Meet a Sugar Daddy Right Here Today Then Quit Your Stupid Job Tomorrow.
Google ads, wikipedia and the specialised dating websites seem to be pretty clear on the subject: Sugar Daddy relationships are about the money. So why are the people interviewed in the recent BBC article being so coy about it?
Perhaps it's a combination of the famous British reticence to talk about money and the general social condemnation of sex workers? But I think there's more going on here. At it's heart, the "it's not prostitution, really" argument reveals a belief that disparity of power creates a bad relationship. There's an unease around these situations because society tells us that they are unfair, that someone is being exploited. A little like the assumption that all sex workers must be exploited. There are also ethical hang-ups, beliefs that selling sex somehow cheapens it (I personally think that the £313 for "a date" quoted in the article is hardly cheap, especially as there's a suggestion that sex might not be automatically provided. But beyond that, sex is an activity. It's a thing that can be done. It can also be a deep and meaningful connection between people. It can also be both.
Some of the dating websites have a very BDSM vibe to them, as well the might given the explicit power exchange involved. Sugar Daddy (and Sugar Mummy, although those seem sadly rarer) relationships are based on a transaction (often termed an "arrangement") in which the older, wealthy and hence powerful partner gives financial support and offers patronage to the younger, poorer and hence weaker partner. Now, I have had forays into the world of professional dominance so I have no problem with accepting cash for sexual favours. I'm also a pervert with a fondness for D/s relationships that are neatly structured with things given and things taken so these kinds of relationships feel normal to me.
This is where it gets even trickier, because disparity of power is at the heart of many good, caring and loving D/s relationships. D/s makes overt what a lot of us knew all along. Good relationships work because they are a balance of inequalities. One party gives the same amount as the other takes. D/s enshrines that in words and principles, it makes clear things that we do not usually speak about and that can make people very uncomfortable. It's not the fact that one partner supports the other, giving things that one may lack, that creates a "bad" relationship, it's other things. Like lying, non-consensual physical and emotional abuse or being a big, damn hypocrite.
And that is the real crux of the argument. Society does not like these relationships because they reveal us to be hypocrites. We pour scorn upon these relationships yet they are a fundamental truth of how relationships work and we skip over the idea that people can get genuine enjoyment and satisfaction in relationships based on the exchange of money and power. as opposed to say, love and love alone. Don't get me wrong, love is amazing and wonderful and a many splendoured thing.
But so is being able to pay the bills.
Historically we have been more truthful, partnerships between people were partnerships between families, between countries even. Dowries indicated the transaction that was being made. Today, marriage still confers levels of social privilege and financial stability. Yet we talk about "marrying money" as if it's automatically a bad thing - as if someone would genuinely desire to "marry poverty" given the choice. Similarly, we disparage the older man who hooks up with the model (whilst also decrying her as a vapid bimbo). These relationship stereotypes have a kernel of truth that reveals society to be deeply hypocritical in how it views the value of beautiful women and powerful men - and that's without even touching on the heteronormatism and sexism revealed by beautiful women and powerful men.
No-one wants to go back to have all women as chattel (although some of us might like to play with all genders of chattel from time to time) but we must admit that we live in a world of gender inequality and it is childish to assume otherwise or to think worse of those who, honestly and openly, try to make the most of what they have got in the world. You don't like what they are doing? Then give them a world in which their options are better, in which we have other values for women and men. As long as we have a world where men are valued for their money and women for their looks then there will be men who pay to have a beautiful women on their arm.
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