October 15, 2019
It’s a sweet deal: A young—or “youngish”—woman dates a wealthy, older man who lavishes gifts and money on her—financial support, material goods, professional advancement—in return for companionship, intimacy, or other forms of attention.
Drawing from 48 in-depth interviews, Maren Scull, an assistant professor of Sociology a the University of Colorado-Denver, has identified seven varieties of relationships involving boyfriends with financial benefits:
- Sugar prostitution, which involves the exchange of gifts for sex;
- Compensated dating, which involves monetary or material compensation for grabbing a coffee, a meal, or attending a specific event together;
- Compensated companionship, which comprises a wider range of activities and often involves the woman becoming more involved n the man’s life;
- Sugar dating, which is the most common form of sugaring, and combines companionship with sex and an allowance (given on a weekly, monthly or as-needed basis);
- Sugar friendships, which are mutually beneficial relationships involving a man whom the woman knows already;
- Sugar friendships with benefits, which are more unstructured relationships (during which benefactors may pay for all living expenses for the women, including rent, cell phone bills, clothing, cars, and vacations); and
- Pragmatic love, which are essentially relationships based on the question, “What have you done for me lately?
“Whenever I read an article about Sugar Daddies or Sugar Babies, I often saw the same sensationalistic slant: The women are desperate, starved college students engaging in prostitution,” said Scull. “As someone who studies deviance, I knew there were more important nuances to these relationships.”
Such relationships are hardly new-fangled: In the 1750s, geishas were seen as socially respected entertainers—even though they were paid to amuse men, usually without sex. And during the first two world wars, soldiers paid women to join them for a night out of dinner and dancing.
What’s more, in modern-day America, Scull found that 40% of the women had never had sex with their benefactors and the ones that did often had genuine, authentic connections with the men. She also found that most forms of sugaring aren’t a play-for-pay arrangement.
“I didn’t have the intent of creating a typology, but there was so much variety that I knew I had to highlight the different nuances and forms that sugar relationships can take,” said Scull, in a press release from the university.
Finally, Scull found that some of these relationships involved two people who hoped to end up together, with the woman taken care of for the rest of her life, in a category she named “pragmatic love.”
“When we lump sugar relationships together as prostitution, it deviantizes and criminalizes these relationships,” said Scull. “We were missing how they are often organic and involve genuine, emotional connection. Many of the women didn’t intend on having a benefactor. They just happened to meet someone at work or during a catering gig who wanted to take care of them. These relationships can last decades.”
The results of her study have been published in the journal,Sociological Perspectives.
Research contact: MAREN.SCULL@UCDENVER.EDU