Karley Sciortino: the sex blogger and Slutever presenter redefining sexuality

Sciortino a real-life Carrie Bradshaw uses humour, parody and satire to open up conversations about sex

In an early episode of Slutever, the new web series presented by 32-year-old Vogue columnist Karley Sciortino, viewers met sex doll engineer Matt, a goateed dude in cargo shorts who waxed soulful: I dont think the English language has enough words to describe love, enough words to describe affection, enough words to describe attraction. Its this humanity within so-called deviancy that delights and drives Sciortino, a woman whos building a small empire on the reclamation of the word slut. As she writes in her newly published book, also called Slutever (subtitle: Dispatches from a Sexually Autonomous Woman in a Post-Shame World): A slut is someone who has no moral obstacle between themselves and their desire to enjoy sex.

On the afternoon we meet, in the well-upholstered hush of Manhattans Ludlow House (annual membership $3,200), Sciortino, blonde and with a big, gorgeous gummy grin, is serving up the impervious polish of a Whit Stillman heroine pink satin mini-dress, black patent Mary Janes, a boxy cream jacket with gold buttons that may or may not be Chanel. Its a femmey aesthetic that feels undercut with pastiche. As she eyerolls in one opening sequence to her Viceland TV show: Ugh, life is so hard between meeting my blog deadlines and performing my gender I barely have time to get anything done. On set, she and her all-female team (excepting their token male cinematographer) called this pink fantasia of a boudoir the brain room which is not what it looks like, she admits. Its super labial, I offer. Yes, exactly, she laughs. Sex is such a tense subject so I think that humour and parody and satire and being able to make fun of yourself are really disarming when opening up that conversation.

The opening sequence, she says, was an opportunity to play into this parody of the dumb blonde slut, specifically, the one we understand to be the most indomitable in the room, if not exactly the smartest. Its an archetype that immediately summons Carrie Bradshaw and that endlessly parodied voiceover refrain It got me thinking In 2018, Sciortino has made Sex and the Citys central improbability a reality she actually does have a popular sex column, she actually does live in the West Village as a financially successful sex writer. In Breathless, her column for Vogue.com, where she interrogates familiar relationship themes like jealousy and dating apps, shes a virtuoso of the hair-twirling question (Would I fuck a Republican?) turned assertive (When a person votes Republican, theyre effectively voting against my right to be an openly sexual person while protecting my physical and mental well-being. Theyre voting against comprehensive sex education, against free access to contraception, against abortion, against gay rights, against sex work.) Its a winning mode, this slide from dumb to disquisitive.

Whats that saying when you cover your vegetables in sugar? she says, moving from peppermint tea to a Bloody Mary. Its like forcing people to rethink something with a cultural stigma around it, where theres this default negative assumption.

For her new show she and her team sought out topics and people that we can really find joy and levity in. These human stories include the curious intimacy between Mistress Lucy Sweetkill, a professional dominatrix, and Pain Puppy, her lifestyle slave. After witnessing a particularly intense dungeon session between them, Sciortino speaks to camera, visibly moved: I realise its counterintuitive to leave a scene where someones being beaten until they bleed and say it was a sweet moment, but it did feel that way.

Sciortino is one of those glamorous faces photographed regularly on the downtown Manhattan party scene and she tends to be described online as a New York Cool Girl a millennial upgrade on It girl. Sexual anecdotes, after all, are good social currency. Her book brims with braggy, often very funny sexploits, but the most honest passages deal with the uncertainty of what sex is. One chapter, in fact, is titled Wait What Is Sex, Even? another valid question dressed up in a ditzy outfit. When Im out in the world, she writes, everyone perceives me as a straight girl with a low IQ. But then she falls in love with Alice and, with this first proper lesbian relationship, I felt like I was being shown new possibilities for what my life could look like. Those new possibilities included sex, of course. As Sciortino explains, Alice was gender queer and didnt like to be touched and penetrated, which I think is common for a lot of women who fall on the masculine end of the gender spectrum. My idea of sex is constantly expanding.

Karley
We are becoming increasingly moralistic around certain aspects of sexuality: Karley Sciortino at home in New York. Photograph: Caroll Taveras for the Observer

Sciortino grew up in a conservative Catholic family in a small upstate New York town. Theres two ways that upbringing can go, she says. One is you follow the model of repression and have a lot of shame around your sexuality. Or you use that shame as a tool to just be sort of a maniac. In case this isnt obvious, she went for option two. At the age of 21 she was living in London in a squat, doing a lot of drugs and having a lot of sex. Back then sex was, a tool of provocation for me, truly just a form of transgressive rebellion. She started a blog, Slutever, and quickly amassed a following. Her mothers major fear was that her daughter would come to regret having written about the orgies of her 20s but Sciortino rejects the idea that promiscuity is something you grow out of, or that its an obligational regret.

When I would write about sex it would be in this word-vomity way, but I wasnt woke, she says. And, true story, someone in an early interview I did about my blog asked me if I considered myself a feminist, and I didnt really know that much about feminism. People were like, Oh your writing is feminist! and I was like, I should probably read the feminism Wikipedia page.

Shes since embraced a feminism beyond the rudiments of a Wiki entry in her book she namechecks Nora Ephron, quotes from contemporary academic Feona Attwood and engages with Camille Paglias writing on sex work. Nonetheless, Sciortinos attitudes dont necessarily align with prevailing orthodoxies. For example: I do think that identity politics and the endless desire to be offended by everything prevent us from having important conversations a lot of the time. And: I dont think sexual fragility is useful. I think it gets very muddy when we assume men are predatory and that women are victims. Men need to be educated on the nuances of consent, but this cant just be labelled a male problem. We also have to think about female sexual responsibility and the ways in which women can and should protect themselves.

Among the sorry cavalcade of powerful men accused of sexual harassment post-Weinstein were several high-ranking Vice executives. Sciortino, whos been employed by Vice for almost a decade, is sanguine. I think its important to remember that Vice employs tens of thousands of people across the world. Im not saying its justified, but Im saying that no matter what the company is, people are people and there is going to be misconduct in interpersonal relationships in a company that large. Vice finds itself, then, broadcasting a sex show as it deals with the highly unsexy fallout of a worldwide reckoning. This, of course, is not Sciortinos fault: why cant her show just be what it is a funny, sexy pleasure where the progressive politics are incidental?

As Sciortino sees it: Were in this time where we can talk about sex more than ever and the double standard is starting to fade, and yet we are becoming increasingly moralistic around certain aspects of sexuality. She cites regressive conversations about consent on campuses as an example: Women are asking for more protection and identifying more as damsels in distress who cant take sexual responsibility for themselves.

The most regressive forces of all, however, are surely those emanating from the White House. When a man accused of multiple counts of sexual harassment became the 45th President of the United States, Sciortino, like everyone else, did some re-evaluation. I think its made me feel: OK, focus more on the thing youre good at and do that. In this era of the Womens March its affirmed for me that talking about female sexual autonomy is important. Not everyones time is best spent marching. Simply, emphatically, she adds: Do what you do.

Slutever premieres Wednesday 2nd May, 10pm on VICE (Sky Channel 183, Talk Talk Channel 338)

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/apr/29/karley-sciortino-the-sex-blogger-and-slutever-presenter-redefining-sexuality