Written by SCOTT PORCH
Photographed by GRAHAM DUNN
In the 1960s, George Plimpton talked his way onto an NFL team for his book Paper Lion. In the aughts, A.J. Jacobs followed the scriptures to the letter and wrote The Year of Living Biblically. More recently, Karley Sciortino spent about a year as a dominatrix and another as a sugar baby, documenting her experiences via her multiplatform personal brand Slutever.
If you’re familiar with Sciortino, it’s probably because you’ve seen the sex column she writes for Vogue.com or the video she made for Vice (31 million views and counting) in which she gets down with a male sex doll on camera or the decidedly NC-17 episode of the Netflix series Easy on which she plays a prostitute. Her work bridges memoir, performance art, investigative journalism, social activism—and an unwavering dedication to firsthand experience.
The 32-year-old New Yorker has leaned into the term slut in the decade or so that she’s been writing about her sexual experiences—in a blog, in a web series, in a documentary show for Viceland and in a new book for Grand Central, all of which are called Slutever—the same way people have claimed pejoratives such as bitch, queer and Obamacare to free those terms from negative connotations.
“I like the idea that what I do is a mixture of journalism, personal curiosity, adventure and something like sexual anthropology,” Sciortino says. “This idea that to be a journalist is to be a fly on the wall isn’t always the case today. I’ve never been good at sitting on the sidelines and watching things objectively. I want to document things from the inside.” By immersing herself in fringe cultures, she has ventured beyond societal and personal preconceptions, exploring kinks and rituals that would strike most people as deeply weird or even pathological. As a dominatrix’s assistant, she whipped middle-aged investment bankers till they bled. She crouched naked over their faces and peed in their mouths.
“When you encounter something different or strange,” she says, “you’re like, What the fuck? My impulse is to ask, What does that mean? Why are they like that? What’s relatable about it?”In her work, she argues that the reasons sexual promiscuity is societally shunned—because it lowers morals, ruins self-esteem, creates co-dependency and has all the other pernicious effects your mother warned you about—repeatedly fail to stand up to scrutiny. Her book cites a 2014 Cornell study that found students who engaged in casual sex generally reported lower levels of stress and depression than students who did not. She sees the sex-as-therapy model as an explanation for much of what today passes as deviance.
“If people have the desire to seek out a dominatrix or be kidnapped or go to sex parties or have many sexual partners, I kind of admire that willingness and ability to go get the thing other people stigmatize,” Sciortino says. “So many of us don’t have that ability. We can’t even admit to ourselves what we want.”
And while the path to greater understanding may require the kind of fearless and open-ended investigation Sciortino practices, the solution, in a certain light, is remarkably simple: “I think there are a whole lot of problems we could solve with a little more sex.”
From dating etiquette to polyamory, Sciortino weighs in on five burning questions.
What’s one common mistake men make on first dates?
Being indecisive. I hate when a guy half asks me out, like texting, “We should hang.” It’s like…should we? If you’re going to ask someone on a date, go in 100 percent. It can be as simple as “Hey, I would love to hang with you. Are you free Friday for dinner?” Then choose a restaurant. To be honest, it’s not rocket science.
Can a straight man be a “proud slut”?
Because slut is a word that has long been used to put down women, it feels awkward for a guy to define himself as one. It’s like a straight girl calling herself a fag—it’s just creepy. However, I absolutely think straight guys can be sexually exploratory and have multiple partners in a respectful and healthy way, just like anyone else.
What’s the best setting for a date?
The idea of going on a first date that doesn’t involve alcohol actually feels psychotic to me. Unless you relish social awkwardness and never want to have sex again, all dates should take place in a dimly lit bar after seven P.M. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
Is monogamy outdated?
I think as a culture we are beginning to open up to the idea of nonmonogamy as a viable option. Monogamy is really hard, but letting your partner be railed by someone else seems like actual torture for most people. So I think it will be a long time before monogamy becomes passé.
What’s one thing every Playboy reader should know about sex?
I think it would generally be helpful if everyone were taught (from a young age, if possible) that we should approach our sex lives the same way we approach all other aspects of our lives, from our careers to our hobbies: Essentially, it’s something you have to invest time and effort into. You’re going to fuck up; it will be discouraging and difficult at times, and you aren’t entitled to anything. But in the end, if you work hard, it will be rewarding.