There are many ways to rise to the top, some more pragmatic than others. Some people decide to use their charms and sex appeal to boost their career. It's usually frowned upon by other characters and may have certain downsides to it, but for some, it proves to be the key to their success.
The specific tactics employed might be very diverse: from simply making an impression by ramping up one's good looks and sex appeal, to seducing someone into a quick fling in return for favors, to forging a long-lasting relationship with an important person, to enacting a complicated gambit involving multiple relationships and flings. It doesn't need to involve actual "sleeping" (sex), but it usually does. Sometimes, it can even be completely accidental on the character's part, if the powerful people who are attracted to them decide to further their career on their own volition.
The character who's Sleeping Their Way To The Top often finds themselves under a barrage of criticism and disdain from other people. One reason, of course, is that many would consider such tactics unfair, and the resulting career advancement undeserved, implying that the character lacks any talent or experience necessary for the positions they get. If the character's a woman, some accusers may add a misogynistic slant, using her as "proof" that women are so incompetent it's the only way for them to advance in life; and there might also be a shade of Slut-Shaming involved.
Characters who have done nothing of the sort could also get accused of Sleeping Their Way To The Top, usually as an underhanded tactic by their adversaries or rivals to tarnish their reputation, or just as an insult said out of spite.
Note that even if a character is Sleeping Their Way To The Top, it doesn't necessarily mean that they're untalented or unsuited for the position. Sometimes they might just see it as the only way to overcome severe adversity in their career or society in general. And as mentioned earlier, sometimes it happens accidentally, with no intention on the character's part.
One common narrative is the story of a prostitute or courtesan who marries up and escapes their lowly social status.
Sub-Trope to Sex for Services. Super-Trope to Black Widow, Gold Digger, and Casting Couch: it's assumed to be a very very common practice in showbusiness, that's why showbiz-related examples have their own subtrope. Please add all movie/theater/music/modeling examples to Casting Couch rather than here.
- Attack on Titan: This is implied to be the case with Hitch, one of the Military Police Brigade soldiers. She is shown to be jealous of Annie, who actually earned her place in the Police with her abilities.
- When Casca is only a child, her parents agree to send her off to be a maid on a nobleman's estate, a better life for her than on their farm, and good for them because it means one less mouth to feed. It turns out that the nobleman expects certain other services in exchange for this rise in fortunes, and isn't particularly bothered that she (and, as far as we know, her parents) never agreed to this. Fortunately, Griffith shows up just in time to prevent this from happening (or, more accurately, provide Casca with a sword and the opportunity to prevent this from happening herself).
- Straw Misogynist Adon Corbowitz assumes that Casca was only made a general because she sleeps with Griffith, which is untrue.
- Griffith is no stranger to this trope, however: much of the Hawks' early success was due to a cash infusion from a wealthy patron who Griffith slept with in exchange for his patronage. As Griffith coldly explains to Casca, weapons, armor, horses, and food aren't free, and even winning a battle means losses; he considers his personal discomfort with the arrangement a small price to pay compared to the alternative.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: During their shopping day in Central, Rebecca (only in the manga, not the Brotherhood anime) mentions Riza's recent promotion to an "easy" job working as assistant to the Fuhrer and implies that this trope may be in play. Riza coolly denies it. Rebecca knows better. They spend almost the entire day speaking in what basically amounts to code because they're both deeply enmeshed in La Résistance and don't want to be overheard.
- In Maria no Danzai, Maria secures her job as the nurse of the school Kiritaka's bullies go to by giving the principal a blowjob in his office. She hides her disgust well while in his presence, but later goes to vomit at a restroom. She still considers this to have been the "easiest part" of her plan, and thinks the principal a foolish man for being such an easy obstacle to overcome.
- Princess Jellyfish: Shoko Inari admits to having slept her way to the top which makes her "relationship" with Shu such an issue when it doesn't work out in her favor.
- Largo Winch: Sybil Lockwood sleeps with her husband John's bosses in order to advance his career and her own agenda. It is not clear if the henpecked John was aware of this, but he is so infatuated with Sybil that, when he discovers that she has committed major embezzlement and left him for good, he commits suicide (in Red-Hot Wrath).
- Red Ears: In one strip a young woman who has been turned down on many occasions when applying for a job as a secretary decides to change up by just barging into the employer's office, stripping nude while explaining her credentials, and asking if he'll hire her. Another woman then crawls out from under the desk and asks her if she can wait her turn.
- Laranda-fa of Red Sonja: The Forgiving of Monsters was a commoner girl until she caught the attention of the emperor with her beauty. Shortly thereafter they were married, and shortly after that, he was dead.
- Black Flames Dance in the Wind: Rise of Naruto: Kurenai is eventually revealed to have done this, using sex to help herself rise up the ranks, always dropping her current beau once she's gotten what she wanted. Her current boyfriend Asuma knows about this, but laughs at the notion of her treating him the same way: he may be the son of the Sandaime, but he's also just barely shy of being Persona Non Grata in Konoha.
- A.A. Pessimal's Discworld tale Hear Them Chatter On The Tide goes into the back-story of why the virtue, Bissonomy, was turned into a shoal of oysters and cast out of Dunmanifestin. Her elevation from mere Grace-Hood to wife and consort of Blind Io, Chief of the Gods, provoked much jealous whispering among other Goddesses of Thatte Byttche hath slept her Way to the Toppe.
