Karley Sciortino is a slut. She's an accomplished, intelligent, absolutely inimitable woman, and has hooked up with everyone from the actor who played the wheelchair-ridden kid in The Secret Garden to Wall Street bros who would pay for it — plus she's not afraid to talk about it.
In her new book Slutever: Dispatches from a Sexually Autonomous Woman in a Post‑Shame World (the release of which parallels the launch of her new VICELAND docu-series of the same name) Sciortino relives almost two decades of sexual exploration including her time as an escort, a foray into the BDSM industry, lesbian relationships as a self-identifying "straight girl" and gonorrhea of the throat.
Sciortino has really lived, transitioning from a year in her London squat to kidnapping men for money to breaking her own record by having sex with five different people in 24 hours — not bad for a girl from a Catholic family who grew up a small upstate New York town. The sex writer even has her own Vogue column, like a real-life Carrie Bradshaw, if Carrie Bradshaw was sluttier and actually believed in bisexuality.
Perhaps the most impressive of all of Sciortino's achievements is her growing influence — a direct result from her original "Slutever," the sex site she started in her early 20s. What began as a documentation of her wildest exploits has evolved into an in-depth look at all things sex, dating and relationships, and showcases Sciortino's unwavering commitment to educating young women about their own sexual agency, and the power they wield.
PAPER sat down with the sex blogger-turned-visionary to talk feminism, the future of sex and masturbating to spite her friends.
I think we are. I think that young women today are increasingly sexually liberated in terms of "slut power," and it's looking great. I think as a society we are experiencing growing pains when it comes to female sexuality in general — it's sort of a push and pull. What's really interesting is we are in this transitional period where it feels like a lot of women are vocally very anti-slut shaming, but there are very few people who are openly slutty. So it's like, "We shouldn't shame women for having multiple sexual partners," but at the same time there are very few people who are like, "I have multiple sexual partners."
I think that as we increasingly have models of women who are successful, smart, responsible and happy and also who say I'm sexually exploitative and that's added towards my life, then you kind of aspire to be that type of person like as a young woman I don't feel like I had that many models and maybe Samantha from Sex and the City was like the one example that I saw in a culture that I consumed — a woman who sort of like lived this really unashamed, sexually activated life, but it wasn't tragic, or follow that very all too familiar "punished slut"-trope that we see in media.
Coat: Landlord, Dress: Patrick Church, Bra: Bluebella, Earrings: One Story
It's really interesting because Kim Kardashian, for example, is universally considered the ultimate symbol of sluttiness, because of her provocative dress and the sex-tape origin and yet she's gone from one monogamous relationship to the next. What do you think about this idea of empowered undressing as a means to feminism? Is that something that you identify with?
I think what we are now realizing is that the two are not mutual exclusive: you can be a feminist and an empowered woman and you can also dress in a skimpy outfit. I talk about in the little bit in the book, how in the early 2000s there was a lot of feminist backlash against what was perceived as raunch culture or like that big book, Female Chauvinist Pig, and the peak of the argument was just: Can you be smart, successful, and empowered, and also dress like Paris Hilton? A lot of people were like "No, you're giving feminism a bad reputation, like the burning bra feminist didn't want you to be taking a selfie on Instagram and putting little hearts over your nipples. But I think there's argument that even Kim Kardashian, as much as you might not like her, has created a very successful business and is a very powerful person.
Right, and you're still engaging with her regardless of if you feel what she's doing is morally.
Right, and I think that she can argue "I'm a feminist," and people would be like "okay."
But that's the most curious part of all — she doesn't. She completely avoids the term.
I feel like she's in a business where she doesn't want to alienate anyone.
Though that in itself is a contradiction, because she's alienated people by the way she presents herself. Why not go all the way?
I think what is good about her is she is unapologetic completely. Which I think translates to people even if they're not realizing it, rather than women apologizing for their sexuality.
You're absolutely right, she's never said, "I regret doing the sex tape."
