'Slutty' is a word that’s historically been used as an insult, but self-styled 'sexpert' Karley Sciortino wants to reclaim it.
The Vogue sex columnist fronts the VICE TV show Slutever, which the New York Times calls "a chronicle of sexual experimentation".
Slutever started as a blog written by Sciortino while she belonged to a squatting commune in London and became a television series in 2017.
While it’s been over 20 years since Sex and the City graced our television sets and changed the way women in the western world would talk about sex, we still have a long way to go, Sciortino says.
“There’s really been two camps of the feminist movement that have existed for a long time, just to oversimplify it, one camp says being overtly sexual or being “slutty” - or embracing that - is taking part in your own objectification. While the other says we can make light of this, reclaiming words is a valid thing to do and you can use humour as a type of resistance - I am really far more aligned with that camp.”
According to the Oxford dictionary, in the Middle Ages, the word slut was used to describe a woman with low standards of cleanliness.
While it’s meaning may have shifted somewhat, today it’s still used to degrade women -particularly those who have several sexual partners.
But as Sciortino points out: “Women are called sluts at 15 just because they posted a sexy selfie on Instagram, so the word barely has a meaning.”
Words like queer, or racial slurs, have been reclaimed by the very communities that have been oppressed by them, largely negating the power of the words to harm.
Sciortino is among a growing trend of women taking back the word slut.
“Since it’s such a pervasive word used to put down women if we can take away even a small amount of its power I think it’s valuable.”
Sex is going through a really dark time right now, she says.
“I think that a lot of the ways we talk to young people about sex, specifically women, is a warning. It’s a PSA, these are all the ways sex can hurt you, these are all the ways sex can be dangerous, you’re going to get pregnant, you’re going to get a STD.
“There’s that joke in the movie Mean Girls which I always reference where the gym teacher’s teaching health class and he’s like ‘don’t have sex or you’ll end up pregnant or dead’ and it’s such an accurate joke because I actually think that’s what we tell young women.”
Outside of the classroom, conversations about consent and sexual harassment are taking centre stage thanks to the #metoo movement.
But while we’re starting to talk about sexuality but we’re forgetting to talk about pleasure, says Sciortino.
“While I think those are very necessary conversations to have, I just wish that they could also happen alongside other conversations about the fact that sex is also supposed to be fun, we kind of forget that sometimes, getting caught up in the danger of it all. That’s kind of the point of the show."
Slutever celebrates sexuality without judgment, opening the conversation about what sex is and what it can be.
But she says its often two steps forward, one step back.
“I think finally we are beginning to close the gap of the sexual double standard a bit but obviously the burden of sexual interest or curiosity is placed almost entirely on women.”
New Zealand audiences can watch series 2 of Slutever on VICE (Sky Channel 13) - (Season 1 is available on NEON) - in which Karley explores the concept of jealousy in open relationships, becomes part of the world of virtual reality porn, and meets the feminist icons who are rebranding girl power.