Sugar daddy alert

2014-08-03 15:00

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Sugar daddies are still one of the forces driving HIV infections among teenage girls and young women in South Africa.

The latest survey that measures HIV prevalence in pregnant women has revealed that more than 45% of pregnant girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 24 have partners older than them. But it is not clear what the age difference is.

The survey, which was released recently, also showed that about one in five of these young women are HIV positive.

The department of health interviewed 34?260 pregnant women between the ages of 12 and 53 for its 2012 National Antenatal Sentinel HIV & Herpes Simplex Type-2 Prevalence Survey.

About half of those interviewed were teenagers or in their early 20s.

Findings showed that the HIV prevalence was 12.4% in teenagers (15 to 19) and 24.2% in young women between the ages of 20 and 24.

The government uses this age group to monitor new HIV infections because they are most likely to have recently become sexually active.

Because of this, many recent HIV-prevention messages have been targeted at this group – most recently in KwaZulu-Natal’s Sugar Daddy Campaign.

The province has the highest HIV prevalence in South Africa.

The campaign was designed to discourage teenage girls and young women from getting into sexual relationships with older men.

KwaZulu-Natal recorded a slight drop in HIV prevalence among pregnant girls aged 15 to 19 in this survey – from 16.8% to 16.6%.

In the 20-to-24 age group, HIV prevalence rose marginally, from 33.3% to 33.6%.

It seems the sugar daddy phenomenon is not going anywhere.

Professor Khangelani Zuma, the head of biostatistics research methodology at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), said it was clear from the study how young women were becoming infected.

“Statistics [from the survey] show us that only half of them reported having partners their age. This means that the rest are in a relationship with men older than them,” Zuma said.

The HSRC describes these kinds of intergenerational relationships as a man who is in a relationship with a girl or woman who is 10 years or more younger than him.

It has conducted vast research on the link between the sugar daddy phenomenon and rising HIV infections among teenagers and young women.

This research, Zuma said, showed that “age disparity” was a big contributor to HIV infections in young women.

“What we know is that if a young woman is dating a man five or more years older than her, the risk of HIV increases. This is because older men are a pool of people at a higher risk of becoming HIV infected.

“Latest estimates show that HIV prevalence in women between 25 and 29 years old is 28%. This means that a man who has a partner his age is at a higher risk of being infected,” Zuma explained.

He was quoting from the 2012 SA National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey, which contained similar findings to the department of health’s antenatal survey.

The latter revealed that HIV prevalence among pregnant women between the ages of 25 and 39 was very high.

The highest prevalence (42.8%) was recorded in women between the ages of 30 and 34.

Zuma said the shocking figure was actually good news, because it meant women in this age group were taking antiretroviral drugs and living longer.

“There is no doubt that we are doing well in putting adults on treatment, increasing life expectancy and reducing Aids-related deaths,” he said.

“But I worry that we are neglecting HIV-prevention messages that are targeted at young people. We know the drivers behind the HIV incidence in young people, but very few prevention messages are targeted at them.

“Take intergenerational relationships, for example – there is little education targeted at young people about it. Yet, many report having older partners.”

Zuma also expressed concern about declining condom use among 15- to 24-year-old women, saying more need to be done to protect this group.

The HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey showed that condom use in this group decreased from 66.5% in 2008 to 49.8% in 2012.

Proudly ‘sugar babies’

A recent investigation by Wits ­Vuvuzela, the University of the Witwatersrand’s campus newspaper, found that a number of female students boasted about being “sugar babies”.

These young women are into the high life and aren’t afraid to put out to get it. They favour the more extravagant lifestyle and admit the easiest way to meet their material needs is to get themselves a “papa bear”. They said the term was less “stigmatised” and they could use it freely in public ­conversations.

Wits Vuvuzela spoke to four young women with sugar daddies and each knew of several more.

A 20-year-old Wits medical student admitted she had a papa bear, but not because she needed money.

“Honestly, I love money. I know some probably do it to pay for school and stuff, but that’s not why I have one.”

She has both a white and a black papa bear, but would not disclose the identity of either. Her white sugar daddy is 42, but she would give no information on the other.

“People liken having a papa bear to prostitution, but it’s different,” she says.

“These men are paying for my time and, quite frankly, I don’t mind selling my time.”

She said the most expensive gift she had received from her white papa bear was an all-expenses-paid trip to Namibia with her friends.

Most women approached by Wits ­Vuvuzela agreed that varsity “boys” were inadequate.

Another medical student, who asked not to be named, describe campus men as “idiots” and “immature”.

She said there was a perception that sugar babies were dim-witted and poor, but she was neither.

“I don’t regret my choice in having a papa bear. There are certain things I need in my life that they can give me.”

All the women approached said they met their papa bears either through the WeChat app, or by seeing a blog on ­Tumblr, which explained how to find a “mutually beneficial” relationship. They admitted it initially took a sizable investment in their own appearance.

“When we go out to, like, Rosebank and Sandton, you have to make sure you look really good and expensive. You teach people how to treat you. If you treat yourself like a million bucks, ­people will do that too,” said the 20-year-old student.

She activated WeChat in Sandton ­because that was her target market.

When the app is installed, it shows people who are in the vicinity who may have the same interests. One party ­initiates a connection and the other must ­accept the contact to start a ­conversation.

According to a number of websites for potential sugar daddies, these men tend to be specific about what they are interested in and are very particular about the kind of girl they want. “Youth, fun and a voracious sexual appetite” appear to be major pluses.

“I am very naughty but always in a nice way,” says a financial director’s ­profile. “I like to make a woman feel ­special yet drive her wild. I am looking for no-strings fun to start with … and the dark fruit.”

He mentions that his net worth is well over R2?million and that he is willing to spend up to R20?000, plus gifts, on his chosen sugar baby.

Gentle Gentleman advertises himself this way: “I’m self-employed, young at heart, still love partying and haveing [sic] fun and love to get laid. Sorry very blunt I know.

“I’m married with two children and all is calm in the housing situation.”

– Kudzai Mazvarirwofa

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