I recently spoke to Jaya Saxena at Mic about sugar dating – who does it, and why?

Our conversation contributed to the piece “Meet the Winners of the World’s First Sugar Baby Beauty Contest,” which you can read right here (9/22/15).

And you can my entire exchange with Jaya re sugar dating reprinted below. What do you think?

Jaya Saxena: From the “sugar babies” I spoke to, it’s pretty obvious they’re getting a lot of things out of this setup. There are the material goods, but a lot of them mentioned “mentorship” specifically, and that the men they’ve met have helped them in their careers. What do you think the sugar daddies/mommas get out of this arrangement? If they just wanted a pretty girl to bring around they wouldn’t need to give her career advice or things like that. Why go that extra length?

DrCT: Well, actual mentorship is something that takes time to develop. And I would expect conversations (and advice) about work and life just come as the interpersonal dimensions of a more long-standing sugar relationship develop. Though more overt “I need career help” relationships are certainly also likely, it might not be an “extra length” so much as it is an artifact of a relationship evolving.

JS: Do you think sugar dating is a trend? Arrangements like this seem to have been around for a while, but why is it getting attention recently? Are more men and women actually gravitating to this arrangement, and if so, why?

DrCT: You are correct in your assessment – there is nothing new about these sorts of arrangements, but I think these sorts of arrangements are getting more attention lately for a couple of reasons.

First, the public formality of it – sugar-specific dating websites are relatively new phenomena. Now we can actually see (and seek out) something that was, at best, informal a few years ago. This may have, in turn, allowed for more people to gravitate to these types of arrangements.

The attention/awareness though is also a partial product of our continued wider social moralizing and slut shaming. As more and more women and men are willing to publically declare their desire for such a relationship (via posting said desire on a website), more and more people have the opportunity to get up in arms. And whereas before the idea of a sugar relationship was something we could just speculate about and/or mock, now we can see directly people who are doing it. This results in repudiation and moralizing. “Those poor young women! Those slutty young vixens! Those gross older dudes!”-type thing.

JS: One girl I interviewed said she believes in the next 10-20 year sugar dating will become more of a social norm. Do you agree? Why or why not?

DrCT: Sugar dating seems “shocking” or “new” now largely because it’s being presented as such. As you said before, there is nothing really new about this (absent the website aspect). It’s simply something people haven’t heard described in this manner… However I am not sure I see this type of arrangement normalizing in the sense it is considered on par with conventional dating or spousal relationships (many of which have more in common with sugar dating than they’d like to acknowledge) anytime soon.

In order for something to normalize fully we must first, collectively, tone down our overwhelming judgment. But given gender inequalities still very prevalent in our society, I don’t really see that happening anytime soon. I hope I’m wrong though!

JS: Sugar dating seems to blur the lines between sex work and “regular” dating. None of the girls I spoke to identified as sex worker. Why do you think that is?

DrCT: Well, it could be for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, we as a culture continue to shame and marginalize sex workers at every turn. It could be that women who are dating in this manner are distancing themselves from the label because of the stigma we’ve attached to it.

But sugar dating is also an interesting gray area with a lot of variable formulations that aren’t conventionally “defined” as sex work. It could be that some women are focusing on the emotion labor involved in the relationship or that there is no sex involved in the exchange. (Not every sugar dating scenario involves sex, something that’s also seen in escorting.)

JS: Do you think there are aspects of sugar dating that will show up in the “regular” dating scene? For instance, do you think this heralds an era of people being more open about finances?

DrCT: People have paid for companionship since the dawn of time, it’s just that some scenarios are more open about the exchange. Sugar dating – with its websites and arrangements and (relatively) open discussion – are simply making those dimensions more public. In many ways, this is refreshing – there is a lot of space to minimize manipulations and cut-to-the-chase in a sugar relationship. Ideally, both people know what they’re getting involved in. Disclosure along those lines would be a great thing for any relationship.

sugar dating

(Sugar dating via Mic)

* * *

Got a sociology question? Need some social justice informed life advice? Contact Dr. Chauntelle right here.

Get Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment on Amazon and CT.com