Who’s blessing who? Same-sex blesser relationships

The “blessing” phenomenon has made headlines in South Africa in recent years. So how does the gay and MSM (men who have sex with men) community feel about blessers and blessees?

Urbandictionary.com defines a blesser as “a rich man who offers support (typically financial and material) to a younger female companion in exchange for sex, friendship, etc.” In some cases, the blesser may have more than one blessee (those on the receiving end of his financial ‘kindness’).

Of course, these kinds of “transactional relationships” also exist between members of the same sex. There seems to be a long line of young guys hoping to find wealthier men who will ‘take care of them’ and share their lavish lifestyles in return for sex and companionship.

Coming out the blessing closet

In the past we may have called a blesser a “sugar daddy”, so there’s really nothing new here. What is new is the way that these relationships have come out the closet, as it were, and blessees have become more open about their bling and social success.

There are even sites and Facebook pages that help facilitate blessers and blessees getting together. One page, Gay Blesser Finder SA, has more than 800 followers.

“I need a blesser, I’m a 19 year old guy from kzn, Durban area. Contact me,” says one guy, while another posts, “I need a blesser. Eish, life is hard out there. I’m bottom. I’m in diepsloot jhb.”

Mambaonline has also received messages for assistance in finding a blesser. “I hope u can find it in ur hearts to help me out. I need a Blesser! A gay Blesser of course…. He must be 30-45 years of age,” said one young man from Bloemfontein recently.

When probed, he heartbreakingly admitted that while a blesser would be ideal, “Even a normal boyfriend is OKAY. I just need someone to love.”

For some, a blesser could be a path out of poverty or simply a convenient way to get through life. Many of us would like someone to spend time and have sex with, so why not also score with security and financial rewards?

One man was unapologetic, telling us: “Sex is easy and quick, so I don’t care. I like his lifestyle. Going to parties and being with his friends, drinking expensive drinks, getting gifts.” In today’s social media culture, we all want to be shown on Instagram, socialising with the ‘right’ people, eating at the best restaurants, and wearing the trendiest clothes.

This can get people moralising and disapproving, but transactional relationships of all kinds have existed throughout history and are more common than you think. People in many cultures and societies, for example, are known to tie the knot for financial security; so some marriages could well be considered to be types of transactional relationships.

What’s the big deal?

As long as everyone involved is a consenting adult, what’s the problem? We should all be free to choose the kinds of relationships that we enter into, right?

It seems that members of the gay and MSM community agree. An informal poll we posted on Twitter saw 68% of respondents saying they “have no problem” with same-sex blesser / blessee relationships” and 32% revealing that they “wish I was in one myself”.

It’s worth remembering that we are particularly vulnerable to financial and educational exclusion and other challenges because we may be rejected by our communities or families. Could that make us more willing to consider blesser relationships?

What could be problematic in blesser / blessee relationships is the imbalance of power. The blesser is usually an older man who has economic clout while the blessee is often younger, inexperienced and financially desperate.

It’s also likely there are many more blessees than blessers out there, so it’s much easier for the man ‘in charge’ to drop the younger partner and find a replacement if things don’t go his way. There have been stories of some blessees “feeling trapped” in their relationships.

There is potential, for example, for the blesser to impose things on the blessee, such as refusing to use condoms during sex. Fearing a loss of money or other rewards, the blessee may agree and put himself at risk.

The risk of HIV and STIs (sexually transmitted infections) is definitely worth considering. After all, it’s very possible that a blesser has other sexual partners. It’s advisable that condoms – such as Max condoms – and water based lube always be used during sex. PrEP (the daily pill that prevents you from getting infected with HIV) is, however, a game changer for blessees as it gives them control over their health.

If you choose to be a blessee, there are some questions worth considering. Does it empower or disempower you? Does being a blessee fit with your sense of self and your personal values? What do you really want out of a relationship? Are you putting yourself at risk? And, who ultimately is blessing who?

For man-to-man friendly info on getting free PrEP, condoms and lube, and testing and treatment, contact the Ivan Toms Centre for Men’s Health in Cape Town (021 447 2844), Health4Men at Yeoville clinic in Johannesburg (011 648 7979 or 072 654 0816) or OUT’s TEN81 clinic in Pretoria (012 430 3272). For more information on healthy lifestyles, visit the PHILA website.

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