You probably recognize the name Karley Sciortino. She’s the founder of Slutever, a sex columnist for Vogue and has been on Man Repeller a time or two. Or three. Karley’s new show Slutever just premiered on Vice and I sat down with her to hear about it and talk about it and just generally bat my eyelashes at her. Read on and then watch the first episode of the show here!
How did your new show come to be?
About five years ago, I made a web series with Vice that was called The Vice Slutever Show. It was a very early prototype of the one we just made, a more jokey exploration of sexuality. We would do segments like “How to Get a Boyfriend” and I would call my mom and ask her. We made it with basically no money, it was super fun. It’s crazy how different the company is now! It was a team of 80 then and now it’s 800. The director and producer I was working with, Adri Murguia, and I had been fantasizing about the idea of doing something about sexuality in a more thoughtful and adult way, since we’ve grown up a little bit.
Is the impetus of this show pretty similar to that of your other work or is there a different slant?
So much of what I try to do with my writing — whether it be on Slutever or Vogue or wherever — is to start a really open, frank, progressive, but also self-aware, dialogue around sexuality. And of course writing can be really effective in humanizing subjects who would otherwise be marginalized, but in a video you have so much more flexibility and freedom and power to really show who someone is. To convey their emotions and desires. It can be more immediately effective and moving.
Especially when looking at people who mainstream society might deem “freaky” or “perverse” or “sexually immoral” — being able to really show who people are in a documentary format can be more effective than writing in a lot of ways. That’s what we wanted to do.
I can see that being the case particularly when it came to the episode about people with disabilities. It was so powerful to see that on screen.
Yeah absolutely. The episode about disabilities is probably my favorite because it deals with three stigmas: being a sex worker, the sexuality of disabled people and that of paying for sexual services. And then to see these sexual surrogates exist in this gray space between sex workers and health professionals is so moving. To see them offer sexual services to disabled people who have difficulty having sex on their own. To see how wonderful these women are and how pure their reasons are for doing it. And to see how dramatically the lives and the confidence of these disabled people change after they’re offered these really intimate encounters with these women…it’s hard to put into words.
I think if people have negative feelings around those stigmas, after seeing that episode they’ll be less judgmental, or at least have a new view on it.
The first episode, which premiered last week, was about sex dolls. Another will focus on people with disabilities. What do the other two deal with?
The second episode (coming out tomorrow!) was filmed in Japan and is called Men for Rent. It’s about how there are an increasing number of women in Japan who are staying single for longer and waiting to get married, in part due to their increased economic standing. And as women are relying less on men for money and support, this whole industry has emerged where women can hire men for these kind of curated intimate experiences. Like “rent-a-boyfriend.”
So for example, you can hire a man to come cuddle with you in your bed by the hour. You can pay them to hang out and drink with you. There are other guys who will come to your office and cry with you and help you through whatever emotional situation you’re dealing with.
That episode is probably the funniest because the men are self aware about how they have an unusual job. They’re kind of — in a way — male sex workers. But instead the service is emotional.
And then the other one is about abduction fantasies. That’s the final one. It’s about men who hire dominatrixes to execute these super-complicated kidnapping and torture fantasies that take place over a span of weeks or months. And often they take many people to orchestrate. They’ll have a whole cast of characters: a dominatrix, a henchman, a getaway driver…and it’s really expensive! People are paying a lot for these really complicated and risky processes to be executed.
For that episode, we follow a dominatrix and one of her clients from the beginning until the end of that process. I know that some people might think, “What monster would want this? What kind of crazy loner guy would choose this?” But he was this really successful business man in his early 30s who was super attractive. Of course!
Wait, so these people are paying to be kidnapped and tortured?
Yes. We talked to a psychologist about it. The psychology behind it is really interesting. When you’re kidnapped you are removed from all your responsibilities and so it’s a lot about the absence of shame when you relinquish control of your life. It was really interesting to learn about. I didn’t know about anything about that stuff!
Wow, that is so interesting! So is the impetus of the show to destigmatize these things or is it more just a peek behind the curtain?
It’s both. We wanted to lift the veil on some less out-in-the-open aspects of sexuality but also wanted to give people an alternative and more humanizing look at elements of sexuality that are often stigmatized or marginalized.
