I had heard of the concept of a “Sugar Daddy” or a “Sugar Mama,” where the general idea was that a wealthy person would provide money or the equivalent (e.g., gifts, a place to live) in exchange for some combination of sex, affection, and/or companionship. I had never paid any detailed attention to it. I decided to do a bit of that now.
The sex part seemed to be emphasized in the definitions. Where that emphasis was accurate, Sugar parenting seemed to be an essentially prostitutional arrangement. One popular definition offered at the Urban Dictionary characterized a Sugar Daddy as “A man who provides money or other favors in exchange for sexual relations,” and a parallel U.D. definition labeled a Sugar Mama “an older woman who buys extravagant gifts for a person and may/most likely will receive sexual favors, in return.”
I had a general sense of where prostitution stood, these days, in terms of public acceptability, but I decided to take a closer look at that. Wikipedia said its treatment varied by country, ranging from being a crime (for the prostitute, for his/her client, or both) to a regulated profession. I knew that prostitution often led to forms of slavery, where people would be bought, sold, and used like animals or other items of property. I also had a general sense that, especially where unregulated, prostitution could result in violence against prostitutes and could promote the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and that at least some religions prohibited it. Arguments for legalization and decriminalization (by e.g., the North American Task Force on Prostitution) seemed to be based primarily on the rights of prostitutes as workers. It did seem likely that forcing prostitutes and their clients to operate in a criminal or quasi-criminal environment would tend to mix up the drawbacks of prostitution per se with some of the common drawbacks of criminal behavior.
A different Wikipedia article reported, “Some sex-positive feminists believe that women and men can have positive experiences as sex workers.” The informative ProCon.org site offered arguments on both sides of related questions, such as whether prostitution was a threat to marriage. For example, some quotes listed there suggested that prostitution provided a socially preferable outlet for people whose need for variety (i.e., for sex with someone other than their own spouse) might otherwise result in especially damaging outcomes. That is, seeing a prostitute would be arguably better than seducing the neighbor’s wife, better than becoming emotionally attached to a repeat partner and thus destroying one’s marriage. It was also interesting to ponder briefly the treatment of at least one Sugar Daddy in the Old Testament and of whores in the New. In any case, a preliminary glance at some research suggested that the “world’s oldest profession” was not likely to stop being complex, nor to go out of existence, anytime soon.
From that brief detour, I tentatively concluded that strictly cash-for-sex Sugar parenting might not be ideal for society and for most people, but might also have justifications and might make positive contributions in some circumstances. Returning to the Urban Dictionary, it seemed that the best definitions would be those that included something beyond sex. U.D. definitions of Sugar Mama included these:
A woman (often an older woman) who holds her man/woman in nice standing with money, food, an apartment, etc. — not always used in a derogatory fashion, or merely in exchange for sex, but because she can.
A girl that is able to get boyfriends only because of her father’s money… Somewhat ok looking though because we all know men don’t want a ugly, fat female.
On the Sugar Daddy side, consider this popular U.D. alternative definition:
The idea that all sugar daddies are rich is a stereotype and cliche. . . . [S]ometimes all a poor or needy female wants is for you to help her provide food and basic things for her children she can’t afford . . .
Because of the somewhat taboo nature of sugar daddying or having a sugar daddy, most of these types of relationships are top secret and hush hush. You won’t usually know that that 22 year old woman has a secret 51 year old sugar daddy who earns $60,000-$1,000,000 annually and provides for her as if she were his wife.
A young woman will usually not admit she has a sugar daddy since she knows she will be called a “whore/prostitute” and men will not admit he is a young woman’s sugardaddy because he knows he will be called a “dirty old man” . . . .
Young women who don’t call older men “perverts, dirty old men, letches” DESERVE the generosity of older men.
It appeared, at this point, that a Sugar parent would tend to be someone who had more money than his/her Sugar Baby – or, perhaps more accurately, the Sugar parent would act as though s/he had surplus money to spend on the other person. A person who is receiving gifts may not be able to document the precise wealth of the other person; there have probably been cases (probably many cases) where a person who had less would nonetheless spend whatever s/he could on the other, with or without a pretense of being able to afford it.
