One in five female university students are engaged in sexual relationships with older men (colloquially known as “sponsors”) in exchange for money and other favours, a recent study by the Busara Centre for Behavioural Economics reveals.
The study conducted among 252 participants aged between 18 to 24 years from universities in Nairobi, and a further 238 participants using random digit dialling, revealed that young women expect money in exchange for sex even from their boyfriends or casual acquaintances.
Young women interviewed revealed that Sh5,000 a month was the bare minimum expected of a sponsor.
“Thirteen per cent of participants reported expecting money in exchange for sex, be it from a boyfriend or casual acquaintance. And regular support of $50 (Sh5,000) a month was associated as strongly with boyfriends as with sponsors, indicating that “price” (that is the level of support provided) may be a stronger indication of sponsorship than the presence of financial support in itself,” the study reveals.
The difference between boyfriends and sponsors from the study mostly lies in the value of financial support than in monetary support per se.
While dates, gifts, outings, and meals were expected from boyfriends, girls look up to sponsors for rent, trips, and financing of their beauty expenses.
The study involved a 45-minute questionnaire that included demographic information, psychometric measures and questions covering perceptions, attitudes, perceived prevalence and norms surrounding different sponsor-relationship structures.
The researchers also created fictitious social media profiles and gave participants tasks to complete.
They measured how much time was spent looking at different sections of the profiles and found out that participants spent significantly more time looking at income when evaluating a potential sponsor, and significantly more time looking at his profile picture when evaluating potential boyfriends.
“Income was very predictive of how high men scored as potential sponsors and as his income increases, so does his potential for being a sponsor. The desirability as a boyfriend barely changes with income however. Owning a car made sponsors more appealing, but made no difference when evaluating the men as boyfriends.
“Being married made a man less attractive as a boyfriend, but did not make a difference for potential sponsors,” the report reveals.
Overall, respondents felt negative about their stories of sponsorship, whether they related experiences of friends and peers, or about themselves.
When asked what emotions they associated with their stories, 55 per cent of women selected “upset”, followed by “ashamed” (36 per cent) and “irritable” (35 per cent).
Some stories even included tales of violence, abuse and threats to women’s health and safety.
For some women, sponsorship provided a chance to make money in way that’s fun and works well alongside their student life.
For others, sponsorship is a chance to access a more luxurious lifestyle, including travel to places they wouldn’t otherwise get to visit. For them, the story of sponsorship is one of fun, excitement and opportunity.