ResearchPDF Available An analysis of the 'Sugar Culture' and some personal insights



This research paper was written for one of the courses in Intercultural and International Communication program at the Royal Roads University. An analysis of the ‘Sugar Culture’ and some personal insights
Ambar Sulekh
20 March 2016
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An analysis of the ‘Sugar Culture’ and some personal insights
This report concerns the contentious topic of ‘Sugar Culture’. I, along with my
teammates, namely Dima, Ekta, Ling and Ruthina, gave a presentation on ‘Sugar Culture’ on 29
February 2016 to fulfill our team’s requirement for Assignment 2(a). More specifically, our
presentation was concerned with the rise of the website (hereafter
referred to as the “website”), which facilitates sugar culture on the internet. The website
facilitates and provides a platform for individuals who are seeking “sugar” relationships. The
term “sugar daddy” is used to describe generally older (middle-aged) and wealthy man who
“lavishes gifts on a younger woman in return for her company or sexual favours” (Oxford
Dictionary). The younger woman in a sugar relationship is colloquially referred to as a “sugar
Scanning through the website content, it becomes apparent that most of the registered
sugar babies therein are twenty-something, university-going women. The men present on the
website are wealthy and middle-aged who fit the aforementioned definition of a sugar daddy.
(The average age of sugar babies on the website is 26, and the average age of sugar daddy is 45
(as cited by Cordero, 2015).) Several factors have been put forward to explain the rising
popularity of the website, especially in North American countries of Canada and the United
States. Of these proposals, a compelling one relates to the rising cost of tuition in universities
across North America. Rising tuition cost is a seemingly hitherto reality that confronts every
university student in this part of the world. As of 2015, the student debt in the United States
alone stands at a 1.5 trillion US dollars (CNBC, 2015). In similar vein, tuition cost in Canada is
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projected to increase in all provinces, with Labrador and Newfoundland being the only
exception, by 13 per cent annually for the next two years (Huffington Post, 2014).
With the added burden of rising living costs, many university students view websites like as a recourse to their financial woes. The sugar culture typically entails
a sugar daddy giving a monthly “allowance” to the sugar baby. The average monthly
“allowance” could be as much as CAD 2,600, a sufficient amount for the sugar babies to manage
their monthly expenses as well as meet their tuition fees (Huffington Post, 2015). In Canada,
University of Toronto and McGill University in Montreal are said to be the “hot bed” for sugar
culture (Huffington Post, 2015). They are followed by the University of Saskatchewan, even
though the province has a comparatively low student population.
The monthly “allowance” is what distinguishes from
traditional dating websites, as the element of sex and companionship in exchange for certain
recompense – either in cash or kind – is laid out explicitly at the time of registration on the
website. This form of “arrangement” is also what makes sugar culture a contentious area of study
from moral, ethical and legal viewpoint. When viewed from the cultural and moral lens, sugar
culture is seen as a form of prostitution, since the latter is ultimately what sugar culture emulates:
money in exchange for sex (New York Times, 2009). However, as I will examine in the
literature review section, there are certain facets to the sugar culture that place it outside the local
and western definition of prostitution. Certain promotional elements of the website, according to
legal scholars like Motyl (2013), might lump sugar culture and prostitution together.
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Literature review: a north-south divide
As stated in the introduction section, scholars disagree about the popular view that sugar
culture promotes prostitution and that the unique aspect of a sugar relationship involving gifts
and sex places it “outside of both local and Western definitions of prostitution” (Hunter, 2002, p.
1). According to Hunter, there were economic factors in certain towns of South Africa during the
apartheid and post-apartheid era that gave rise to sugar culture in the country. Rising
unemployment played a role in the decline of marriage since men weren’t able to afford the
mandatory dowry for the bride’s family. This allowed men to form polyamorous relationship as
the women remained economically dependent on men, owing to high unemployment rate and
decline of gainful employment for women (Hunter, 2002). Instead of exchanging money, which
they could not afford, men gave gifts to women on several occasions. The town of Mandeni,
where Hunter conducted his study, never considered such a sugar relationship as prostitution. A
local described such arrangement as polyamorous, wherein both men and women maintained
multiple sexual partners. The partners, though, also exposed themselves to the risk of contracting
STD (Hunter, 2002).