It also appeared that, in a Sugar relationship, what a person would get for his/her money would be some combination of sex, physical attractiveness, youthfulness, and/or companionship. You might get a trophy wife or a young stud to join you for social events, or to accompany you on trips that you would not take alone; you might get some quantity of good or bad sex, with or without complaining, with or without genuine or pretended enjoyment on both sides; you might get someone to care for, someone to fill an empty spot in your life. On the other side of the equation, the Sugar Baby would get money, things, and a relationship that would be at least moderately tolerable and perhaps relatively stable.
In the ideal – despite the potential for disparaging terminology (e.g., “gold digger,” “hooker,” “letch”) – it was possible to portray a Sugar relationship as a very positive engagement between two attractive, mutually supportive individuals, as in the example of the Pretty Woman movie starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. It seemed that people on either side of a Sugar relationship might tell themselves that their original money-based link had become transformed into a genuine love affair; and in some cases, that might actually prove to be true, even after the money and the good looks ran out. To refine that point, Sugar parents who did run into financial hardship might at least buy themselves a longer-than-average grace period, in the eyes of their Sugar Babies, just in case the money somehow managed to start coming back again.
I heard somewhere that a young person of limited means was not necessarily being a cynic if s/he chose to hang out with rich people. The concept was that you are likely to fall in love with somebody, sooner or later; it might as well be someone rich; and, conversely, there was no rule preventing a rich person from falling in love with someone like you.
As I continued to look into such matters, it began to seem that, for every extreme case of something like an octogenarian billionaire marrying a youngish Playboy ex-centerfold, there were probably thousands of cases where people bought and sold their affections, in some sense of the term, in relationships not entirely built on blind love. For example, a promising young male attorney might find himself being chased by hot young women to an extent not shared by other males, of similar age and general attractiveness, who lacked relatively high income or prestigious employment. It appeared that the disparaging Sugar term would not be used in that sort of situation because of the longstanding tradition in which men have commonly been expected to bring home the bacon. The Sugar label does seems to become more commonly used in relationships that are especially money-based. But it is a complex matter, because both love and the desire to marry into financial security often arise in relationship calculations.
When Sugar leads to marriage, the union does not seem likely to be a sham marriage (e.g., a lavender marriage, to conceal homosexuality; an immigration marriage, intended to convey the rights of a resident on a person who could not otherwise have entered or remained in a country). Rather, a Sugar-based marriage will most likely be a non-sham marriage of convenience. While the latter term is often used for marriages entered into for practical purposes involving money and/or connections, Haag (2012) points out that it can also apply to long-married couples who have reached a point of merely coping with each other because divorce would be too awful.
To sum up, when I looked into these terms, it appeared that “Sugar Daddy” and “Sugar Mama” were most likely to be used when someone was the beneficiary of large expenditures from a very old and/or unattractive partner in a relationship, who sought sex or other benefits noted above. At best, the Sugar Baby is a perfectly decent individual who genuinely loves, and is loved by, someone who just happens to be incredibly rich; at best, circumstances will bear out the fact of that love, to the very end. Short of these extremes, people who have more money are very often entwined with people who have less, and their relationships are openly or secretly oriented toward those facts to varying extents.
What I wound up with, as I looked into the concepts of the Sugar Daddy and the Sugar Mama, was not a simple picture that could intelligibly be packaged into a single container and treated with scorn. Such relationships appeared likely to be complex, in many cases. Unless there was some circumstance crying out for immediate intervention, it seemed advisable to respect people’s decisions on such matters. They seemed more likely than I to be well-informed on the needs and capacities of the parties to their relationship. The description of someone as a Sugar parent or baby seemed to be, not like a description of someone as a prostitute (in terms of the potential for substantial emotional, religious, and social hostility), but rather like a description of someone as a spoiled brat or a geezer: mildly offensive, but not amounting to an outright condemnation.
This was my preliminary look at the topic of Sugar Mamas and Sugar Daddies. As I say, I had not seriously looked into it before, although concepts presented here had actually played a role in my life at a few points in previous years. At present, this pretty much exhausted my interest in it, at least for the time being.