Sugar Daughters: why “Sugar Daddies” bother me more than johns

I’ve got a short piece (a blog post rather than a more thoughtful column) at GMP today on the Sugar Daddy phenomenon: Buying ‘Sugar Daughters’: What’s Really Wrong With the Sugar Daddy Phenomenon. Riffing on this Amanda Fairbanks piece in the HuffPo, I note that I’ve known students who’ve sought out these “arrangements” with varied results. And I touch on why the Sugar Daddy phenomenon bothers me far more than traditional prostitution:

By blurring the lines between a genuine romance and prostitution, the sugar daddy relationship is more problematic than a traditional john/hooker encounter.

That pretense of intimacy is inherent in the term “sugar daddy” with its hint of the incestuous. While the term “john” (for a male client of a sex worker) suggests anonymity, “sugar daddy” reeks of emotional (as well as sexual) boundary violations. The implication is that the real fathers of these young women have failed to provide the right combination of emotional and financial support; the term reinforces the not-entirely inaccurate trope that younger women who seek older men have “daddy issues.” And it suggests that the older men who seek out “sugar babies” are looking for young women whom they can spoil and fuck, deliberately blurring the line between paternal indulgence and sexual objectification.

The real question is whether the term “sugar daddy” is an unfortunate misrepresentation of what’s going on, or an all-too-accurate description of something dark and especially ugly.

Read the whole thing.

See also this terrific Alternet piece from Sarah Seltzer.

11 thoughts on “Sugar Daughters: why “Sugar Daddies” bother me more than johns

  1. Hugo, have you read Chester Brown’s graphic novel “Paying For It”? It’s an autobiographical graphic novel about his experiences having sex with prostitutes over the years.

    The twist ending (spoiler alert!) is that he’s finally settled into a long-term, monogamous relationship with one prostitute who he really liked (and vice versa). She’s dropped all her other clients (without Brown asking her to, seemingly), and he doesn’t have sex with anyone other than her. So it’s sort of like a “sugar daddy” (icky term!) relationship. But (at least, in Brown’s accounting) there does seem to be genuine two-way affection in the relationship.

    I’m not really arguing with anything you wrote, just bringing up a possibly relevant anecdote.

  2. I read and liked the Brown book, Barry — good call on the relevance.

    Yeah, what gets me here is the framing of an alternate “daddy” stepping in to do what the real father failed to provide. It’s the incest-redolent nomenclature and the age disparities that bother me at least as much as anything else.

  3. I’m in a relationship with a woman that is near young enough to be my daughter. I never saw myself as a father figure to her. I paid for her to finish university then “loaned” her money to start a small business, all with the intention that she not be financially dependent on anyone. Initially it was purely sexual but as she matured I realized she was interesting to spend time with even when fully clothed. My relationship with this woman (who is now in her early-20’s) has lasted longer than the marriages of many a friend. I have always encouraged her to meet a nice younger guy and marry him if he suits her. Until then, If this makes me her “Sugar Daddy” then call me Papa Sucrose.

  4. The whole sugar daddy thing strikes me as the sort of thing engaged in by opportunistic folk who agree on a long term business arrangement; sex and companionship in return for cash and other material goods- from cars to apartments. Terminology aside, that’s what it is, a business deal, and often times the young women who go looking for Sugar Daddies are actually far more cut throat and straight forward than the men they end up with. Heck, some of them even have multiple men on the line to take care of them. It really is no different from prostitution at all, except its legal. There are companies and websites devoted to women finding sugar daddies and would be sugar daddies seeking women, and while never mentioned specifically the fine print is certainly there between the lines: sex is part of the deal…so yeah, its basically a legal form of prostitution, an extended G.F.E scenario. Aside from legality, the only difference is the women seeking sugar daddies can be far more choosey than the typical survival-level prostitute.

    The language is a bit creepy, or at least I have always found it to be…just as that stupid but oh so popular “who’s your daddy” sex line and all that other crap. Frankly, to both the men and women who engage in using such phrases when having sex or engaging in this sort of business have ever even really THOUGHT about the terms…and if so if they actually want to be fucking their fathers/daughters.

