Sugar mummies not common, but still a threat to sexual health

KAMPALA, UGANDA – Young women are not the only ones in Uganda searching for financial security in the arms of older, richer companions.

While the overwhelming majority of cross-generational relationships in Uganda involve a young woman and an older man, young men are also known to engage in sexual relationships with much older women. Such relationships operate on a transactional basis, in which sexual favors are exchanged for gifts or money.

Executive Director Susan Ajok of Straight Talk Foundation, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Uganda dedicated to educating young people about sexual health and HIV prevention, said that young women and older men are not the only cross-generational pairing Uganda sees.

“We’ve also had the same for boys, younger boys going in for the older women who are willing to give you everything that you need in return for a sexual relationship,” Ajok said.

Susan Ajok, executive director of Straight Talk Foundation, discussed the prevalence of sugar mummy culture in Kampala. (Nicole McPheeters | The Media School)

According to Ajok, economic hardship at home is a primary driver of cross-generational relationships in Uganda. Young people who come from impoverished families rely on their wealthy, older acquaintances to support their families’ basic needs.

Oftentimes, young women involved with sugar daddies keep their relationships under wraps. Gabriel Amori, national coordinator of Uganda Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by AIDS (UNERELA+), said this is not usually the case for young men and their “sugar mummies.”

“The young men, unlike for the girls, enjoy that kind of limelight,” Amori said. “For them it is a pride that they are able to conquer women of such high status. And in some cases they’re even given cars to drive, especially university students, or sponsored to stay in expensive hostels so that the woman has access to him whenever she wants.”

Gabriel Amori, national coordinator of the Uganda Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by AIDS (UNERELA+), said that young men find it exciting to “conquer” older women. (Bente Bouthier | The Media School)

Although poverty is a leading cause of cross-generational relationships in Uganda, Ajok said many young people who seek sugar daddies or mummies actually come from well-to-do families. When they get to university, they experience peer pressure to engage in sexual, transactional relationships with older people. In doing so, they can impress those around them by obtaining the latest smartphone, new clothes or even a flashy car.

Despite serving as a route to financial security, cross-generational relationships pose serious health risks. According to AVERT, an international clearing house of information about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, cross-generational sex between young women and older men is one of the leading causes of HIV infection among young women and girls in sub-Saharan African nations.

In this part of the world, young women aged 10 to 24 years old are twice as likely as men to be infected with the virus, which is sexually transmitted and leads to AIDS when left untreated. This disparity is largely because young women find it difficult to negotiate condom use when they are in transactional relationships with older, more powerful men.

Although sugar mummy relationships are not as widely publicized as sugar daddy relationships, they are both cross-generational and involve unsafe sexual networks that encourage the spread of HIV.

Ibrahim Batambuze, communications and advocacy officer of Reach a Hand Uganda, an NGO devoted to educating young people about reproductive health and rights in creative ways, said that the most effective way to inform young people of the dangers of cross-generational sex and HIV is to disseminate the same message, regardless of gender.

Ibrahim Batambuze, communications and advocacy officer of Reach a Hand Uganda, stressed the need to inform young people of the dangers of cross-generational sex. (Sophia Raymond | The Media School)

“Of course, if there is a way through which HIV is being spread, it doesn’t matter whether it’s through an older woman or a young girl or vice versa,” said Batambuze. “Some of the campaigns that are against cross-generational relationships, they don’t focus on young girls, but they give a general message: Get off the sexual network.”

Young men may enjoy the thrill of dating older women. They may enjoy the gifts they receive. But sugar mummies ultimately exploit their young boyfriends as they add them to ever-growing sexual networks. HIV is not a virus purely spread by older men, and everyone should take precautions to prevent transmission.