Female agency in sugar relationship is another topic that scholars like Selikow and
Mbulaheni (2013) discuss in their work. Their research concerns the sugar culture as seen in the
urban university campus in South Africa. Female agency – that is the ability of a sugar baby to
initiate the relationship, delay sexual intimacy or end it – is also what distinguishes sugar culture
from prostitution. Selikow and Mbulaheni (2013) argue that previous scholarly works on the
sugar culture in the country have ignored the element of love that is present in many such
arrangements. They also lament that scholars have accused sugar culture of being culpable in the
rise of HIV/AIDS cases in sub-Saharan African regions. To them, it is unfair to reduce sugar
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daddy relationships, dubbed widely as “transactional sex” by African scholars, as mere exchange
of sex and money (Bhana & Pattman, 2011; Masvwavure, 2010; Poulin, 2007; Stobenau et al,
Moore et al (2007) report on the prevalence of “transactional relationship” between sugar
babies, aged anywhere between 15 and 19, in sub-Saharan African countries like Niger, Benin,
Kenya, Zambia and Cameroon, among others. However, scholars have challenged the
widespread belief that the prevalence of sugar culture has its basis in poverty, as their data
suggests that a sugar baby’s involvement is not just motivated by their want for economic
survival (Moore et al, 2007). Passive or active pressuring from girl’s parents to secure goods
needed for the household; improving one’s long-term life chances by going to university, and
peer pressure to gain validation of one’s attractiveness and amorousness, are cited as primary
reasons for girls to enter into a sugar relationship (Luke & Kurz, 2002). Furthermore, scholars
also note the “empowerment” that women feel by demanding gifts from their partners. In
Tanzania, for instance, women “interpreted the gifts as a demonstration of self-respect and how
much they perceive they are valued by their partner” (Wight et al, 2006).
Thus, while the African scholars have fleshed out nuanced analysis on sugar culture,
scholarship in the other side of the Atlantic is more sceptical of such an “arrangement”. From
legal, if not moral or ethical, standpoint the online nature of the sugar culture makes it
susceptible to prostitution laws in the United States. Cordero (2015) states that insofar as the
financial arrangement is made between the two parties in sugar dating, the arrangement could be
deemed as prostitution. However, she also invokes French philosopher Michel Foucault in her
analysis to assert that lumping prostitution and sugar culture together would be merely to
establishing behavioural norms in the society to perpetuate “social construct and limits of
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sexuality” (Cordero, 2015, p. 9). Cordero (2015) also gives a brief chronology of the website and
how it clearly underwent a change in its user interface. For example, in 2012 the website’s
statement read: “online matchmaking site for ‘wealthy benefactors’ and willing women – women
who understand there will be no long-term romance, who understand their Sugar Daddy may be
married, who understand that sex, and secrecy, is expected (sic).” (Miller, 2012, as cited by
Cordero, 2015). While the statement has since been revised, critics have pointed how the
website’s language resembled that of an escort website which promotes explicitly the notion of
short-term romance, discretion and money (Cordero, 2015).
It is also interesting to note that while sugar babies in Africa view themselves as
empowered individuals through their actions, in the United States, such notion of empowerment
is fed by the website to the admittedly skittish college-going women. Legal scholar Motyl (2013)
argues that the website differs significantly from other escort websites as the former promotes
long-term relationship. Motyl (2013) further states that the website does not directly violate the
prostitution laws or the Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. She categorises the
sugar arrangement in three forms. A “category 1” arrangement, wherein sugar daddy gives
money to sugar baby on per meeting basis, instead of monthly basis, may fall under the
definition of prostitution where both parties would be guilty. In “category 2” arrangement, sugar
daddy relationship “mimic traditional dating form” in that the focus is on building long-term
relationship and sex and money are only incidental to the relationship. This “arrangement” will
be deemed outside of the purview of prostitution laws. “Category 3” is a hybrid of first two
categories, “offering long-term sex for money exchanges with little social companionship”. Such
arrangements are difficult to generalise. If the sugar baby receives “per-visit allowance” from the
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sugar daddy, and the visit is solely sexual in nature, then it will fall under the purview of
“category 1”, since it puts sugar baby “on retainer for sexual services” (Motyl, 2013).
Despite the nitty-gritty of the law involved, Motyl (2013) concludes that sugar culture, on
the whole, “remains elusive to the confines of both criminal and civil law [in the United States].”
This conclusion also rests on the findings that within sugar culture, most “arrangements”
resemble the “traditional boyfriend-girlfriend experience, but with an accompanying financial
incentive” (Wexler, 2013, as cited by Cordero, 2015, p. 33). To avoid the uncertainty of
prostitution allegations, Motyl (2013) suggests reforms in the prostitution laws to accommodate
sugar arrangements.