  5. These women don’t see see these guys as a father figure and these guys don’t see these women as their daughter. These women are there for the money. I’ve read forums about prostitution/pornography and for these women it’s only a job. Most have boyfriend and some are married.

  6. When you were the hot young prof you banged all the fine young women you wanted. You didn’t pay for it, Schwyz, because you had that Svengali-like charisma (we know it wasn’t your overrated looks.) Now the aging and penitent alpha male, you decide that any man who wants to do what you did is a creep and an exploiter of these innocent young women.

    For many men who have worked hard all their lives, their fantasy is a simple arrangement where they can have sex and a listening ear from someone pretty. Someone perhaps like the girls they wished would go out with them in college. Except in college, those girls were getting nailed by their history professors. So now these guys want what you had and took for granted and got tired of having. And you judge them mercilessly for it.

    Girls are making great money doing this. Guys are getting laid by their fantasy chicks. And you pontificate about how evil it all is, comforted by your smug memories of all the incredible shit you got away with when you were younger and more reckless. Or as you would put it, before your “conversion.”

    You were a creepy predator. Now you’re a white knight. You may not fuck your students any more, but you thrive on representing what a Good Man is to them. You’ve said yourself that men care more about validation than getting off. You’re living proof of that.

    I am just so glad you don’t have a son.

  7. Ew. I am so, so glad I never did the sugar daddy crap. The men who engage in it are, by the words coming out of their own mouths (or out of their fingertips, in this case, I s’pose :) ) pretty much exactly what I always figured they were, and I’m so happy that I don’t have to remember that I ever let any of them anywhere near me physically. I’d be about a million times more comfortable having to remember just being an outright prostitute. Today, I am glad to have been me. :)

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  9. Re: Now the aging and penitent alpha male, you decide that any man who wants to do what you did is a creep and an exploiter of these innocent young women.

    Frankly, I think that Mr. Hugo Schwyzer is about as genuinely ‘penitent’ as Henry Kissinger. His so-called appologies ring totally hollow. And I’m totally unsuprised by the fact he thinks age differences in relationships are worse then prostitution.

    Hugo SChwyzer was the Tiger Woods of his era.

  10. I have been reading this blog for about 4 years and never have I felt compelled to comment until now. Your comment, CarlosCS, in all its anger, is the very example of what I have read time and time again in many of Hugo’s posts in some manner or another — that blurring or crossing (or the mad dash across) the line of authority figure/mentor is not just harmful to young women, but profoundly harmful to young men as well. That such an action has consequences that reaches even to those seemingly not involved. Your comment brings clarity to that fact.

    I am, however, grateful to all those for which the light comes on and she or he recognizes the very destructiveness of such acts (which everyone perpetrates to some degree, certainly within the Western Culture)—recognition that we should not objectify women (or men) as reward, regardless of how hard one works, whether it is a physical “pretty” or sexually “nailed”. In recognition, of objectifying, using, or blurring the line of the emotional or physical in such a relationship as destructive, she or he begins the work of change in themselves, and in sharing that change so as to bring about change in society as whole. Certainly it is not saintly, (and knightly defeats the purpose), but a beginning.

  11. Jacob, has it occured to you that all those things you did for your teenage lover – aside from the sex, of course – are parental in nature? Pay for her through college and give her money so she can set herself up in business to be independent. And encourage her to meet a nice young man to marry. That’s why people call it sugar dady – or Papa Sucrose, as you put it. The problem comes when these parental duties are carried out by someone who is fucking the teenager, and sees them only as a nice piece of (fresh?) ass. As you, at first, did.

    If you’re BOTH happy then fine, but it just seems to me that teenagedom is a bit young to be making a decision about sex work. If you had a real daughter, would you want her making that decision so young?

    I also find it deeply sad that young people are so desperate to pay for their education that this kind of prostitution is becoming so common among students, almost certainly many of the ones I teach.

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