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The Appeal, and the Danger, of Sugar-Daddy Relationships

"It kind of feels like your life isn’t yours."

by Emma Bennett, Contributing Writer

For many college and university students, sugar relationships can be a draw, especially for those struggling financially. In fact, over 3 million college students in the US are considered so-called sugar babies. A ‘sugar daddy/partner’ provides mentorship and/or financial assistance to a ‘sugar baby’ in exchange for sex, company, and/or dates.

Emily (name changed) is a 21-year-old university student who was in need of extra income. In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, she describes one, among several, of her experiences with a sugar daddy who was married, which is not uncommon:

“My longest arrangement was with a man who was married; his wife and kids did not know. I felt a little weird about it.”

Emily explains that it was all very risky:

“I’m lucky that nothing bad ever did happen. If any of them had ever had bad intentions they could have easily done anything to me… there’s a lot of things that could go wrong, you could get ripped off. It’s risky, you have to be careful, and there’s really no way of knowing. You could talk to someone and they seem super nice and then they end up not being genuine.”

Emily eventually decided to stop. She describes the impact the experience had on her self-esteem:

“There were definitely times that I didn’t really feel good about myself afterwards. I would try to think about it in this way: they are paying me for my time, not for what I am doing. But there were times that I would feel kind of used. Sometimes you’d do things you don’t really want to do just for the money, and regret is definitely a part of it…you also lose some autonomy. If you aren’t paying for your own stuff anymore, it kind of feels like your life isn’t yours.”

Jessica Stebbins is a marriage and family therapist with experience in counselling women who have a history of prostitution. In her blog, Jessica talks about the “sugar baby trend” and her observations while counselling women who have been sugar babies themselves. She states:

“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… These girls expressed the same emotions and problems as the girls who were labelled prostitutes did: shame, guilt, embarrassment, [feeling] exposed, vulnerable, “dirty”, anxious, and depressed.”

Stebbins thinks the trouble with sugar relationships is that they do not allow for feelings to develop naturally, but rather around the promise of money. This can affect morale and self-view, and lead to other negative consequences.

Emily’s story is similar to many others. But not everyone claims to come out with poor mental health effects. Jordan (They/Them), has been active in the business for 2 years. Their experience was different from Emily’s. Jordan describes it positively, as empowering:

“In the end, as long as there is full communication and consent throughout the entire process, there is nothing wrong with doing what you can to support yourself. To be able to meet with individuals, create a mutual agreement, and have a good time is a very positive experience and empowering at best. It shows sugar babies that they have the drive and motivation to help themselves or even to just live happily.”

Like with any risky endeavour, individual experiences vary widely. Some young women may leave unscarred. Perhaps those should consider themselves the lucky ones.

Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Facebook image: Motortion Films/Shutterstock

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