My admission here will be frank: given the complexity of the topic, we did not have a
concrete plan in place on how best to approach it. I think it also might have reflected in our
group coordination in weeks leading up to the presentation. We were also hampered by the
unavailability of certain team members on certain days. Even though I am personally not a big
fan of team-based projects, I appreciate the value of a good brainstorming session and how it can
lead to a definite goal. We had decided on the questionnaire, and it reflected each member’s
contribution to it.
The participants of the survey were selected based on their nationalities to reflect
diversity in opinion. We chose five males and five females for the survey. Participants were
natives of Canada, France, South Korea, Vietnam, Brazil, Nigeria and China. The male
participants were called into a meeting room; Ekta narrated the topic we were surveying and then
gave a brief overview and modus operandi of the website. Afterwards, each participant was
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picked by a group member who helped fill the questionnaire. An identical procedure was
followed for the female group. Each participant’s views on the topic were filled in and recorded
by the team members. The questions were semi-structured, and we made a point of not asking
any leading question, regardless of our personal views, so that it did not colour the participant’s
views. The topic was also narrated in a neutral tone so as not to provide participants with any
judgmental cues.
It was only after we had gathered all the data points that we formed a hypothesis. This
approach could be included under the framework of grounded theory. As Charmaz (1996) puts it,
grounded theory methods help create “[…] analytical codes and categories developed from data,
not from preconceived hypotheses” (p. 28). The hypothesis that we created from our findings
was: “What are the factors that determine an individual’s perception on” We had also wanted to find out if the participant’s cultural
dimension of individualism and collectivism, as conceptualised by Hofstede (2005), also played
an imperative role in determining their views on the website and sugar culture on the whole. It is
for this reason that two questions out of the total 10 included individualist/collectivist nature of
their country’s culture and where they leaned personally on this dimension, that is if they viewed
themselves more as individualists or collectivists.
A number of survey participants talked about the undeniable convenience the website
provides to its patrons, echoing what the website’s founder said in one of the interview clips that
were showed in the presentation. Participants also expressed their worry towards the issue of
consent, that is whether the sugar babies were entering into the arrangement on their volition and
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of their own accord. Some participants deemed sugar culture as a deviant practice, both from
moral and religious viewpoint. Almost all participants opined that sugar culture was a form of
“business transaction”. Interestingly, participant opinion was mixed with regard to whether sugar
culture was tantamount to prostitution. It should be noted that none of the questions in the
questionnaire asked whether sugar culture promoted prostitution; the first question was about the
“first thing that came to [the participant’s] mind when they heard about [the website].”
Participants were free to form their own perception around it.
It is also noteworthy that the findings could not establish correlation between individual’s
cultural dimension and attitude towards sugar culture. We had assumed that participants who
came from countries defined as “individualist” would be more open to sugar culture than
participants from “collectivist” countries. We had further assumed that participants who
personally identified as “individualist” would be more open to accepting the sugar culture, which
was also not found to be the case.
Our study was subject to certain limitations. We had only a limited number of
participants to safely draw any correlation of cultural/individual dimension. We also could not
directly interview any direct stakeholder in the sugar culture, viz. sugar babies and sugar daddies.
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While the literature review stands in stark contrast to the survey findings, I would still
affirm that study on sugar culture lacks the male perspective. For instance, Cordero (2015) and
Hunter (2002) invoke the feminist theory of patriarchy as a cause behind the rise of sugar
culture. Citing Bryson, Cordero defines patriarchy as male power that “[…] characterises all
relationship between the sexes, including the most intimate, and that it is sustained by the whole
of our culture.” (Bryson, 1999, p.3, as cited by Cordero, 2015, p. 34). However, as Shibles
(1991) analyses, theory of patriarchy is disputed even among the feminists. Citing various
scholars, Shibles concludes that patriarchy is a myth, as there doesn’t exist any consensus
regarding “male power”. “There are problems for men, and for women… but “patriarchy” seems
not to be one of them” (Shibles, 1991, p. 311-12). Furthermore, the term “distracts from the
genuine problems involved and treats relationships as mere adversarial struggles for power.”
(Shibles, 1991, p. 311-12). When this argument is extended to include sugar culture, it becomes
clear that the “arrangement” is a gender issue, not exclusively a feminist one.
As I stated in the introduction, sugar culture exemplifies the inter-gender dynamics of our
times. It might not be controversial of me to conclude that the “arrangement” showcases the base
desire of both genders in a more conspicuous manner.
