How “Sugar Daddy Training” Saves Lives

The power imbalance and age imbalance in “sugar daddy” relationships – where a better-off older male has a sexual relationship with a young woman – are particularly bad for STD transmission rates and unplanned single-parent pregnancies.

The women don’t have the power in the relationship to demand safe sex, and the man is more likely to have multiple partners. A simple program implemented in Kenya, and since replicated elsewhere, lowered teenage pregnancies from relationships with adult men by more than half just by replacing existing abstinence training with training that specifically pointed out the dangers of going out with older men.

This is a big deal. And all it takes is telling teenagers at risk “hey, maybe date someone your own age.”

Image Source: By Adam Jones, Ph.D. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

All these types of asymmetries are associated with nonuse of condoms. Increasing women’s power within asymmetric sexual relationships could improve their ability to negotiate safer sexual behaviors, such as condom use.

We use a randomized experiment to test whether and what information changes teenagers’ sexual behavior in Kenya. Providing information on the relative risk of HIV infection by partner’s age led to a 28 percent decrease in teen pregnancy, an objective proxy for the incidence of unprotected sex. Self-reported sexual behavior data suggests substitution away from older (riskier) partners and toward same-age partners. In contrast, the official abstinence-only HIV curriculum had no impact on teen pregnancy.

An information campaign that provided Kenyan teenagers in randomly selected schools with the information that HIV prevalence was much higher among adult men and their partners than among teenage boys led to a 65% decrease in the incidence of pregnancies by adult partners among teenage girls in the treatment group relative to the comparison. This suggests a large reduction in the incidence of unprotected cross-generational sex. The information campaign did not increase pregnancies among teenage couples.

It shows that 43 percent of men over 40 years of age in Botswana carry HIV, far higher than the 4 to 5 percent infection rate of men in their teens and early 20s.
Jaws drop. “Oh my gosh!” blurts out one girl.

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