Art

Slutever’s Karley Sciortino on Sex, Aliens and Surrealism

Marquita K. Harris

Photography by Nathan Johnson

Karley Sciortino
Filmmaker and writer Karley Sciortino photographed in 2018.

For more than a decade, Karley Sciortino has been our patron saint of sex. Through her Slutever blog, which launched in 2007, Sciortino has guided the curious and expanded the imaginations of those whose knowledge of sex started and abruptly ended with the missionary position—a Carrie Bradshaw for the MySpace generation.

But while her ruminations were always loaded, they were rarely ever just about sex. Slutever.com is now home to an archive of our sexual evolution over the past 10 years, the cultural zeitgeist wrapped up in provocative packaging. From delving into needed conversations about sex work and polyamorous relationships to examining the complexities of human fantasies, no topic has ever been untouchable.

Many now know Sciortino as the Breathless columnist for Vogue.com, where she explores her own dating revelations, and as the host of the Slutever docuseries on Vice. She’s also in the midst of promoting her first book, Slutever: Dispatches from a Sexually Autonomous Woman in a Post-Shame World, which was released in February 2018. All of these projects—the book, the column, the show—are extensions of what she is known for the most: having very real discussions about sex and relationships.

Now, Sciortino is in a new phase of her ever-evolving career, one tied even more to fantasy than any of her previous projects.

“It’s a surreal, end of the world sex-comedy,” she says about Now Apocalypse, a series on Starz she co-wrote with director Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin, The Doom Generation, Riverdale, 13 Reasons Why). “It’s a story about these four friends in their 20s who are trying to make it in Los Angeles and figure out their lives, while having a lot of sex and experimenting with different types of sexualities and relationships.”

One major aspect of the story? This is all happening in the midst of an alien conspiracy theory.

Make no mistake, Now Apocalypse isn’t your typical coming-of-age trope about overly privileged 20-somethings “trying to make it” in the big city. Actor Avan Jogia plays the curly-haired charmer Ulysses, who enjoys biking while vaping and fantasizing about his hetero(ish) doofus- bro roommate, Ford, played by Beau Mirchoff.

“[Ulysses] is seeing aliens and having these sort of ominous dreams that feel somehow important,” she explains. “He’s being given visions about the fact that aliens are taking over the world. But as an audience, it’s really difficult to tell whether the aliens are real or whether they’re a hallucination.”

We also have Carly (Kelli Berglund), an aspiring actress who performs sex work through a webcam service. In the first episode, we see Carly wield her ingenuity and dominance by making one of her clients help her read lines mid-session.

While Carly (with a “C”) and Karley (with a “K”) are wildly different women—Sciortino has noted that while she worked as a dominatrix in her 20s, she was never a cam girl—you can’t help but wonder if she’s based on Sciortino herself. This wasn’t her idea.

“When Gregg [Araki] came to me he said, ‘I want there to be this character called Carly, who I’m sort of imagining as a younger sister-like version of you!’ I thought, Okay, that makes sense. I can write someone in my own voice,” Sciortino says. “I’ve come to realize that there is a comparison—despite him saying ‘no one will care, her name’s with a C.’ It’s like, well…” she trails off.

Sciortino did, however, leap at the opportunity to create a sex worker character that didn’t depend on the damsel in distress or “stripper with a heart of gold” clichés that overwhelm television and film. “Often when we see a sex worker on screen, it’s this stripper addicted to coke and she’s a sad, tragic victim, or this sex worker that ended up in a dumpster in New Jersey,” she reflects.

Until this series, Sciortino’s work was rooted in reality. In Now Apocalypse, LA appears awash in a dayglow patina; everything looks shiny and new. The characters are bold and exaggerated, the humor is dark, the sex softcore and glossy. It’s a fantasy realized. With this new series, Sciortino was given full reign to tap into her creative subconscious. It’s a side her fans have never seen before.

In late 2018, The Atlantic published a story, “Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex?” that highlighted a 14 percent drop in the amount of high school students experiencing sex—of all kinds—for the first time. The amount of sex Gen Xers and Baby Boomers were having also dropped in frequency over the years. The reason? Take your pick: Hookup culture? Less pressure to bone than in eras past? Better access to quality vibrators? Anxiety? Option paralysis? All of the above and beyond? Sure. It’s not the first time a story like this caught the attention (and ire) of the internet.