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Babbage, M. (2014). Cost of going to university to rise 13% over 4 years. Daily Gleaner
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amongst South African township youth in the context of HIV and AIDS. Culture, Health
& Sexuality, 13(8), 961-972.
Bryson, V. (1999). Patriarchy: a concept too useful to lose. Contemporary Politics. 5(4). 311-
Charmaz, K. (2003). Grounded theory. Qualitative psychology: A practical guide to research
methods, 81-110.
Cordero, B. D. (2015). Sugar culture and SeekingArrangement. com participants: What it means
to negotiate power and agency in sugar dating (Doctoral dissertation, California State
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Hofstede, G. H., & Hofstede, G. J. (2005). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind
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Hunter, M. (2002). The Materiality of Everyday Sex: Thinking beyond 'prostitution'. African
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Luke, N., & Kurz, K. (2002). Cross-generational and transactional sexual relations in sub-
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Masvawure, T. (2010). ‘I just need to be flashy on campus’: female students and transactional
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... Ennél is explicitebben fejezi ki álláspontját Miller (2012), aki a "kölcsönösen előnyös egyezség" fogalmát a prostitúció szinonimájaként értelmezi. Jóval óvatosabb és árnyaltabb megközelítést szorgalmaz Sulekh (2016), aki a sugarkapcsolatok megítélése mögött lehetségesen meghúzódó kulturális mintázatbeli különbségekre hívja fel a figyelmet, míg mások (például Rodriguez 2016, Cordero 2015) több különböző irányból igyekeznek megközelíteni a kérdést. Továbblépve a pénzért folytatott szexuális együttlét kérdéskörén, a nők elnyomásának intézményesült formáit, valamint az érdekképviselet és a döntési szabadság lehetőségét is a sugarkultúra kérdéseinek vonzáskörzetébe kapcsolják. ...
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Az elmúlt évtizedek során végbement digitális változások nyomán az online és az offline jelenségek közti határvonalak nehezen rekonstruálhatóak. A létrejött onlife (Floridi 2015) térben megjelenő újfajta gyakorlatok vizsgálatához új típusú megközelítésekre van szükség. Dolgozatunkban egy hazai online társkereső oldal, a működéséhez kapcsolódó közéleti botrányt értelmezésére teszünk kísérletet. Miután röviden bemutatjuk a szóban forgó botrányt, annak társadalmi hátterét, a vonatkozó szakirodalom fő irányainak áttekintésével meghatározzuk az elemzés elméleti keretét. Dolgozatunk célja elsősorban a körüli botrány kapcsán a véleményüket a közösségi média felületein artikuláló megszólalók jellemzőinek feltérképezése. Egyrészt hagyományos survey-adatok elemzésével, másrészt a Facebook-aktivitáson keresztül rekonstruálható érdeklődési körök és fogyasztási szokások mentén, a personaelemzés módszerével azonosítjuk be a botrány során megszólalókat.
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ABSTRACT: 'Transactional sex' was regarded by the mid-1990s as an important determinant of HIV transmission, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Little attention has been paid to what the terms used to denote transactional sex suggest about how it is understood. This study provides a nuanced set of descriptions of the meaning of transactional sex in three settings. Furthermore, we discuss how discourses around transactional sex suggest linkages to processes of globalization and hold implications for vulnerability to HIV. The analysis in this article is based on three case studies conducted as part of a multi-country research project that investigated linkages between economic globalization and HIV. In this analysis, we contextualize and contrast the 'talk' about transactional sex through the following research methods in three study sites: descriptions revealed through semi-structured interviews with garment workers in Lesotho; focus groups with young women and men in Antananarivo, Madagascar; and focus groups and in-depth interviews with young women and men in Mbekweni, South Africa. Participants' talk about transactional sex reveals two themes: (1) 'The politics of differentiation' reflects how participants used language to demarcate identities, and distance themselves from contextually-based marginalized identities; and (2) 'Gender, agency and power' describes how participants frame gendered-power within the context of transactional sex practices, and reflects on the limitations to women's power as sexual agents in these exchanges. Talk about transactional sex in our study settings supports the assertion that emerging transactional sexual practices are linked with processes of globalization tied to consumerism. By focusing on 'talk' about transactional sex, we locate definitions of transactional sex, and how terms used to describe transactional sex are morally framed for people within their local context. We take advantage of an opportunity to comparatively explore such talk across three different study sites, and contribute to a better understanding of both emerging sexual practices and their implications for HIV vulnerability. Our work underlines that transactional sex needs to be reflected as it is perceived: something very different from, but of at least equal concern to, formal sex work in the efforts to curb HIV transmission.
