Zoe Strimpel is a historian of gender and intimacy in modern Britain and a columnist for the Sunday Telegraph. Her latest book is Seeking Love in Modern Britain: Gender, Dating and the Rise of 'the Single' (Bloomsbury)
During a recent trip to the US, I had lunch with a young man from New York, who told me glumly that many of his peers had spent the summer swanning around Europe while he stayed put in America. They were all flaunting it on Instagram, of course, but none as aggressively as a clutch of young women in their early 20s, who had spent time in the most expensive spots: the Amalfi Coast, Porto Cervo, Capri. I peered at his phone and saw images of the girls draped over each other in terrace restaurants, on the prows of boats, laid along tree branches in thong bikinis, glowing with the gold-dust of fine living.
They were either still in college or freshly out of it. But the reason they, rather than the young man, were able to go yachting off Sardinia while sipping Dom Pérignon was because rich older men had hired them to come on a luxury holiday with them. The job — look hot, be nice, and be ready to accommodate more without crying assault — is called sugaring. It is — though sugar daddies or babies might not admit it — sex work. My friend betrayed no sense of surprise at the arrangement; such things had, he explained, become totally normal in his age group.