When Karley Sciortino was 24 years old, broke and freshly arrived in New York City, she had, by her own admission, "no qualifications, no college degree, and had never held a real job".

Others might have become a barista, or taken on bar work; Sciortino landed a job as an assistant to a dominatrix.

"She paid me $50 an hour to sit in on her sessions, because clients would pay more if someone else was watching," says Sciortino, now 32. "So I would just watch ... Fifty dollars an hour was more money than I ever could have imagined making at that point."

After dropping out of drama school, she'd spent the previous five years in London, moving around various squats, and documenting her experiences, and those of the artists, anarchists and punks she lived with, on her blog, Slutever. After assisting the dominatrix in her dungeon, she focused her writing more on sexuality.


"The psychology around sexual behaviours and what is taboo is really interesting to me," she says. "And writing about sex almost gives you permission to do naughtier things, because you can always say you are doing research."

Not that she had ever really asked for permission.

Growing up in a small, conservative, Italian-American community in upstate New York, Sciortino's family was far from liberal. "My mum was a religious educator, and my dad was a member of the Knights of Columbus [an all-male Catholic organisation]," she says. "We went to church every week, and they believed in no sex before marriage.

"Sex was a tool for provocation for me, a way of rebelling against what I felt was a parental dictatorship. I was having a lot of sex in cars and empty parking lots in high school, because I wasn't allowed to have boys over to my house."

But what began as a rebellion has become a successful career. She now has a regular column called Breathless on Vogue.com, while Slutever has been turned into a book, published last month, and is also the title of her new documentary series on Viceland, which begins screening this week.

Over 10 episodes, Sciortino will explore all manner of colourful sexual predilections. There's an episode about "lifestyle slaves" - (mainly) men who derive sexual pleasure from living as submissive "slaves" to dominant women - and another about "cam girls" - women involved in the burgeoning online pornography industry.

The aim of the show, she says, is to destigmatise kinks and the characters who enjoy them. "So often, the way the media portrays sex is almost like a warning: 'Beware of the ways that sex can harm you'. Or it sensationalises it: 'look at these freaks in this dungeon'. The goal of the show is really to remind people that sex is joyful and silly," she says. "I want to bring the pleasure back into the conversation, and also to find characters we love and celebrate, and make them human."

Her tone - open-minded, insouciant but questioning - deliberately riffs on Carrie Bradshaw's voiceovers in Sex and The City. "That show was huge for me - it really informed my sexuality and what I thought of as women's relationships to sex," says Sciortino. "And as a female sex writer, the comparison to Carrie Bradshaw is inevitable, so I just like playing on it and satirising it."

Are men - particularly potential partners - intimidated by her occupation, and her openness? "Because I write about sex, it naturally filters out the kind of guys who are going to be put off by female sexual agency," she believes. "But there are lots of guys out there who are attracted to the idea of having a female partner who knows what she wants sexually, and is sexually confident."

And is she, herself, completely unshockable when it comes to kinks and fetishes these days? "I wouldn't say that I am particularly shocked by anything, but I am constantly amazed at how vast sexuality and sexual desire is," she says.

"In making the show, we met people who are sexually attracted to trees, people who dress up as horses to have sex, and people who are sexually attracted to monsters, like dragons and werewolves. That is not fringe - dragon dildos are a million-dollar industry," she laughs. "We met people who make sex toys that allow you to implant yourself with alien eggs. That's something that I did not know even existed."


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