Yeah, thank god. Like when people move away from their slutty or promiscuous past and treating it as a phase instead of a permanent part of their identity and apart of themselves that is still valid.
Top and Shorts: Slashed by Tia, Bra: Weedslut, Coat: Delacruz, Necklace, Earrings and Bracelet: Laruicci
Right, obviously, I don't feel like my life for the rest of my life is going to be as sexually crazy or as it was when I was 24, but all of those experiences will make up who I am.
You also wrote about the oddity of being single in your 30s when your friends are coupled up, though I feel like we've really made strides and that pressure has diminished somewhat?
It's not like I was ever someone who grew up envisioning being married, I didn't care and I kind of still don't care about that specific ritual — but I am someone who sees the value of sexual exploration and waiting, not just settling. I also like see a huge value in partnership and being a team with someone, and being known and understood, and exploring sex and love through a partnership. I think [at this age] dating feels like it has more weight to it. Like when I was 25-26 I would be happy just dating sort of dating someone and not worry about if they were the one and not like care about huge red flags or that they were going to be like my forever person because I just wasn't worried about time.
Whereas like now, I am dating someone now. It's a blessing and a curse because you've streamlined yourself to the point where you know what you want and what you won't tolerate, but also you get really picky and you find yourself on that first date like, would you be a good dad? [Laughs] Which is kind of crazy because you don't want to put too much pressure on these things either. As you get older and people are partnered up it does feel a little bit more alienating to be single. Like last summer I was the only single person all the time, and I went away to Fire Island and the couples took the bedrooms and they made me sleep on the couch. I was like "I hate you guys," how was I supposed to masturbate?
Did you masturbate on the couch?
I did, just to spite them.
You really delve into every relationship throughout the book and talk about each partner very honestly. Are are you prepared if they hit you up?
Yeah we're waiting for the lawsuits. I feel like, I tried to be emotionally honest. Then a lawyer helped me from the publisher and showed me what not to say. So you change their names and identifying factors, but I feel like in my earlier writing career I alienated so many family and friends because I felt like I was saying things and writing about them without their explicit permission and I regret that. So I've been more conscious now when writing about people to try to be aware of whether or not they'd consent to be written about but it's really complicated because it's my story too and it's my life, my sexual experiences, and who has ownership of that. And I think I did as best as I can.
Top and Shorts: Slashed by Tia, Bra: Weedslut, Necklace, Earrings and Bracelet: Laruicci
Totally, it doesn't read like you're being unfair or unnecessarily harsh.
I talked a lot about what I perceive in hindsight as being an emotionally abusive relationship — but at least it was emotionally destructive for me, which is fair to say because how can someone argue against that.
It's fascinating how your abusive relationship paralleled your entry into the professional BDSM world.
It's funny because I think that is the difference between being in a BDSM or kick environment versus having a controlling partner. I think without having a a knowledge of BDSM you would compare those things, but BDSM really consensual like, "I'm down to be treated like garbage, if I signed up for it or asked for it." Not being abused when I don't ask for it.
You also talked about wanting to go on a Tinder rampage after a big break-up. What do you make of the current online dating landscape?
Is it positive? I think so. I don't think it's negative. I had a fun year and a half of dating apps after me and that girl broke up. I think it was good because for me it was this way of removing myself from my social scene like I don't think we realize how trapped we are in are little bubble people are like "I live in New York, I meet all kinds of people." Like no, you pretty much meet people from the publishing industry and the world of fashion and a lot of people who think like you and dress like you. I don't know how likely it is that if you're meeting this pediatrist from Queens who's from an immigrant family that we're going to have enough in common that we'll have kids and live our lives happily ever after, but it was so fun to date random people I wouldn't meet in my normal life.
Bra, Panties, Dress: Agent Provocateur, Earrings: House of Topper, Ring: The Shiny Squirrel
Your first boyfriend said to you, "Good luck ever trying to date as a sex columnist." How did you broach that subject when dating these new guys?
