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  • Geena Hill

TikTok & Sugar Daddies: When Does The Fairytale End?

© Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri

Glamourised Sugar Daddy content has saturated the screens of TikTok in recent months, but what issues can come from this when we consider a younger audience? And should creators hold more responsibility?

Now, I am not sure if it is just me, the woman who spends a horrific amount of screen time aimlessly scrolling, or if everyone's TikTok is seemingly saturated with the romanticisation and glamorisation of having a sugar daddy. Yes, tens, upon hundreds, upon thousands, of videos have submerged my 'For You Page' displaying designer bags, five-star hotels, and plush cars, all thanks to the generous funding of their high net-worth counterpart. These promotional displays of a luxurious lifestyle, attainable to any such individual, is one that has taken over our screens. But what concerns can we take from the display of such relationships, and how worried should we be towards their effect on young people?

© TikTok Comment Screenshot - INJECTION

For reasons of clarification, a Sugar Daddy can be most commonly defined as an older rich man who provides gifts and money with younger partners in exchange for time spent or sexual relations. In general, Sugar Daddies provide Sugar Babies with elaborate displays of wealth to fulfil what are usually amorous motives, and a mutually benefiting relationship develops from this... Over history, the presence of Sugar Daddies has dazzled throughout society for as long as older rich men and younger wanting women have existed - with the term "Sugar Daddy" dating back to the early 1900s. Throughout the roaring 20s, with the presence of disposable wealth reigning alongside the idealisation of lavish lifestyles, "Sugar" based relationships were facilitated and grew more popular. While looking back over history, it can be easy to identify individuals such as Hugh Hefner as holding a major figure in defining wealth-based sexual relations. The prolific growth of the internet age has exacerbated these financially beneficial partnerships. One of the first and still competitively popular websites that were designed to match Sugar Babies with Sugar Daddies is Seeking Arrangements. With over 10 million active members, 8 million of them being sugar babies, Seeking Arrangements has become what we can consider as the blueprint for instigating such relationships. However, with over a decade under its active belt, the hype around "Sugar" based relationships has shifted from the websites that facilitate them to the social media that now promote them.

© TikTok Comment Screenshot - INJECTION

With over 689 million monthly international users, the video-based app TikTok has skyrocketed over the past few years, taking the idle attention spans of populations in lockdown to its advantage. With its undeniable effect on music, pop culture, and consumer markets, TikTok has become a major agent for promotion amongst both Millennial and Gen Z cohorts. And, whilst my 'For You Page' is still filled with trendy foods and the next short dance to learn, something that I have found both shocking and entertaining is the amount of Sugar Daddy and Sugar Baby based content appearing under a variety of hashtags. A plethora of videos have now emerged, with some displaying material goods, luxurious holidays, and fine dining, and others taking an educational approach giving out their Sugar Baby' life hacks' and tips. In either direction, these videos tend to present Sugar Daddy/Sugar Baby relationships in a promotional way, not only highlighting the rewards but also illustrating how their audience should go about in finding a Sugar Daddy of their own (and a good one at that). However, whilst I, myself, find this content typically entertaining and am aware of the illusions of social media and the falsities that pertain, I have become increasingly concerned at the number of young people who are actively responding to this content, wanting to engage in their own "Sugar" based relationship. Common comments that I have come across amongst these videos are ones of young girls explicitly describing their frustrations of being underage, asking if there are ways to get onto certain websites and apps if they are underage, and ultimately eliciting an idealisation of the glamourised relationships shown within the 30-second videos they are watching. This romanticisation and glamorisation of such relationships are where a big issue occurs, especially when it intertwines with the inability to distinguish real from fake within the social media age.

© TikTok Comment Screenshot - INJECTION

Sugar Baby/Sugar Daddy relationships are not uncommon, especially within the younger generation. Seeking Arrangements themselves claim that there are over 500,000 students using their platform and even provide free premium membership to any individuals of whom sign up using their university email address. It is also claimed that 1 in 10 students use their bodies in order to make money, whether this is sex work, cam work, or engaging in Sugar Daddy relations. The relationship between financial need, and the want of a luxurious lifestyle, is one that has really helped the growth in the commonality of "Sugar" based relationships. However, these relationships are ones that can turn sour very easily, and these risks should not be ignored. The entire premise of such relationships are based on money; therefore, it can become very easy for an unequal power dynamic to occur based on a Sugar Baby's need for the Sugar Daddy's money to provide outlets such as rent and tuition. Therefore, it becomes easy for Sugar Daddies to force Sugar Babies into doing acts they do not wish, as they are now reliant on the continual funding of the Sugar Daddy. Complications also arise within the relationship when one party wants it to end. As opposed to other sex work, Sugar Daddy/Sugar Baby relationships are, as the name suggests, relationships. Therefore, deciding to exit the relationship could be more difficult than to simply stop responding and one that could end in bad blood. Issues of privacy also pertain throughout these relationships; needing to keep your personal and financial identity secure is something that Sugar Babies are told to remember in order to ensure their safety.

© TikTok Comment Screenshot - INJECTION

With such glaring risks that are assigned towards these relationships, the question called into being is one that asks if creators should hold more responsibility towards their content? And if TikTok as a platform alone should do more to safeguard its users? As previously mentioned, the most common Sugar Daddy/Sugar Baby content is published as a purely promotional and romanticised display of such relationships, with fail to mention the risks that could come hand in hand. When you consider this with the young age of TikTok's most popular demographic, it becomes concerning to see a lack of responsibility held by both TikTok and the creators towards this content. However, to a large majority of users, this content is viewed as pure entertainment with no thought to pursue it further. And, even if TikTok disappeared, Sugar Daddy/Sugar Baby content is still saturating the web throughout other social media such as Instagram, Twitter and Youtube. Therefore, regardless of what platform they are using, if people did want to find such content, they could. I guess, in terms of self-awareness, what is most important to remember here are the illusions of social media and understanding that the content people post is usually far from the reality of the situation. And, whilst I am not critiquing the premise of Sugar Daddy/Sugar Baby relationships themselves, for one to engage in such partnerships, it is imperative to research all aspects and safety measures before deciding to enter this world.

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