The revolutionary study of how the place where we grew up constrains the way we think, feel, and act, updated for today's new realities The world is a more dangerously divided place today than it was at the end of the Cold War. This despite the spread of free trade and the advent of digital technologies that afford a degree of global connectivity undreamed of by science fiction writers fifty years ago. What is it that continues to drive people apart when cooperation is so clearly in everyone's interest? Are we as a species doomed to perpetual misunderstanding and conflict? Find out in Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. A veritable atlas of cultural values, it is based on cross-cultural research conducted in seventy countries for more than thirty years. At the same time, it describes a revolutionary theory of cultural relativism and its applications in a range of professions. Fully updated and rewritten for the twenty-first century, this edition: Reveals the unexamined rules by which people in different cultures think, feel, and act in business, family, schools, and political organizations Explores how national cultures differ in the key areas of inequality, collectivism versus individualism, assertiveness versus modesty, tolerance for ambiguity, and deferment of gratification Explains how organizational cultures differ from national cultures, and how they can--sometimes--be managed Explains culture shock, ethnocentrism, stereotyping, differences in language and humor, and other aspects of intercultural dynamics Provides powerful insights for businesspeople, civil servants, physicians, mental health professionals, law enforcement professionals, and others Geert Hofstede, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of Organizational Anthropology and International Management at Maastricht University, The Netherlands. Gert Jan Hofstede, Ph.D., is a professor of Information Systems at Wageningen University and the son of Geert Hofstede.
To explore the love-money-power-gender labyrinth, we conducted 10 in-depth interviews with students involved in sugar daddy relationships for conspicuous consumption on an urban university campus in South Africa. We had anticipated that these relationships were not devoid of love and that girls would carve out moments of agency within power dynamics that favoured sugar daddies. However, the students exerted degrees of agency in all phases of the sugar daddy relationship and despite the instrumental relationship imperative; love existed in a variety of manifestations in these relationships. Although students had instigated sugar daddy relationships for conspicuous consumption, during the course of the relationship sugar daddies were transformed from abstract providers to friends, confidants and lovers. Further, if the sugar daddy could no longer provide resources, students would most likely end the romantic relationship, but the friendship would not be terminated. Our analysis demonstrates that an ‘either or’ analysis that situates ‘agency as opposed to power’ or ‘love as opposed to money’ is superficial. It flattens the complexities raised in the vignettes of the girls involved in sugar daddy relationships and is blind to the messy contradictions that girls creatively navigate within structures in their quest for both money and love “at the same time”.
How do young South Africans give meaning to love? In this paper we draw on findings from an interview study to examine the ways in which young Africans, aged 16 to 17 years in a poor township in KwaZulu-Natal province, express ideals of love and romance. Their claims to love we show are strategic advantages as they negotiate poverty and economic marginalisation. Girls' ideals of love are tied to their aspirations towards middle-class consumerism. Love becomes inseparable from the idealisation of men who provide. Upholding provider masculinity is a strategic means to claim money, fashionable clothes and prestige. Unlike girls, the boys' love investments were focused on farm girls from rural areas in South Africa. Farm girls were constructed as virgins with little investment in commodification. Farm girls are a strategic option through which boys' economic marginalisation experienced in the township girls is reconciled through an exalted masculinity. Love is produced by particular sets of economic and social circumstances through which gender inequalities are reproduced, and should be taken more seriously in working with young people to address gendered social environments and HIV risk.
Incl. bibl., glossary, index
This paper challenges two common perceptions regarding transactional sex relationships particularly in Africa: that they are primarily resorted to as survival strategies by economically disadvantaged young women and that sex and money are always exchanged within these relationships. Instead, I show how, in reality, young women and the men they date may use these relationships primarily to compete for social status in their peer groups as well as to fashion themselves as high-status, successful modern subjects. Often, for these particular female students, and indeed the men they date, transactional sex often involves more than a straightforward exchange of sex and money. Ethnographic data was collected at the University of Zimbabwe between August 2006 and December 2007 using participant observation and in-depth interviews. This paper focuses on the experiences of ten female students who were, or had been, involved in transactional sex as well as on interviews conducted with four male students who were 'mediating' transactional sex relationships on campus. Findings suggest the importance of taking into account the contexts in which transactional sex occurs. Transactional sex takes different shapes and holds different meanings depending on where it manifests itself.