We talk to the 'Slutever' host about her frank and fearless mission to make sex fun.
By
Fiona Williams

19 Jun 2018 - 3:43 PM  UPDATED 19 Jun 2018 - 4:31 PM

New episodes of Slutever screen Tuesdays at 9.30pm on SBS Viceland (MA). You can stream the entire series now at SBS On Demand.  

You start each episode of Slutever with a playful nod to Sex and the City. Was that show influential in cultivating your funny and ironic Sex Journalist image?

Yes, those Sex and the City references in the show are ripe and overdone! That's the show that I grew up with. When I was in my early 20s I used to read the column by Candace Bushnell that was in The Observer in the ‘90s, that this show was based on. Here was this woman who was basically writing about being a sex maniac in New York in this dark and funny and irreverent way. It was a voice that really resonated with me because so often when people talk about sex it’s so dark and self-serious. It's either preachy or it's about all the ways that sex can be dangerous, you know? What I’m trying to do in the show and with a lot of that parody is to add a playfulness into the conversation around sex.

At the core of it, sex is supposed to be fun, you know?! And silly and awkward and exploratory. In the media, sex is represented as scary a lot of the time, whether it’s that you’re going to get an STD or you’re going to get raped on campus, or it’s something you have to be wary of, and if you’re not careful you’re going to be traumatised -- especially if you’re a woman. So this tongue-in-cheek, light, ironic feminine show opening is important because it’s just reminding people that sex can be funny and playful. We should always remember that.

You speak to a lot of sex workers in your show, and what comes across is that they’re hilarious, and candid about their observations of people. They see people of all stripes, after all.  What can women learn from sex worker attitudes to people, sex, kinks, peccadilloes?

The show is very sex worker positive and I’ve been interviewing sex workers for years now. Sex workers have always represented sexual strength, for me. I’m friends with a lot of women in New York who are dominatrixes or escorts and they’re women who have amazing sexual power. In order to do those jobs you have to be empathetic and sweet and generous. You’re basically part-social worker.  But you also have to be sexually resilient.

I have always admired women who have had a negative sexual experience and have sprung back from it and have been able to learn from it. They don't bow to pressure to identify by their most negative experiences. I think as women too often we’re told that, because a negative sexual experience can be devastating, we should not take sexual risks. I think a lot of time that can become a self fulfilling prophecy.

It doesn’t make sense to me why every other aspect of our lives, in our jobs , our relationships, or sports, or whatever people are told to take risks. We're told that negative experiences will make you stronger and wiser, but with sex we tell people exactly the opposite! For me, generally I feel like sex workers are sexual adventurers and they represent people who are not afraid to take sexual risks.

"I want women to seek out the sex life they want without shame." 

It must frustrate you to see tropes about overtly sexual woman perpetuated on screen. Filmmakers and writers so often conflate the idea of a sexually open woman as a victim or as somehow ‘damaged’.

Yes! I wrote in my book about how there is this narrative - the ‘Punished slut’ - that exists across film, TV and literature, and has for a very long time. From forever, like 'Ana Karenina' and 'The Scarlet Letter', all the way up to modern films. Right up to the trope where if a girl has sex in a horror movie, she’s the first to get killed. We see that overtly sexual women in media are often literally dying in the movies, or the end of the book or punished in some way, or their life explodes in some horrible way.  That trope is heightened all the more when it comes to sex workers. That’s something that is infuriating about it, but you know? Just the fact that we’re even having conversations about that, and that people are becoming so much more aware of that, is such a positive.

It’s something that i want to change. Even in the show, I’m interviewing women who work in the sex industry, and they’re saying, ‘I do this job and this is what I like about it, this is what I  don’t like about it, this is why I decide to do it and I do it autonomously'. It's so important that we show examples in media and in the show, of women who have extreme and non-conventional sexual lives, whether in the sex industry or outside of it, who are happy and healthy and responsibly promiscuous. We need to have those examples exist in the world because they’re few and far between in media. To have a slutty heroine, so to speak, on TV is really powerful, and can change what people think their sex life can be.


WATCH: In the name of gender equality, Karley hunts for a happy ending massage for women.


 

In the Happy Endings episode (above), you're on the hunt for exactly that but realise pretty quickly that it is hard to find. Did you expect that transactional sex for women is either dressed up with romance and dating, or is approached with buzzkilling medical precision?

I actually was, I thought it would be easier to find a transactional hand job! I was like, I’m sure just  at a regular massage parlour you can just get one from a guy, but you couldn't! It was so much harder to find than I originally thought. It’s kind of interesting that when transactional sex was sexual experience for money was available but it was shrouded under the guise of like therapy, or it was a medical professional who was like, ‘help me help you get over your trauma,” and it’s like, "Thanks bro, i’m just actually looking to come!”

So, ‘That’s not working for me, pal!’

