Sick of being branded as either feminist or victim, ANAIS DARLING speaks of her experiences Sugar Dating.

I first thought that Sugar Dating would be glamorous: lonely man, heavy pockets, New Year, New Money… Diamond shoes, a few hundred bucks, Prada handbag, and all the old men I want for nothing at all. My Seeking Arrangement profile (the official Sugar Dating website) specifically stated that I wanted somebody to pay my bills in return for lightweight sexual promises (“bite-size, delicate Lolita waif”).

The first response I received on Seeking Arrangement was from a man in California, L.A., who had a fetish for being dominated. I met up with him once a week over Skype (exclusively audio) and verbally insulted him until he came. He paid me $200 a session for two months, which successfully paid all my bills and left a little extra. To be honest, I enjoyed our little Skype sessions: he was nice to me, always respectful (he called me “Mistress” and I’d make him punish himself if he didn’t). Sugar Relationships begin with the potential of being long-term, unless stated otherwise, but I had to end our arrangement because he started to ask for things I was uncomfortable with, and I found sweet liberation in saying “no.”

My first real Sugar Date was with a man from Melbourne, he flew to Sydney to see me: a forty-something Italian man from South Yarra, who was single, busy, rich (short and fat, with an obvious limp). On the harbour, by moonlight, I kissed him once on both cheeks. He reeked of cheap cologne, but he said “you’re sweeter than sugar, honey!” and it felt kind of salty, a little sleazy (he was promising me $300 for dinner and some company). He bought me an expensive four-course dinner: a $15 glass of red, $35 main dish of Mahi-Mahi. I didn’t know what Mahi-Mahi was, until I was wedged between a leather-cushioned seat and a pristine white table with a middle-aged man’s tan, stubby hand touching my knee beneath the tablecloth.

He stuffed his face with crumby deep fried seafood and kept calling me “gorgeous.”.

When he invited me back to his hotel for the night, I told him I wouldn’t suck his dick on the first date (deal with it). He gave me $150 for a cab ride home, which I spent on beer and a new shade of red lipstick (and didn’t call him back).

Sugar Daddies are at my mercy. I found liberation in saying “no.

There was an instance where I was sitting on a king sized bed in a penthouse apartment in Darlinghurst, smoking a free joint with another girl’s hand on my thigh. We were both muses, just sitting in lingerie, trying to fuel a man’s creativity to make another film, finish another court case, and talk about philosophy and literature. Sitting across the room he – dark blonde hair, black-rimmed glasses, black and white striped shirt – told us he wished he could film us together in our black lacey lingerie, but his wife couldn’t find out. That’s what sugar dating is about; lonely married men looking for discretion and secret kisses. Not always, but sometimes. I accompanied him to work parties and our own private film screening for five thousand dollars a month (and sometimes free cocaine).

Sometimes, on a date, I’d try to imagine a Daddy’s fat fingers inside me and my mouth would go dry. My body is a medium in an exchange of false affection – superficial love that can be bought from a performance– in exchange for wealth from somebody who wants to be cared for, to fuck; to pretend that “yes, I am closer to the height of intimacy if I can only buy it how I want it.”

Misconceptions about sex work often fall into one of two categories: that women involved in the industry are tragic victims selling their bodies, or that it’s an empowering feminist issue. Both are true and both are false: they both don’t accurately represent the spectrum of experiences that occur within Sugar Dating.

After each of these encounters, I didn’t feel more or less empowered; I didn’t feel cheap or threatened or more or less of a woman. I only came to the conclusion that power lies between my legs and in the folds of capitalism, objectification and the possibility of long-term love in the spaces of short-term narcissistic pleasures that manifest themselves in the complexities of sexuality.

If a man can use his body to make a living, why couldn’t I use mine?