MTV Shuga addresses many issues that are prevalent in different African societies. In Nigeria, transactional relationships between ‘runs girls’ (women usually in their twenties) and ‘sugar daddies’ (men well in their 50s or older) are very common. In exchange for money, accommodation, school fees (or any agreed upon expenditure), the sugar daddy has a sexual relationship with the runs girl. However, as highlighted in season 4 of the show, this agreement sometimes come with risks. Moe, a runs girl, loses one eye in the process.
Faa, another character, was hit by Angel, a man who wanted to be her sugar daddy. He had a bottle of acid he was going to pour on her. He told her, “If I can’t have you, nobody else can.” Before this, he stalked her, tried to control her and dictate who should be in her life, and how. Faa’s relationship with Angel is not the typical sugar daddy and runs girl agreement in that they had never engaged in sexual activities. He claimed to be interested in her and sent her money in exchange for ‘friendship’ but demanded for much more as the relationship progressed.
Outside of physical abuse, people in transactional relationships are prone to sexual abuse. This could be in form of rape or getting infected with HIV AIDS and/or other sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea. Barbie, another character on the show, was diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection, which she passed onto her boyfriend Tobi. She not only put herself at risk by having unprotected sex, she put Tobi in danger too. Sugar Daddies can be possessive and believe that they own sex workers because of the amount of money they invest in them. This entitlement manifests in the way they maltreat the girls, disrespect them, harass them, and even harm them; the abuse comes as a result of the transaction.
But you can protect yourself against the risks and dangers of transactional relationships. Upon agreeing to enter one, you should be able to lay out your terms; draw up a contract, if possible. You can request for lab tests before you start engaging in sexual activities. You can both go to the clinic to get tested together so there is transparency and no room for deceit. Secondly, you can insist on using condoms at all times, whether you are on the pill or not. Condoms not only prevent you from getting pregnant, they also protect you against getting infected with sexually transmitted diseases. Thirdly, you can ask for a check-up quarterly, semesterly or annually, where you go to the clinic together and check that you are both safe and healthy.
Another important issue to discuss with your sugar daddy is the number of active sexual partners, not body count (people you have slept with in the past). With transactional relationships, “trust” is a very fluid, ambiguous term; one of your sugar daddies can have other runs girls that can infect him with a sexually transmitted disease he can pass unto you. Or vice versa. Like any other relationship, communication is key when it comes to transactional relationships. If there are other partners involved, you need to be able to have a conversation about it to understand what it means for your own relationship. These are things to be discussed, negotiated and agreed upon because at the end of the day, it affects your body and your health.
Sex workers are often put at risk simply because they are trying to get the best out of life: education, accommodation, the latest phone, shoes and bags. Wanting that in itself is not a bad thing; the problem is the abuse that may come in the process of attaining that life. If you decide to be a runs girl for a sugar daddy, or have any form of transactional relationship whatsoever, remember that no matter what, your safety comes first. You should always be healthy and protect yourself from harm as much as possible. This could mean buying a pepper spray, a taser, or even getting a bodyguard. As you go on to live your best life, remember the famous saying: "Health is wealth".