Brook Urick approves every piece published on Let's Talk Sugar, a lifestyle site aimed at sugar babies. As a journalism graduate at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and someone with a history of dating rich men, she's uniquely qualified to suss out editorial content for the sugar dating community. A few recent examples of her unique work include "Men's Watch Guide for Sugar Babies," a roadmap of every luxury timepiece brand, and what it says about the true monetary worth of your benefactor. And "Five Phrases To Remove From Your Profile Today," which ensures women never, ever say they're looking for men who don't have huge egos. "A lot of our topics are similar to Cosmo," says Urick. "But instead of talking about subtle cosmetic procedures, it's 'subtle cosmetic procedures to ask daddy for."
Let's Talk Sugar is the media arm of SeekingArrangement.com—the hyper-specialized dating service that fosters for-profit relationships between young people and those who are richer and older. The site itself has been publishing since late 2015, and so far it's stuck to the formulas perfected by other titans in broad-stroke women's media—lots of lists, lots of self-help, and lots of personal essays, all under the necessary aesthetics and topography of sugar dating. Urick is the only person on full-time payroll. The rest of the contributors are recruited directly from the Seeking Arrangement community. Right now, the site offers $20 a post on a contract that requires at least one piece a month. (So, no, user kimberlyinlv didn't get rich writing "Why You're Attracted to Older Men.")
Urick has been working at Seeking Arrangement for four years where she serves as spokesperson, and she's got big dreams for Let's Talk Sugar, which is run by Reflex Media, the creative agency that handles marketing and PR for Seeking Arrangement. She is a community engagement and events manager at Reflex. She's already broken ground on the Let's Talk Sugar's podcast—which offers personalized dispatches on everything from the millennial dating experience to the #MeToo movement. Eventually she hopes the site will blossom into a true cultural nexus point for anyone in sugar relationships. Let's Talk Sugar just launched a coaching service, where experienced sugar babies relay information to women just getting their feet wet in the scene. "We offer profile rewrites and profile assessments," explains Urick. Right now those consultations are routed through email, but by summer she expects to have a full dashboard online, where novices can organize direct phone calls with their mentors. She also wants the site to become newsier, and more reactionary to current events. She plans to start broadcasting a talk show on Facebook Live, and produce skits for Seeking Arrangement's YouTube channel. Because sugar babies need content, too.
It may sound strange that sugar dating is attempting to reshape itself into a lifestyle brand. But if you're familiar with this scene, and familiar with Seeking Arrangement's legal treatise, you're well aware of the motives at play. Prostitution is illegal in most of America. Dates that come bundled with a suggested donation? Not quite, but there are those who say it can toe the line. Anything that portrays the sugar community as a niche cultural curiosity with an entire lexicon of inscrutable customs, taboos, and salutations, helps the company's case that sugar dating is fundamentally detached from sex work.
Seeking Arrangement's refusal to genuinely engage with the rest of the adult industry has earned mixed reactions from other, self-acknowledged sex workers. Bobbi Besos, a prostitute who works at the Bunny Ranch in Las Vegas, recently penned a blog post on the brothel's website—"Sugar Dating: Let's Stop Sugar-Coating Prostitution"—arguing that the sugar scene's quasi-legal standing meant that Seeking Arrangement can recuse itself from anything dangerous, coercive, or otherwise destructive that happens over the course of the transactional encounters they help facilitate. (In the piece, Besos herself says she used to be a sugar baby.)
"When I realized and accepted the truth of exactly what I was doing, I delighted in my own self-honesty and self-discovery and admitted to myself exactly who I am: an intelligent, well-travelled, and well-educated young woman who happens to work as a prostitute," she wrote. "I decided my safety is paramount. Regarding my work, I chose to proceed in a legal and safe direction to continue to be successful. I am much happier working legally in a Nevada brothel than navigating the grey sugar world."
Dawn Lee, an escort in Toronto, took a softer stance when reached over email. She doesn't have any issues with the sugar dating community. She does believe, however, that Seeking Arrangement is actively trying to drive an artificial wedge in the definition of sex work with Let's Talk Sugar. "The fact that they can delude some of their users into thinking it’s not prostitution also works to their benefit thanks to all the stigma around sex work," she says. "It helps to tell these young women that 'Hey, you’re not like those girls. You’re not a hooker.'"
Lee highlights a specific passage from that aforementioned Let's Talk Sugar piece that covers phrases to scrap from your profile. It reads, "Putting sexual information or teases into your profile may seem enticing but it cheapens your entire look. You’ll look less like a Sugar Baby and more like an escort which is not encouraged on the site at all. Save the sexy stuff for your arrangement." She believes that's a textbook example of Seeking Arrangement denigrating sex work in order to keep their bottom line secure.
"The whole thing is an obvious marketing ploy by Seeking Arrangement to reassure their users they’re not just a bunch of thots selling their bodies on the market," she explains. "There’s a lot of psychological finessing going on in this whole enterprise."
Lee believes that Let's Talk Sugar promotes the regressive stance that sugar babies are more deserving of respect, autonomy, and lifestyle periodicals than other sex workers. "That is indeed damaging," she says.
"We're always trying to battle that stigma. But the truth is, sugar is a lifestyle," says Urick when asked if she sees Let's Talk Sugar as a way to fend off comparisons to prostitution. "It's not just a website, it's how you choose to live."
For those who choose to live as sugar babies there's no resource quite like Let's Talk Sugar. The site offers community support ("Why I Sugar"), aspirational testimony ("A Sugar Dream Achieved"), financial advice ("Sugar Boss Baby in Business") and just about anything else they may want to share or need help with. It's Goop for the girlfriend experience, a site that allows these young women the ability to sugar like a pro while avoiding the appearance that they might be just that.
"It's kind of brilliant, I think," says Lee.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Luke Winkie on Twitter.