In one of the regions of Kenya hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, a study of over 1000 men aged 21–45 and their nonmarital relationships reveals that the older a man is than his female partner and the more money and gifts he gives her, the less likely they are to use condoms. Collected in urban Kisumu by Nancy Luke, assistant professor at Brown University and a Harvard University research fellow, this new evidence quantifies for the first time the health effects of 'sugar daddy' relationships, long considered an important factor in the spread of HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa.

For the purpose of the study, Luke defines a sugar daddy relationship as one in which the man is at least 10 years older than his nonmarital sexual partner and gives her more than 608 Kenyan shillings (the equivalent of $9) a month.

Luke finds that sugar daddy relationships are not as prevalent as anecdotal evidence suggests; only 5% of the men surveyed were sugar daddies (although this figure was 21% of men aged 30-45). In general, however, unequal sexual relationships are widespread. The average age difference between sexual partners who were not married was more than five years. Three quarters of the relationships studied involved some sort of material assistance.

Condoms are less likely to be used in sugar daddy relationships than in other nonmarital sexual partnerships, even in relationships sugar daddies have with other women who are closer in age or receive less financial support. Condoms are also less likely to be used in relationships with large age differences (10 or more years) and in relationships that involve large amounts of material assistance ($10 or more a month).

In a region of the world where more than one in four young women aged 15-19 are infected with HIV, compared with one in 20 young men of the same age group, this research implies a need for programs and policies geared at empowering young women. Access to contraceptives, education, information and jobs are needed to allow women greater control over their sexual health and lives and lessen the appeal of gifts and money offered by older men in exchange for sex.

"Confronting the ‘Sugar Daddy’ Stereotype: Age and Economic Asymmetries and Risky Sexual Behavior in Urban Kenya," appears in the March 2005 issue of International Family Planning Perspectives. Also in this issue:

"Does 'CNN' (Condoms, Needles, Negotiation) Work Better than 'ABC' (Abstinence, Being Faithful and Condom Use) in Attacking the AIDS Epidemic?" a comment by Steven W. Sinding of the International Planned Parenthood Foundation in London.

"The Impact of Menstrual Side Effects on Contraceptive Discontinuation: Findings from a Longitudinal Study In Cairo, Egypt," by Elizabeth Tolley of Family Health International et al.

"Risk Perception and Condom Use Among Married Or Cohabiting Couples in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa," Pranitha Maharaj of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban and John Clelend of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

"Factors Associated with Use of the Female Condom in Zimbabwe," by Dominique Meekers of Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and Kerry Richter of Population Services International, Washington, DC.