Karley Sciortino Is the Sex-Positive Activist On a Mission

Karley Sciortino Is the Sex-Positive Activist On a Mission

We talk to the writer and proud sex-positive feminist about her new show and book 'Slutever,' how she got her start in writing, and why she thinks the word "slut" is a powerful tool for women.

We talk to the writer and proud sex-positive feminist about her new show and book 'Slutever,' how she got her start in writing, and why she thinks the word "slut" is a powerful tool for women.

Text: Jake Viswanath

Sex. It's one of the most universal words known to man, and easily one of the most controversial, if not the most controversial. Just the mere mention or thought triggers multitudes of reactions spanning every emotion under the sun. It's not something that can be simplified, but it is one of the few things in this world that will forever be ripe for exploration and inspiration. Karley Sciortino is one of the people who's taking full advantage, attempting to explore the underlying facets of the sex world and shed a positive light on all that it entails, no matter how weird or disturbing it may appear on the surface.

Sciortino starting writing about sex at the age of 21 — without even intending to write about it. Her blog, entitled Slutever, initially covered her life in an uncensored and in-depth manner before it turned a new leaf entirely. "When I moved to New York in 2010, I was poor and unemployed and I started assisting a dominatrix, then I started writing about that." she explained. "That’s when the blog became really sex-specific. I became really interested in things beyond just my own slutty experiences. I was more interested in psychology behind BDSM, fetish, and the lives of people who come in and out of this dominatrix’s dungeon." That little blog has turned into a mini-empire, landing her a Vogue column, a Vice online series, and now, a full-on TV show on VICELAND premiering tomorrow, January 24, that takes you up close and personal to a new facet in the ever-complicated world of sex with each episode.

Slutever started online as a satirical web series for Vice, where Sciortino would embed sex education within humorous and often awkward contexts — like interviewing her mother. "We were pulling ideas from my blog quite naturally, and at the beginning the first installments were almost like a Sex and the City spoof," she remarked. The new TV series is an evolution from the original web episodes, refining itself into a 30-minute documentary series that shines a more positive light on sexual taboos. "We’ve chosen stories and characters that we celebrate," she said. "It’s not like, 'what’s wrong with blah blah blah?' It’s things we can find joy and levity in. It’s a look at things that have a stigma and we try to understand it better and humanize it; girls in the sex work industry, BDSM relationships, fetishes for monsters and aliens, weird things that seem funny and random but we humanize it."

One of the most distinct examples of this humanization is an episode which explores ecosexuality, the sexual attraction to nature experienced by some people, which (spoiler alert!) ends with Sciortino marrying a tree.  "The maid of honor was an ecosexual woman from North Carolina and she helped me find the tree, she was very romantic," she remembers. But perhaps the most intense experience was the one that somewhat sent her back to her roots, following the day-to-day life of a dominatrix.

"As familiar as I am to the world of BDSM, that experience was really specific to me because it felt so emblematic of how something can seem so exploitive on the surface, but once you get to know these people, it’s all about love and support," she explains. "What was involved in her work was not people who want a one- or two-hour session with a dominatrix, but wants to devote their life to being submissive 24/7 to a dominant. Their lives were so attached, and we would go with them to the dungeon and she would whip him to the point where he would be covered in blood. Later, she’d just give him his chores for the day and tell him to clean her apartment, eat right, take a course in Japanese, and work out an hour a day because I want you to look good for me. A dominatrix, but also a mother, but also a therapist, but also a girlfriend. It was so complex."

Ashley Armitage for VICELAND

As one can figure, Slutever has a very interactive element, but it never focuses on herself. This is an ideal counterpart to her upcoming novel of the same name, which expands her own writing into a printed format with no thoughts unbarred. Considering her strict Catholic upbringing where sex before marriage was strongly condemned ("I was told that I would be less valuable to my potential husband."), Sciortino's line of work is somewhat ironic, but also a direct reaction with a therapeutic effect. "Often when you have a sheltered childhood and you’re told 'no' as a kid, then you either give into that repression, or it can make you more provocative," she explains. "As I started writing my website, writing about sex and being able to control the narrative around my sexual experiences when I was younger felt very therapeutic. I was able to revisit sexual experiences that were shameful, or had anxiety around, and retell them in my own way. I think that was really helpful for me when I was dealing with shame around my sexuality."

Sciortino uses this same sense of ownership and reclamation in her use of the word "slut," a controversial slang term, to say the least. "I think 'slut' is such a great word. It’s sharp and clear and beautiful. It has a bite to it. It causes a reaction, and historically a lot of people have taken back words and reclaimed words that they were once oppressed under," she says. "For years, there’s been a divide in the feminist community that we should stop using the word 'slut' altogether or we can reclaim it. Maybe it’s just me, but you can’t remove a word from the social lexicon because it’s mean. To reclaim it is the message that will give women the most power." And after all, giving women power is the overall goal, isn't it?

"I think that, to this day, in our post-woke social justice millennial era, the idea of a woman being in control of their sexuality and approaching sex in a shame-free way is still triggering for people," she says. "We still lack a lot of slutty role models." And even though she cites figures like Madonna and sex-positive feminist Anna Sprinkle as inspirations she admires for their sexual frankness now, she hopes to become one of those slutty role models in her own right. "I’d love to be a voice to help move this conversation on female sexuality forward," she shares. "Without trying to sound too pretentious or have activist notions of grandeur, I want to open up the conversation on sex, kink, female sexuality and have more honest, open, funny, and frank conversations around sex. That’s the only thing that can help us when it comes to sexuality — hearing the stories of people who’ve had similar experiences helps us feel less alone. To laugh in the process of that is great."

Slutever premieres on VICELAND Wednesday, January 24. 

Credits: Photo: Ashley Armitage for VICELAND

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