, because they already exist. In internet parlance, that means it’s too late to do anything anyway. The only thing you can do is ignore it.

Or sign up.

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