Acclaimed television series host, writer and executive producer Karley Sciortino wears many hats—but her pursuits almost always revolve around relationships, sex and sexuality. Over a decade ago, Sciortino founded the website and blog Slutever.com while still in her early 20s. Her adventures ranged from living in a colorful London squat to pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in the realm of sexuality. Several years later, VICE took notice and produced a webseries of the same name, with Sciortino as its “resident sexpert.”
Last year, Sciortino and co-creator Adri Murguia launched Slutever as a VICELAND television series—with Sciortino now operating as executive producer. The show’s second season premieres Feb. 10 on the VICELAND TV network, and the show can be found on Amazon Prime. Slutever challenges the taboos of sex in modern culture and the gender roles that are constantly evolving.
Although Sciortino continues to become a household name through her show, she remains true to her writing roots. In addition to being a columnist for Breathless, sex and dating column at Vogue, Sciortino compiled her sexual escapades into a memoir called Slutever: Dispatches from an Autonomous Woman in a Post Shame World, which was published last February. Sciortino’s high level of visibility on Instagram is part of what cements her authority on all things sex-related. She’s also dabbled in film as a co-writer for Now Apocalypse. Just in time for our annual Sex Issue, CULTURE caught up with Sciortino to discuss overcoming sexual inhibitions, reclaiming stereotypical words and how cannabis can be incorporated in the bedroom.
You founded Slutever, which eventually was expanded into a VICELAND documentary series. In your own words, how does Slutever compare today to how it began as a humble blog?
It’s sort of had a slow evolution. In the beginning, it was really just a personal blog that was full of stream-of-consciousness-esque rants about my sex life. At the time I was living in a squat and commune in London, and there were about 15 of us living in an abandoned hostel and pretty much all we did was have drugs and go to raves and have sex with strangers. I was vaguely attempting to be a writer at the time, writing freelance for magazines but not making any money. I knew I wanted to be a writer, and I hadn’t gone to college, so I said, “I guess I should teach myself to write by practicing.” I feel like my life was interesting enough at the time that maybe somebody would care. For the first few years, it was basically about living in the squat and the people I was living with. A few years later, I moved to New York. I was 24. That’s when it really became more sex-focused. I started assisting this dominatrix for work. I just really started getting interested in the psychology around sexuality, and I started interviewing the clients and talking about their fetishes and sexual desires. That really spawned an interest in that field and it sort of grew from there. Then I started doing the VICE show in its earliest incarnation in 2012. That was the time when I said this is a sex thing. I think it got more mature over time, with more personal essays about my romantic life and the way I thought about sex and my opinion about sexuality. Eventually it grew into more of a magazine and now other people contribute.
What would you say to people who have lingering anxieties and are still afraid to talk about sex?
I would say that talking about sex is the primary key to having a good sex life, because if you can’t talk about it, you’re not going to get what you want, because you’re not going to be able to explain it to someone. They’re not mind-readers. You’re also not going to be able to please your sex partners, because you’re not a mind-reader either. I think being able to express your needs and boundaries is the only way that you can have a fulfilling sex life where you feel autonomous and healthy. Talking about sexuality is an amazing way to get close to people. If you’re able to talk about intimacy, it’s a way of bonding with people. It’s also transgressive, which is fun!
As you know, in some cultures, when females are sexually active, some are sex-shamed with the word “slut.” What do you want to change about that?
I think that slut-shaming is still a massive problem in many cultures and in the United States. Girls are called whores as teenagers before they’ve even had sex, if they’re wearing a low-cut top. The word “slut” has sort of gone rogue. It’s used now to describe revealing clothes to someone who is having casual sex. So it’s a derogatory word, but having said that, I do think that we’re on the right path as a culture. Increasingly we see women, whether it’s famous women like Rihanna or Taylor Swift, these girls are having many sexual partners, and they aren’t shamed for that. I think that we are able to see now that there are alternatives to monogamy. Even dating apps have sort of normalized the idea that women are looking for things more than relationships. So I think that the sexual double standard is beginning to fade. A lot of what I wrote in my book Slutever is about reclaiming the word “slut.” It is about redefining what that means. My ambition is to redefine the word “slut” as someone who seeks out visceral experiences through sex, to build confidence, to connect themselves with people and to satisfy the sense of adventure. I think that reclaiming words like the word “slut” is important because historically, many different cultures and communities have reclaimed words in a very successful way—words like racial words, “queer,” “butch” and “fag.” All these words have been reclaimed. That takes away the power of those words to harm you. It’s funny and powerful. Irreverence is a tool for rebellion. Plus, the word “slut” just kind of just rolls off of the tongue well.
“[Cannabis] heightens the sensation when someone is touching your skin. It sort of clears your mind and makes you more focused—and more wet in theory.”
Do you foresee gender roles continuing to evolve in the post-#MeToo era?
I think that #MeToo, at its core, is about women reclaiming control of their bodies. Women are saying “I don’t like to be touched that way,” or “this is my body” and how that is expressed in the world. I think there is a lot of power in that. I think that there is definitely a wave of female unity with this movement. I think that all of these things have a forward momentum. We live in a world where gender is now being challenged, in many forms. I don’t know any women anymore who are like, “I have to be submissive to my husband and clean shit.” I don’t know any of those people.
