by Hanna Nicholls
Slutever: Dispatches from a sexually autonomous woman in a post-shame world; the book you didn’t know you need to read.
On a recent trip to San Francisco, my sister gave me Slutever: Dispatches from a sexually autonomous woman in a post-shame world, and I didn’t put it down for two days. Karley Sciortino is funny, smart, informative and – above all – a self-proclaimed slut.
We generally think of slut as an insult, but Sciortino convinces us to look at the word from a different perspective and to instead see it as one that is sharp and holds power and autonomy. Sciortino is a sex writer, founder of slutever.com, columnist for vogue.com, a journalist, and creator and host of her own Viceland docuseries that focuses on sexual behaviors in our contemporary culture (one of the most recent episodes looks at Monster Fantasies!). Slutever: Dispatches from a sexually autonomous woman in a post-shame world, is her confessional memoir or “slut manifesto” that aims to reconfigure how we frame and understand female sexuality in a “post shame world.” Although I don’t buy that we’re living in an entirely post-shame world, Sciortino’s work is bringing us one step closer to exactly that.
Throughout Slutever, Sciortino brings us through her emergence into slut culture as a high school student from a conservative Catholic family living in New York state, through her early twenties living as a squatter in London, to her life as a struggling freelance writer in New York City, and into the present where she has carved out a niche career as a professional slut. She takes us through her relationships with women, men and people who identify as genderqueer; her sexual escapades that include polyamory, her love of porn and masturbation and even her time spent working as a dominatrix and “sugar baby.” She really has done it all. In detailing her life, Sciortino is always honest. She makes a point not to shame or judge women – whether they’re more conservative in their values or not – and she is casual in how she describes her experiences to the point where it feels as if you’ve become friends with her. Sciortino discusses female sexuality and various taboo topics with ease, inviting the reader to consider their own sexuality, experiences and desires in an uninhibited manner.
Most importantly, though, Sciortino discusses relevant topics like the hierarchy of sex workers and the misconceptions that women who choose to work in the industry face on a daily basis. She helps redefine what sex is and looks like in the section appropriately called “fucking outside of the lines” (228), where she details interviews she’s conducted with people living with various disabilities and how they engage with their sexuality and desires. Throughout Slutever, Sciortino works to normalize people’s diverse sexual experiences and needs and she convinces the reader that it’s ok if you’re a slut; reclaim the word and let your slut flag fly if that’s what you want to do.
Overall, I wish that I had been given this book as a high school student. As someone who felt uncomfortable as a teenager girl (and often times as a young adult) trying to navigate the unwritten rules of female sexuality, a book like Slutever would have been incredibly useful, and it could have made my early experiences less conflicting and more enjoyable. Women – and young girls in particular – are held to impossibly high standards that are both unattainable and unrealistic. Sciortino is a keen observer of these structures that create sexual inequality for women and genderqueer people, and she addresses them in an informative and laugh-out-loud funny way. Having resources that help women come to terms with socially ingrained values of femininity and sexuality is necessary if we are to live in the post-shame world that Sciortino calls for, and Slutever is certainly one of the most informative and accessible resources I’ve been able to get my hands on. It’s a must-read.
Pro tip: If you choose to read Slutever, do it in public. It says “SLUT” in a massive font point size on the cover and people’s reactions to that word never get old.