Sugar dating - youth exchanging sex for gifts

An investigation of young people’s motives for and experiences with exchanging sex for money or gifts and the significance of age, gender, social background, and sexuality. The project is a collaboration between Roskilde University, Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research, RedenUng, The Danish Center of Social Science Research. Also, a range of GO’s and NGO’s are partners in the project.

The aim of this project is to work closely together with RedenUng and other organisations to generate knowledge on young sugar daters own experiences with and perspectives on transactional sex, and hence to develop social initiatives that can mitigate their marginalisation and support them in finding alternatives to engaging in sugar dating. In addition, we will explore whether and how the young people experience dependency of e.g. money, gifts, attention, alcohol, and other substances and how to improve social initiatives in order to prevent and treat such dependencies.

The phenomenon, “sugar dating” - in which a person, typically a young woman, exchanges sex for money or gifts with an older person, often a man – has attracted a lot of attention in the public debate in Denmark in recent years. The number of profiles on sugar dating websites has expanded dramatically, and, concurrently, support centres, such as RedenUng, are receiving an increasing number of enquiries from young people with issues related to sugar dating. This study is the first research project in Denmark to investigate sugar dating among young people, and in doing so we also explore the participants’ social background and motives for exchanging sex for money or gifts. Importantly, we lack knowledge of why the young people chose to engage in sugar dating, their experiences, and which social initiatives that could benefit them. We also need a better understanding of whether and how sugar dating is seen by the young people as distinguishable from prostitution, i.e. interactions with a concrete agreement on prize and services between a provider and a purchaser of sex.

The study
The project involves both quantitative and qualitative investigations of sugar dating. This includes a comprehensive survey and an online questionnaire survey on attitudes towards sugar dating among young Danes in general. In addition, we will interview 60 young sugar daters. Social background and networks, motives for and experiences with engaging in transactional sex and future plans are some of the themes in these interviews. At Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research, we will focus, in particular, on various types of addiction that the young people face, for example of economic compensation or recognition. Also, previous studies have found that marginalised young people who exchange or sell sexual services are more likely to experience a problematic use of alcohol and other substances.

The project runs from January 2019 to January 2022.

The project is funded by the Velux Foundations’ HUMpraxis program. 

The project is a collaboration between researchers from Roskilde University, Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research, Aarhus University, professionals from RedenUng, The Danish Center of Social Science Research, the City of Copenhagen, Ballerup Municipality, De Unges Hus, LGBT+ Denmark, Headspace, and The Danish Red Cross Youth.


Christian Groes

Associate professor

Roskilde Universitet
 +45 46 74 22 96