Jan. 26, 2009 -- Eighteen-year-old Melanie is living a big city life that might be the envy of any girl her age. Designer handbags, thousand-dollar shoes and extravagant trips are all at her disposal.
"I am having an amazing time. I love life," she said. "I like life better than the average girl."
"All my bills paid, travel when I want, go shopping and do things girls my age can't do," Melanie said of her life's perks.
But it's not her part-time modeling gig funding her easy-breezy lifestyle: it's her 40-year-old, married millionaire sugar daddy, Chris.
The pair met on a Web site for linking sugar daddies and sugar mamas. Chris and Melanie now have been dating for a month.
"We're pretty up-front about what we're looking for," Chris said. "I'm happy because I have a beautiful girl to hang out with."
Melanie and Chris said they see their relationship as mutually beneficial. He pays the rent on her $5,000-a-month New York apartment, and he gets a sexual companion sans "drama."
"Right now it's just having fun," said Chris, who added, "Sex is not the only component here."
"I want to feel young again," he said.
Sugar Daddies in Pop Culture
Pop culture has been quick to identify those perceived as sugar daddies and to scrutinize the relationships.
When Anne Nicole Smith landed 89-year-old J. Howard Marshall in 1994, many said she found the ultimate sugar daddy.
More recently, reality shows like "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" and "The Real Housewives of Orange County" have documented women with wealthy benefactors banking their extravagant lives, including cars, jewelry, trips and homes.
Now, dozens of sites have popped up online catering to sugar daddies and those who seek them.
Stephan Smith, marketing director of seekingarrangement.com, said his site has more than 300,000 registered users and offers "a generous benefactor to pamper, mentor and take care of you."
"The stereotype of a sugar daddy has changed," he said. No longer is it "a guy with a gold chain and a furry chest. "
"The sugar daddy of today could be the guy in the Starbucks line who has some disposable income at the end of the month to pamper a sugar baby with," Smith said. "She's working hard at a part-time job on the side and she could use a guy who could offer some monetary support."
Relationship or Prostitution?
But critics contend sites like Smith's really are business transactions for men seeking sex.
In a roundtable of women "GMA" assembled on sugar daddies and sugar mamas, some said the women in these relationships essentially are prostitutes or escorts offering sex and companionship for money.
"You are selling yourself if you enter a relationship like that," said a woman named Abi.
But not everyone agreed with the sentiment.
"This is just like dating — dating with perks," said a woman named Alicia Dunams, who described herself as a former sugar baby. "A lot of these men have been married and they don't want a woman who is going to nag them when they come home."
Dunams said she would be "completely fine" if her daughter grew up to date a sugar daddy, as long as "he treated her well."
"She is 100 percent having sexual intercourse with that man. Escort means usually a nicer word for prostitute, but [a] sugar baby is a relationship you're dating someone but you have a monthly allowance," Melanie said. "You make it clear if you want to have sex or you don't want to have sex."
Even with her self-described mutually beneficial relationship, Melanie said she hopes to one day find true love — the one thing money can't buy.
"Every girl wants the fairy tale ending," she said.