I’ve been writing and ranting about sex and relationships for over a decade now. Between my website Slutever and my sex column for Vogue.com, I make a living divulging about everything from awkward orgies to open relationships to my clumsy attempts at becoming a professional dominatrix. I am what some might call a professional over-sharer.
Being a sex writer can be awkward for multiple reasons. For instance, there’s the issue that every new person I date has access to a personal history of my sexual and romantic exploits. Or the fact that strangers at brunch know about my yeast infection.
But the most awkward part of my job has been coming to terms with the simple reality that my Catholic parents now know far more about my sex life than they ever signed up for. And the conversations about my work never seem to get easier.
Most people have the luxury of being a fake version of themselves around their families. I don’t. Or at least, I don’t anymore.
Back in high school, because my uber-strict parents didn’t let me have boys over to the house, I became skilled at finding sneaky alone time with boys. Those years involved lots of sex in cars, on baseball fields after dark, in parking lots ― all very classy. I was essentially leading a double life ― the Clark Kent, honor roll, purity ring me that I presented to my parents, and the real, slutty superhero me that only came out at night (and sometimes during lunch hour).
I started my blog Slutever in 2007, at the age of 21, after which I could no longer keep up the “good Catholic girl” facade. I discovered that writing about my sexual experiences was cathartic, and it gave me a sense of retroactive power. And, as an added bonus, some people seemed to like to read it.
Weirdly, my parents weren’t huge fans of my writing. Post-blog, they got vocal about how horrified they were that I’d bailed on the life that God had planned for me and instead chosen to fall down a K-hole of slut blogging amorality.
Beyond just being worried about me and embarrassed for themselves, they were concerned about the long-term effects that writing about sex would have on my subsequent professional life and ability to trap a husband.
In the years that followed, I would regularly get panicked emails from my mother, saying things like, “Karley, why does your Twitter say that you peed on someone for money?” and “What does it mean that you were the ‘first assistant dildo’ on a porn set?”
It probably won’t surprise you to hear that, when my mother discovered that I was in a serious relationship with a gender-nonbinary lesbian Jew ― and therefore, that I was bisexual ― from reading an article on my blog titled “I’m Gay Now I Guess,” she basically wanted to nail herself to a cross.
These anecdotes are sort of funny now. But back in my early to mid-20s, there were a few years when things were pretty bad between my parents and me, during which we barely spoke. In the years since, I’m often asked what my parents think of my writing. And the reality is, even though I know there’s a part of them that’s proud of me for forging a writing career, it’s still not easy for them.
I know that many people are able to sustain amicable relationships with their parents by offering them a more sanitized, “family friendly” version of themselves ― the cleaner, sweeter, non-swearing, non-whorish, less stoned version, basically.
In an ideal world, we would all be brave enough to be our full selves around our parents, and challenge them to love us as we are. And yet, speaking as someone whose parents are constantly being confronted with the unedited, unrepentant version of me, the fantasy of a more censored, less complicated reality can be appealing.
My first book, Slutever: Dispatches from a Sexually Autonomous Woman in a Post-Shame World, comes out on Feb. 6, and I’m currently mentally preparing for more inevitably awkward dinner conversations. But whenever I’m feeling anxiety about this sort of thing, I always harken back to a moment when I received some particularly valuable advice.
It was a handful of years ago, and I was interviewing the art pornographer Bruce LaBruce. During our conversation, I asked him something along the lines of: “So, what do your parents think about the fact that you make gay zombie porn?”
Unsurprisingly, he said they weren’t pleased. But he followed it up with a question: “Did Andy Warhol or Fassbinder censor themselves because they were worried about what their mothers would think?” Good point. He then lamented all the art the world has missed out on, for the fear of judgmental parents.
And while I don’t want to sound delusions-of-grandeurey about my blow-job blog posts, it’s pretty safe to say that most of my writing wouldn’t exist if I’d been concerned with how #triggering it would have been for my family. Though it’s not always easy, in order to be our full selves and make things that matter to us, we sometimes have to forget about our parents.
Karley Sciortino is the creator and host of the documentary TV series “Slutever,” currently on Viceland. Her debut book, Slutever: Dispatches from a Sexually Autonomous Woman in a Post-Shame World, will be released in February 2018.