Prostitution has been said to be the oldest profession. But it is taking on a new life with a slight twist in recent times. With the state of the economy as it is, we all hear about how college graduates are unable to find jobs and still have a mound of student loans and other debt to pay off. So what’s a girl to do? Apparently become a sugar baby so your sugar daddy can help you pay off that debt.
In a sugar baby/sugar daddy (SB/SD) relationship, a younger woman engages in a relationship with an older man who is financially well-off. This relationship is established as an arragement in which normal relationship dynamics such as companionship, quality time, intimacy, and in many cases, sex, are engaged in, in addition to the wealthy man providing financially for his sugar baby. Some reports state that these women on average make up to $30,000 a year! There are websites out there that can actually help sugar babies and sugar daddies find one another and the number of sugar babies registered on just one site is in the hundred thousands.
It has been argued that this is legal as long as the terms of the relationship are established in a certain way. As long as money does not change hands for the sole purpose of sex it does not technically fall under the umbrella of prostitution. This is a fine line if you ask me, but since the sexual relationship is implied and not stated, legally these individuals are okay. So what is the problem with this if it is legal? The sugar babies can (and many do) experience some serious emotional problems due to these relationships. In fact, the consequences are very similar to prostitution.
In my professional experience I have counseled many young girls who have been involved in prostitution for money and for drugs while working with the department of juvenile justice. But I am also seeing this shift in the group practice that I work in where young girls from middle class families need help paying bills and are somehow connected with a man willing to help pay those bills. These girls expressed the same emotions and problems as the girls who were labeled prostitutes did- shame, guilt, embarrassment, exposed, vulnerable, “dirty”, anxiety, and depression.
Many people involved in sugar dating will disagree with the similarities that I draw between prostitution and SD/SB relationships but the fact is that many young women get into these relationships for the same reasons that prostitutes enter their profession, money. In these cases, the risks are very similar to prostitution and it is safe to say that neither the prostitute nor the sugar baby will come out of the experience free of emotional scars.
One of the sugar dating websites is quoted to have stated that “sex is not a requirement but instead an aspiration” in these arrangements. This is true of any dating situation but the difference here is in the power differential that often occurs due to the age and financial gap and especially due to the financial transactions. Young women entering these relationships are often seeking out these particular men in order to receive the financial benefit that the men have control over. If the young women do not do what is expected of them, withdraw their affection, or end the relationship, the money will dry up as well. This is where the increased risk of harm is created as the man then has more power.
In order to give a balanced view, I want to state that some women report that they enter SB/SD relationships due to being attracted to older, experienced, successful men. In these cases there is likely little more risk of harm in the relationship than any other dating relationship. I have worked with couples with large age gaps and have not seen emotional issues such as those I am speaking of with these couples when the relationship was established because they simply fell in love. The trouble is that many of these women do not get into the relationships because of the feelings that naturally develop, but for the promise of the money.
During an interview on the Today Show, psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz reported that these girls have a break in their moral compass that allows them to engage in this type of relationship. I disagree with her, however. They feel that it is morally wrong and that is why it is so devastating to who they are and how they feel about themselves. They often enter the relationship due to feeling they don’t have another choice, or that it is the best option they see to give them a head start to try to reach their goals. This is what increases their feelings of depression, anxiety, and shame. They are not being true to themselves and their values.
In reality, not all women who engage in a SB/SD relationship will have a negative emotional impact. I believe the biggest factors to determine this is the reason the woman enters a sugar dating relationship to begin with and whether it is in alignment with her own morals and values.
So what can we do about this new trend in relationships? If you have a young adult daughter living on her own who is not yet established financially, please be aware of this trend. Make sure she is aware that you are there to help and support her in whatever way you are capable of and help her to learn about her financial options as well as how to be financially responsible. Take pressure off of her to be self-sufficient and “perfect” (which is a huge problem for many young women). Create an open relationship where you daughter can talk to you about what is going on (in my professional experience the sugar baby is too embarrassed to ask her parents for help or she does not want them to be able to use this information against her). If you know your daughter has engaged in this type of relationship, encourage her to receive professional help.