Yes! We interviewed the male escort and he was talking about how he’s worked in the male escort industry for like, a handful of years and in the beginning there was like under 20 guys and now there’s over 60 because now there’s so much  more demand for that service. And I think it’s a combination of women making more money and of that financially being more available to them, and it’s also about women being more comfortable to step outside of the norm and this is something that I want too. Why is it normalised that men pay for sex, but it’s somehow tragic if somehow women do it?

That’s a good segue to talk about your valiant effort to reclaim the word ‘Slut’. How's that going, and how do you want women to incorporate a little more adventure into their sex lives?  

I grew up in an environment that was a conservative Catholic county where I was told not to have sex before marriage. The essential idea was that a woman who sleeps around or has multiple sexual partners, or is really overtly sexual in any way, is less romantically valuable. It’s essentially that you're not going to be worth as much as a woman who stays in her sexual lane, essentially. That is really destructive. It scares and shames women into sexual submission or into not seeking out the sex of a sex life that they might want. That sucks. In the book I aim to reclaim the word 'slut' but also redefine what being a slut means. In the book I define a slut as someone who is sexually activated and seeks our visceral experiences through sex. They see sex as something that is positive and productive to their life. I want women to seek out the sex life they want without shame. That is not necessarily easy but we have to cleanse ourselves of centuries of shaming, but feeling empowered to seek out the sex life that makes you happy is really the goal. Remember that sex is fun and playful and that being confident about what type of sex life you want doesn’t actually make you less valuable. In fact sexual confidence is just so attractive.   


WATCH: Karley meets with members of the trans community who want to open the conversation around trans sexuality


 

 

You ask people to be frank about their own sexual experiences, to be able to get us to a post-shame place. Have you always had a willingness to open up about your own experiences, or did that take some time?

For me, talking about sex was initially a form of rebellion because I came from a repressed background where people didn’t talk about sex. So in high school when I started having sex and sleeping around it felt like a form of rebellion and provocation. I started my blog Slutever when I was 21 and it was your basic teen angst rebellion phase, you know, I was like, doing something ‘bad’. I had a provocative impulse. It was out of that provocative impulse that I found sexuality interesting as a motivating force in people’s lives. I was working for a dominatrix when I was in my mid-20s in New York. I became very interested in the psychology around kink and frank sexual behaviours and I really admired people who were living these unconventional sexual lives in a world where people like that are made out to be gross freaks. I thought their sexual confidence to live their sexual truth was really appealing. So it started out as a kind of ‘Fuck everyone, I’m going to write about the orgy I went to’, and it eventually, slowly evolved into actually being interested and intrigued by the psychology of sexuality. But it took a while!

"To have a slutty heroine on TV can change what people think their sex life can be."

What kind of feedback do you get? I suppose online trolls are a given, but I want know have you noticed the tenor of feedback evolved, over the time you’ve been writing about sex, and through having the show? 

Yeah, I think it’s so cliche, the negative stuff. You couldn’t even write them to be more basic! The thread of guys on Reddit are all you know, 'She's ugly and used-up trash and no one is going to want to marry her' or something like that. That is just so perfectly what you would expect. But it’s funny because that's the leftover dregs of the worst misogynistic cartoon, but for the most part the feedback that makes me the most happy is from people who say, ‘You made me feel like it could try a new experience', or 'I feel like I can have a type of sex with my boyfriend that I didn’t think I could have'. It makes me feel cool because it’s like, ‘Oh wow! It’s working', you know what I mean? It’s not like I have the all the answers or that I have the most sexual confidence but I think that I have a curiosity about people. I have a skill it’s interviewing people and getting them to be vulnerable and then being vulnerable in return. Hearing people talk in an open, honest, vulnerable funny way about sex can be really affecting. It can really make people feel like sex is really not that big a deal.

There is such an important conversation happening at the moment about power, and the notion of - shock, horror! - 'consent '. What other conversations do we need to be having simultaneous to that, to help advance the a positive idea of women having sexual agency? Of not having to tolerate bad sex so as not to offend, or of feeling able to speak up for what you want sexually? 

I think all these conversations around the movement and TimesUp are very important and the idea of Consent are vital but alongside those we also need to remember how to also be talking about the ways that sex can be pleasurable and how to ask for what you want and how to make sex fun. All the ways that sex can improve your body image and the things you can learn about yourself through your desire. How casual sex can teach you things about yourself, connect you to people and boost your self esteem, you know what i mean? If all we hear about sex is the way it can be dangerous to you, sex is going to seem very scary. I think what’s missing from the conversation about sex is the aspect of pleasure and fun. It’s true that sex is not entirely safe and that things go wrong and people get hurt but there is so much to be gained from having a full and adventurous sex life and that needs to be part of the conversation too, particularly for women who are taught that a negative sexual experience can be devastating, right? And that we should not take sexual risks, but that is self-fulfilling. We don’t want to be sexually fragile, we want to be sexually strong, the way you do that is trying new things, making mistakes and having sex that’s awkward and getting better at it. You know, if you don’t succeed, try, try again!   

Give it a red, hot go.

Exactly!

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