Sugar-daddy relationships involve far more than sex and money, study says

There is more to a sugar daddy than meets the eye, according to a recent study analyzing relationships between wealthy older men and significantly younger women who depend on them financially.

For starters, the relationship isn’t necessarily all about money, according to a report from the journal “Sociological Perspectives,” that identified seven variations from “from the purely sex-for-money types to the totally platonic.”

“Although academics have focused on sugaring in various parts of the globe, sugar relationships in the United States have largely been ignored,” said Maren Scull, one of the authors. “The few studies that address these arrangements in the United States often frame them as a form of prostitution.”

The report draws on 48 interviews that Scull conducted with women across the country who have had a sugar-daddy relationship and identifies arrangements from sugar prostitution to compensated dating, compensated companionship, sugar dating, sugar friendships, sugar friendships with benefits and pragmatic love.”

"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," Scull, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Denver, said in a statement. "As someone who studies deviance, I knew there were more important nuances to these relationships."

The takeaway from her analysis is that such relationships are varied and often meet different needs, both psychological and physical. The idea that it is essentially a complicated exchange of goods and money for a physical service is outdated, according to Scull’s findings.

"Sugar friendships,” for instance, involve a more platonic interaction. A step up from that would be “sugar friendships with benefits” in which the partners aren't seeing each other exclusively, but engage in some level of physical intimacy while the older man funds a more luxurious lifestyle for the younger woman.  “Sugar dating,” as the term might suggest, mirrors a traditional relationship more closely.