How much of my sexuality and self-worth has been operated under the male gaze and influenced by pedophilic standards? As a student attending University of California, Berkeley, mentions of sugar dating websites like Seeking Arrangement surface frequently in conversations as a way of making ends’ meet. Preying on the vulnerabilities of the proverbial “broke college student,” many sugar dating websites offer students free accounts if they use their .edu email domain. According to one report by SeekingArrangement, 1.134 million student sugar babies in the U.S. are between 21 and 27 years old with 82% undergrads and 18% graduate students.
The men on these websites looking for a “relationship” do not love us young people, who are often in precarious situations and seeking validation we never got growing up. If these “boyfriends” truly cared about us, then they would not demand sex to cover our rent, groceries, and utility bills. They would give us the money without strings attached—because these strings are often deadly.
People exploited in prostitution experience high rates of STDs, strangulation, disassociation, and other physical and psychological effects of violence. The rates of PTSD among people in prostitution are higher than that of veterans. Those over 18 years old often experienced child sexual abuse, domestic violence, and lack of support systems—and it is these children that are overrepresented in the sex trade. There is a pipeline for marginalized youth who are targeted and preyed upon by the sex industry. 
This industry relies not only on the premise that the sex buyer is always wealthier, but also on the power dynamics of age (a typical “daddy” is 45 years old and older). One ‘boyfriend’ proclaims, “I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that having a very young sugar makes an already exciting experience even better.” 
These ‘boyfriends’ have another name: pedophiles, who not only target and desire children, but also demand those over 18 portray themselves as children. What is at stake for those that cannot consent when we normalize these power dynamics?
“For the majority of women over 18 in prostitution, more than 50% of them were sexually abused as a child. They’re familiar with it.” Roslyn Anne, a survivor of child sexual abuse and alumna at University of California, San Diego, questions, “Knowing that childhood sexual trauma is very real, why are we allowing this industry to scoop up women and further rape and traumatize them?”
Oftentimes, the financial exchange between the sex buyer and the person  they buy is believed to justify the existence of this system. Sex buyers become legitimized because they have money and “pay for a service.” The dollar erases the distorted fantasies that make women and children commodities bought on the market. We know we live in a society where the most vulnerable are commodified when it is not even conceptualized as commodification. 
This perpetuation of violence exponentiates with the media machine fueling the objectification of children’s and women’s bodies. It is not surprising that in these past few weeks, lawmakers have demanded that major social media companies address the rising concerns over how their software fails to protect children.
Companies’ business models profit from the proliferation of misinformation, which especially impacts teenage girls. 
With the spike in social media consumption during the pandemic, misinformation gains traction quickly and becomes difficult, if not impossible, to recorrect. When the news picks up and promotes these trends, they are able to spin inaccurate information into a web of truths. 
This happened on Sunday, October 24th, when CNN released an episode directed by Lisa Ling called “Sex Work: Past, Present, and Future.” One of the main advertisements of this show described prostitution as “the world’s oldest profession.” 
Where does this phrase originate? In 1889, Rudyard Kipling described prostitution as “the world’s oldest profession” to justify Western control over the East. He argued that prostitution was passed down through familial ties, demonstrating an  “inability of the East to manage its own affairs.” Yet at least 35 million to 1.8 billion people in the British Raj died under the British colonial rule that Kipling championed. 
This historical process continues its legacy today. Prof. Ruchira Gupta at New York University and Founder of Apne Aap Women Worldwide notes: “Today India has the largest red-light district in the world in Kolkata, which used to be the capital of the British Empire.” Repeating the propaganda of Rudyard Kipling, who also coined “the white man’s burden”, reinforces the systemic legacy of white supremacy and strengthens pathways for mass exploitation.
What happens when sex buyers call prostitution a profession? “When pimps repeat the catchphrase ‘prostitution is the world’s oldest profession,’ they turn themselves into entrepreneurs,” Khara Jabola-Carolus, Director of the Hawai’i State Commission on the Status of Women, explained. “Buyers transform themselves into customers. We must expose this cloak because the sex industry is an entire enterprise derived from raw exploitation that’s a direct outgrowth of race-based and gender-based slavery.” 
The sex buyer’s demographics of prototypically being a white middle-aged man from the global North and those bought and sold prototypically being a working class woman of color with ancestry from the global South highlights the continuous exploitative, imperialist relationship between Western countries and those it has colonized. 
The assertion that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession uses a historically inaccurate Western time marker on Indigenous lands. While the first mentions of prostitution in human history was around 2400 BCE, the beginnings of agriculture date far earlier to 10000 BCE. Some of the oldest professions held by women include midwifery, caretaking, tool making, basket weaving, and hunting and gathering food. 
To be a young woman in a society that aims to commodify my body means challenging false, grooming narratives. If we truly love our children unconditionally, we must imagine a world without sexual exploitation. And yet, the sex trade is built upon many conditions: poverty, broken and abusive homes, racialized violence, and is a $99 billion industry—profiting off of bodies like mine. 


Riss Myung