I feel like now, it's nice because a quick Google search of me, which I feel like most people do before they go on a date, will bring out the fact that I write about sex. So if that's off-putting, I feel like that's going to be off-putting immediately and if it's not,and they're curious then maybe it's not going to be an issue. So it's not an issue, it's almost like I don't have to talk about it because it's already out there first.
It must be intimidating for them though.
I think as a woman being open in your sexuality and unashamed is a really great filter because if a man is intimidated by that then you don't want to waste your time. Like if a man is turned off or condescending about the idea of a woman who talks about being sexually explorative or monogamous or self-identifies as slutty than that's not the right partner for you anyway. So like to conceal that to try and feel more emotionally valuable to someone like to fake that, is not going to benefit you in the long run and you waste time on people who are not compatible with your ideals. So in the same way, if you're a sex writer it weeds out guys.
So you're now in a heterosexual, monogamous relationship. Are your Catholic parents finally recovering?
I think they're still freaked out by a lot of things. Like they watched this show last night and my mom was texting me like "your dad had to leave the room." Maybe parents will never want to know the intimate details of their child's sex lives and vice versa. They don't consume a lot of my work because it's just too hard for them and it makes them uncomfortable. But I think in a way what's best is having success at something. They're both middle class and they both came from really working class families and they didn't really travel. So even if they think that my career is low-key embarrassing, since they're Catholic and my sex life would get me in trouble in some sort of perceived after-life, they're like it's cool that you get to travel for work or it's cool that you're on TV So very sort of like capitalist marker points that they give.
In the early days you were also receiving y lot of hate mail. How has that changed as your career has taken off? Have we, more recently, evolved to embrace someone like you?
I don't get as much hate comment stuff as I wish I did. That's what I love about VICE is they have so many trolls in their fan base that I definitely get some evil comments on Youtube and stuff. So much of the commentary that's negative is so faultless that it's even good. It's like, "Girls these days think they're empowered but they're actually like sluts," that kind of thing. If you're a woman talking about sex on the Internet or just wherever, there is a male intimidation factor where it's a lot of responses like, "You're ugly" or, "You're not smart." Just like saying a lot of things that are just like baseline, non-interesting criticism. But I feel like the positive feedback is good. It's funny it's been some negative feedback we had from women on Twitter. There's been advertisements' for the show on places like Bravo and E!, and the producer I work with, Adri Murguia, screenshots tweets from a lot of moms saying "I was watching TV with my kid, we were watching Top Chef and it was a commercial about being a slut and this should not be on TV during the day." I think the idea of reclaiming the word "slut" as being something that's transgressive and funny but also something that is a possibility is something that feels like a big leap for people that aren't necessarily in this positive environment or circle, so that is like a step forward.
Corset: The Blonds, Underwear: Fortnight, Rings: The Shiny Squirrel
Most likely these women were married really young, and never had that exploratory phase.It's a really nuanced issue.
Yeah, and I think it's a joke but maybe the joke is not translated to everyone. I think Amy Schumer was the one who talked about female empowerment, and promiscuity in a funny way that I really respected. I think that's interesting. I feel like she was talking about women's issues and it was funny enough that men cared and that is an accomplishment, I think. So that's something I would love- you know with the show and the book which is about sexuality, is not necessarily for women or about women but that is probably the audience, but I hope that there's a male audience that will care as well.
I'm sure, if not just to see a hot girl talking about sex.
That's what Amy Schumer said. One time Howard Stern said to her, "Why do you always wear such short skirts when you're doing your standup?" And she goes, "Because guys don't give a fuck about a woman doing standup, so if you can just keep them on the channel for an extra 30 seconds because your boobs are out then maybe they might think you're funny."
You also talk about Lena Dunham and the double standard of her getting paid to take off her clothes on-camera, and then opposing decriminalization of prostitution. That must have been really disappointing for you.