The hope is that viewers leave a little less judgmental than they came when it comes to people whose sexual desires are different from the norm or different from their own.
Are there any taboos that you want to tackle but haven’t yet?
One we were really considering digging into was how people use drugs to influence or enhance sexual experiences – from weed to psychedelics — but we didn’t get to it this time.
We are hoping that these do well and we’ll have more time and resources to do more. These first four all focus on one very specific thing or a central character, but as the show progresses we’re hoping to explore larger topics that will take a little more travel, time and production. For instance, I’m really interested in sex work in general and I would love to do one where we explore how those industries function in different counties.
You are starring in and co-producing this show, but you’re also a journalist and have been talking about sex for a while now. Have you found that choosing to participate in the cult of being vulnerable and honest and revealing online has always sat well with you? Or have there been moments where you questioned it?
It’s complicated. I remember this quote from Lena Dunham that I really related to where she said — and I’m paraphrasing — “Right now I don’t see the purpose of keeping anything a secret because I see so much of my embarrassment and my missteps as a tool for communication.”
That’s really true. When you really open yourself up and you’re really honest and naked, so to speak, that’s when you really connect with an audience. Because now more than ever we are so good at detecting when someone isn’t being real or authentic. We are so savvy to when someone is presenting a persona versus the real thing. But it is difficult because…like for example, right now I’m writing a book and I’ve been having to ask myself, “Is this a part of my life I want to share? Should I keep some things for myself?”
I always struggle between being open and honest and constructive versus bragging or oversharing or telling people about your life in a way that isn’t thoughtful or meaningful.
Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference. Whenever I go through periods where I don’t want to socialize, my therapist thinks it’s because I can’t escape self-analysis. When you’re constantly writing and thinking about yourself, it’s easy to get in this weird spiral because you don’t want to think about yourself anymore. You get sick of yourself!
I totally get that with writing! What advice would you have for someone who’s considering using themselves as a subject in their writing or whatever form their art takes?
Again, honesty and authenticity are very important. People can tell if you’re not being real. Don’t tell stories that you think might make you seem cooler. Telling stories that might make you feel embarrassed makes you more appealing. Because people connect with it. It’s so helpful to hear authentic stories of people with similar experiences to your own because it makes you feel less alone in the world. Particularly around sensitive subjects.
The other thing I’d say is: as much as you can, try not to think about the fact that your parents might be reading it.
Have you run into that?
Oh my god, totally! It’s been the bane of my existence since I was 21. Because my parents are Catholic and pretty conservative — they’ve become more liberal over the years — but when I was younger they were very conservative and it really affected our relationship. In my early 20s when I started writing a blog about sex we fought about it constantly. I wonder what would have happened had that gotten to me and I’d stopped writing. I’d have had a completely different career.
At the time it was really hurtful and embarrassing to them that I was talking about sex online, because they didn’t want me to have sex until I was married.
Have they seen the show?
No, I don’t think they’ll watch it. I really hope they don’t watch it.
You don’t want them to see you have sex with a sex doll?
That’s actually my worst nightmare.
What was that like!?! Doing that with a film crew.
Well I don’t know if you can tell but in the final scene I’m, like, wasted. When I saw the edit I was like, “Oh my god, can we edit this out? I feel like you can tell I’ve been drinking.” And she was like, “I don’t think you can tell!”
You didn’t seem drunk, just like you’d had some wine.
I definitely had to have some wine because there were nine people in the room. I can’t believe I did it.
All the comments on YouTube were like, “This journalist just lost her credibility!” YouTube comments can be the worst subsection of humanity.
Oh 100%. You shouldn’t read them!
I actually kind of enjoy hate comments, though. I find them oddly fueling. I don’t know why.
Speaking of comments, have you noticed a difference in the way men and women respond to your work? Either online or in general?
Hmmm, that’s a good question. I’ve never thought about that. I think that my audience has historically been made of up women. I’ve been increasingly surprised by how many men are engaging with it recently. Which might be evidence of a shift in the way that society thinks about sexuality. As we move towards gender equality and as we open up discussions around sex and gender and consent and all these things, it feels like men are more and more involved in these conversations. That’s really great.
I’m constantly surprised when men say they read Slutever, because it’s a website that centers around things that in the past would have been “women’s” issues. Like gender and sexuality and feminism. It’s really refreshing.