Growing up in a strict religious household, did that propel you to push the bar of sex taboo even further?
Definitely. I think that if you grow up in a religious family it can go one of two ways: You can adopt that repressive ideology, or it can just sort of propel you to want to break all the rules. Just be rebellious for rebelliousness’ sake. When you’re Catholic, everything is a “no,” so you just want to break those boundaries. If my parents were like, “You can have sex if you want,” I think I would have a slower and more casual approach to sex, but when you don’t have any sex, it makes you want to have sex with everyone—just to piss them off. Sex for me was also a form of provocation. I think it ratified that early 20s, teenage rebellion thing. A lot of people have that obviously, and express it through drugs or partying, or dropping out of school, or having a boyfriend with a face tattoo. For me, it was just about being slutty.
“My ambition is to redefine the word ‘slut’ as someone who seeks out visceral experiences through sex, to build confidence, to connect themselves with people and to satisfy the sense of adventure.”
Tell us about the notorious Johnny Knoxville a.k.a. Bad Grandpa tape.
We’d been doing Slutever in a web series form for about a year-and-a-half at that point. He wanted to come up with Bad Grandpa and had this relationship with VICE. It was his idea and he said, “Can we do something with Slutever?” I was like, “Wait, what?” He was in his Bad Grandpa suit, and the premise was that we were spending a day in LA. We went to this tantric sex club, but didn’t tell the other people that it was Johnny Knoxville. We were “randomly” paired together, and it just was like this creepy pervy 90-year-old. Everyone was completely freaking out. It was pretty funny. We made this fake sex tape where we leave the class and go home, have a drink and make this sex tape. It was an experience unlike any other.
Do you consume cannabis, and if so, would you consider it an aphrodisiac?
I would. It’s funny, because I’m not a weed smoker, and I never have been regularly. The only times that I’ve ever smoked weed was for sex. I was dating this guy a few years ago, and he was really into vaping weed ritualistically before sex. It heightens the sensation when someone is touching your skin. It sort of clears your mind and makes you more focused—and more wet in theory. So we had that ritual before sex. For me, sex was different when we were high, because it was sort of slower and my body was tingling. It felt more ritualistic. In our first season of Slutever, we did this episode about sex and weed. A lot of it was about weed lube. There’s a lot of companies now that make that, but we followed around this company in San Francisco that these two girls founded called Quim Rock, and they home-bake their own weed lube. So we made all this weed lube together, and I tried it during sex. The idea is that it increases blood flow to your vagina and causes you to get more wet and engorged. It does really work—however, it kind of makes your vagina smell like a dispensary it was so strong. So unless your partner is really into the smell of weed, it’s not a good vibe. It doesn’t make you high, but if you eat it, it does get you high. It literally turns your pussy into an edible.
“For me, sex was different when we were high, because it was sort of slower and my body was tingling. It felt more ritualistic.”
How long did it take you to put together the material for your recent memoir, Slutever: Dispatches from an Autonomous Woman in a Post Shame World?
That was sort of a lifetime of experiences. The book is sort of half memoir, half personal sexual theory and ponderings. The first chapter is what I call a slut manifesto. It’s my ideas about the history of sluttiness and reclaiming that word. Then, the book goes from my childhood in a Catholic family to being slut-shamed by my family and in high school. It sort of follows my life through finding my own slutty identity, being in an open relationship and working as an escort. I definitely did research. I really like Camille Paglia who is sort of this controversial feminist from the ’80s who is one of the first pro-sex feminists, as they’re called. Her ideas were sort of really formative for me. It was all of the stuff that I’ve been thinking about for a long time.
Given your Vogue sex and dating column, Breathless, do you operate more naturally as a video host or as a writer?
I think I primarily identify as a writer, because I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager. But I
really love doing the VICE show because it gets me out of my room. Writing is such a solitary, nail-biting experience when you spend so much time alone. So it’s fun to be out in the world and interview people collaboratively. I think seeing people on camera and being able to see people tell their own stories that there is more opportunity for people to be humanized under that medium.
What would you say to single adults who are going to spend Valentine’s Day alone this year?
Valentine’s Day is stupid. People always say that it’s a commercial holiday, but I really think that it’s true. It’s sort of like the romantic version of New Year’s Eve. It’s kind of an anti-climax when you feel pressured to have dinner and sex that feels better somehow. If you actually feel bad in that situation, then just go hang out with single friends. It would be more fun.
What news do you have for the next upcoming few months? Tell us about Now Apocalypse.
Now Apocalypse really incorporates stoner themes. I co-wrote the first season of the show with the director Greg Araki who is sort of this cult film director who came out in the ’90s who made a lot of sexually progressive movies that I love. His movies, even in the ’90s, had things like a bisexual lead character—which you never saw. There are threesomes, sexual empowerment and funny and strange slutty girls. I feel so lucky to work with him. He asked me to help him write the pilot about a year ago for the show. It’s about these four 20-somethings in LA, trying to make it in Hollywood and basically having a lot of sex and exploring their sexuality. The main character Ulysses is a super stoner. There’s this alien conspiracy side story. It appears that we’re on the brink of an apocalypse, spawned by an alien invasion, but you can’t tell if it’s actually happening or whether it’s all just Ulysses’ hallucinations. He basically never stops smoking weed.