Arts, Features

REVIEW: Viceland’s ‘Slutever’ narrowly avoids objectifying women, lacks diversity

“Slutever” is a documentary-style series of half-hour episodes about female sexuality, hosted by Karley Sciortino, a seasoned sex writer. In the first episode, which premiered on Wednesday, Sciortino takes to the streets of New York City in search of a “happy ending” massage — one that ends in an orgasm — for women.

As somebody whose favorite shows are “Broad City,” “Veep” and “Transparent,” the overt sexuality of “Slutever” did not shock me, though I can see how it could make some viewers uncomfortable. Until about three-fourths of the way through the first episode, the show is decidedly unsexy, as Sciortino takes a scientific approach to finding a man who she can pay to make her orgasm.

Overall, the show is actually pretty enjoyable. Sciortino is a great host and very qualified to host a show like this. She writes a sex column for Vogue and is coming out with a book about female sexuality next month. On first glance, some viewers might reduce her to her appearance: a sex-obsessed blonde wearing revealing clothing. But within the first five minutes, she ponders complicated questions about the differences between female and male sexuality.

That said, “Slutever” has some issues. At least in the first episode, Sciortino does not acknowledge that any relationships exist besides those between heterosexual cisgender men and women. The only time she recognizes the existence of queer people is when, getting out of bed after just having masturbated with a vibrator, she identifies herself as a “mostly straight woman.”

Because the show features barely any nonwhite people and zero queer people, some would say “Slutever” cannot be considered feminist. I think it does have some feminist qualities, however, that make the show at least bearable and at most enjoyable — for a straight, cisgender, white, liberal college student like myself.

If the point of the show is to inform viewers about how difficult it is for women to find men who are confident enough to promise an orgasm, the first episode definitely achieves that goal. Sciortino takes the audience with her on a journey that involves hiring a male escort, visiting a sexological bodywork professional and sitting in on a male sexuality support group. All of this is portrayed from a nonjudgmental, purely fact-based perspective, which is refreshing in a time when sex work is so stigmatized.

The worst part of the first episode, the part I was scared might happen when I first saw the trailer for the show, was the last five minutes, when Sciortino finally does find a professional who promises to give her an orgasm. Up until this point, the filming and lighting had been very scientific and documentarian, but suddenly the lighting turned purple, sexy music played, and it felt like watching softcore porn. This scene was jarring and felt completely unnecessary, but I do understand why they included it.

It’s never clear whether Sciortino actually achieves orgasm, but what made this scene too egregious for me is that it was produced by Vice, a company that has recently undergone criticism after a New York Times exposé revealed a culture of sexual harassment at the media organization.

The Times’ piece, which was published in late December, brought to light four settlements involving allegations of sexual harassment or defamation against Vice employees, including its current president. Overall, Vice’s “boundary-pushing culture created a workplace that was degrading and uncomfortable for women,” according to more than 100 current and former employees interviewed by the Times.

It’s difficult to reconcile this supposedly sex-positive show with knowledge of what goes on at Vice on a daily basis. That’s not to question Karley Sciortino’s feminism. Based on her column and blog, I think she does understand intersectional feminism, but her show and its platform do not portray an inclusive message.

However, I think video is a great platform for this, especially on a subscription-based channel, where there are no limitations on the content.

“Slutever” would probably be groundbreaking if it were less heteronormative and more racially diverse, and perhaps future episodes will focus on other realms of female sexuality beyond the straight white woman’s orgasm. Even though it does feature frank, real conversations about how to please women, it is hard to separate the show itself from its platform, which has a history of sexual violence against women.

2 Comments

  1. Well written analysis. You don’t recommend watching the show, however, so it’s hard to agree or disagree with you. Well done.

  2. BRAVA!!! Excellent review. Keep up the awesome work!! xoxo