Well I respect Lena Dunham obviously, but I do think there is a double standard where there is still a lot of women, feminist or not feminist, who promote an idea of sex positivity and whose work is centered on female sexuality yet whose work is hypocritical in a lot of ways. She's the one who gets paid to be naked on TV a lot, and she's commodified her own body, so to sort of say that if a woman is selling sex she is inherently a victim and that she shouldn't be able to make decisions for herself about that, I think that there is a double standard there.
For years and years people have conflated being a sex worker with being a victim, people have been unable to differentiate between being a trafficked sex slave and choosing to be a sex worker autonomously. Obviously, sex trafficking is horrible but it makes up such a small percentage of the women who do sex work in this country — there are so many sex workers in so many different fields, from sugar babies to masseurs who give happy endings, to escorts. A lot of women chose those jobs because it felt like an easy and convenient way to make money for them.
I can instantly relate to your whore-archy, because there are girls who're sugar babies and say it doesn't count as sex work. It's funny because you were also a sugar baby, and sounded like you resented that attitude, as well.
I was unfamiliar with the whore-hierarchy when it started doing it. I was just like my friend is a sugar baby, she makes a lot of money and I work in a Chinese restaurant, like, what's better? So after being in that world and experiencing it first-hand becoming more interested in sex workers or sex workers rights and meeting a sex worker who said, "Some of the stuff you say about sugar babies makes me feel like you think that type of sex work is more sophisticated to some degree than other forms of sex work" I started to realize. I was able to write about that experience in my life because it's more culturally accepted to a degree and occupies a legal grey space. If I were like, "Oh by the way I was charging by the hour, that would be an admission to like illegal behavior.
Bra, Panties, Dress: Agent Provocateur, Earrings: House of Topper, Ring: The Shiny Squirrel
How did you get out of that?
I just like was in an open relationship and then the relationship became closed. I thought it was interesting and I had a lot of new and exciting experiences, and just like anything it started to feel like it was a job, and also more into the idea of devoting energy and commitment my primary relationship and not wanting it to open anymore. Also, I was making more money in the rest of my life and I just didn't feel like I needed it.
You were also becoming a personality on your own right with a certain degree of fame. Did that become a factor in your sugar relationships?
No, they were mainly Wall Street guys and weren't reading woke think pieces. [Laughs]
Now there is VR porn and hype realistic sex dolls. What impact do you think that's having on the male sexual psyche.
That's so funny we did an episode about that for the show and I was just watching it this morning. It's on sex dolls, and we did a lot of man on the street interviews and we were like, "Do we have to worry about sex dolls stealing our boyfriends?" and everyone was like yes, 100 percent.
Right? They're perfect. They're always up for it, you don' have to buy them shit unless you want to and you can turn them off.
They don't look real right now, though.
They will, though. There's already this really hot one, Samantha. What's your take? Are we evolving or are we gross?
I think that sex robots are inevitable. For years since the birth of technology we've always found a way whenever new technology arises to enhance our sex lives and use it to basically get off. And there's also this huge history about moral panic around the combination of sex and technology. So like everything from the birth control pill and technology asserting itself in the bedroom and then the rise of internet pornography and then tinder, and all of these sex and tech combinations cause moral panic an always cause these concerns like, "Is that going to destroy the idea of relationships, is that going to destroy romance?" And it never really does because I think people will always want human connection. I interviewed this woman, she does a podcast called the future of sex, she's like a technology and sex writer. She was like, "Let's think of it this way. There probably will be a man who prefer a sex robot over women, but I'm happy to remove them from the breeding pool of humanity. If they prefer a robot, that's good, they don't have to impregnate anything."
But is that leaving women out in the cold?
They can just become lesbians.
The robot thing still freaks me the fuck out. I suppose it's similar to men being threatened by vibrators, like, "Oh your replacing me, is my dick not as good as this toy."
Well it's different because their dicks can't literally vibrate at top speed.The idea of having sex with a robot, to me, feels insane. I would never want to have sex with a robot. I'll use a vibrator but I don't need to have a vibrator with a face that can talk to me.
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