- My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fics:
- Minuette Sleeps Her Way to the Top subverts its title by playing the metaphor completely literally. Minuette falls asleep at her desk, and she looks so cute that the other ponies in the office can't bring themselves to punish her for this infraction. So they make her another department's problem by promoting her. This continues several more times, and when Minuette finally wakes up from her nap, she's the C.E.O.
- In Sleeping Your Way to the Top, Rainbow Dash comes to the conclusion that Shining Armor got his position as Captain of the Royal Guard because he was Princess Cadance's boyfriend. And since Rainbow wants to become Captain of the Wonderbolts, she decides seducing a Princess would be the quickest way to get there. And then she tries putting the moves on Princess Twilight Sparkle—who was right there for the entire conversation, and immediately knows how insincere Rainbow is being.
- My Mirror, Sword and Shield: People assume that Suzaku slept with Emperor Lelouch or Princess Euphemia in order to get into the Royal Guards and later become a Knight of Round. He didn’t, but they refuse to believe that. Even when history acknowledges Suzaku's skill, they still think that he slept with Lelouch for his position.
- Mako's family in Natural Selection coerce and push her to try and have sex with Ryuko Kiryuin in an effort to sustain and advance their new luxurious lifestyles. Needless to say, essentially pimping out their own daughter leads to them becoming a Broken Pedestal to her very quickly.
- The Infinite Loops: Numbuh 1 has been accused of this on more than one occasion following him entering into a relationship with Numbuh 362. Not only are the two genuinely in love, considering that Numbuh 1 was willing to wait who knows how much eons for Numbuh 362 to begin looping, but even before looping, he was the best Kids Next Door operative on the planet, meaning that if he wanted to rise up the ranks, he could do it easily.
- All About Eve. Eve attempts unsuccessfully to seduce Bill and Lloyd to further her acting career; however, she does have sex with Addison DeWitt and this does help her career a lot.
- Lily Powers in the 1933 film Baby Face sleeps her way to the top of a banking corporation - literally, since when she gets into a higher position, she gets an office on a higher floor of the building. Whenever she seduces a man, the camera cuts to the outside of the building and moves up to the next story's window.
- Surprisingly averted in another pre-code movie, Blondie Johnson. Blondie becomes a gangster and decidedly rejects all sexual advances, preferring to use her wits to get to the top - so much so that her friends actually ask her why she won't give the guy she likes a tumble.
- Subverted for laughs in Boomerang (1992). Ladies man Marcus tries to get an edge when his company merges with the famed Lady Eloise by sleeping with the kinky, quirky much older woman. He smugly tells new co-worker Jacqueline that he expects a promotion thanks to his "insider edge." Marcus is stunned when Jacqueline breaks it to him that Lady Eloise is nothing more than a figurehead/face of the company and has no actual power whatsoever. She bursts out laughing when she sees Marcus' face and realizes what's going on.
- Disclosure: The antagonist, Meredith, is believed to have gotten where she is in this manner, as opposed to Kaplan, who worked hard and repeatedly got looked over.
- Exam: White believes this is the only reason Blonde got far enough to even be taking the titular exam — based on absolutely no evidence aside from her being attractive. In the end, Blonde outwits White's attempt to get her disqualified, White promptly manages to get himself disqualified, and Blonde emerges victorious, being the only one who was able to answer the exam question (and one of only two who didn't get themselves disqualified).
- The Family That Preys has Andrea Bennett, who is cheating on her husband with her wealthy boss, who rewards her with extra money and other benefits. It all comes back to bite her when the affair comes to an end.
- Ghosts of Mars: In the Lady Land society on Mars, it's apparently pretty common for women to seduce their own female superiors for the purposes of career advancement.
- Journalist Frankie Banks sleeps with wealthy tycoon and hunter Maston Thrust in order to be included in the expedition in the search of The Last Dinosaur as is the news of the century.
- In Liar Liar, Fletcher Reede, a chronically lying lawyer, has sex with his (female, good-looking) boss in the hope that it'll help him get promoted. Unfortunately for him, his son's birthday wish (that his father would stop lying) takes effect just after he finishes. While making pillow talk after the fact, Reede tries to compliment her, but instead says "I've had better," completely torpedoing his chances of a promotion.
- In an infamous line from The Lonely Lady, Jerrilee waits until she's won the Not-Academy Award to announce in front of all of Hollywood "I don't suppose I'm the only one who's ever had to fuck her way to the top."
- Ruthless Juliette Faxx from RoboCop 2 becomes the mistress of Omni Consumer Products' Clueless Boss, which lets her bulldoze her newest cybernetic police officer project past all opposition, even when her project uses a criminal psychopath as its operating system. Once they need someone to blame for the whole mess, however, the boss no longer protects her.
- Showgirls: This is a Discussed Trope when Nomi gets told that none of the stage girls try to sleep with the bosses to get ahead. Basically mutual courtesy, since they could all conceivably do it. She does it anyway by seducing Zach, to whom she had given a lap dance earlier in her previous job as a stripper, and becomes an outcast because of it.
- Spies Like Us: Fitz-Hume tries to get out of the Foreign Service Board test at the beginning by "arranging an intimate lunch meeting" with his attractive female supervisor. While he does get into bed with her, she gets upset that he's trying to use her to get around taking the test.
- Star Trek (2009): Subverted. Uhura is one of the best communications officers in Starfleet and requests a post on the Enterprise. Her own boyfriend denies her request because he's afraid of showing favoritism. Uhura points out that he's doing the opposite instead of giving her a fair shot, and he sheepishly allows the request.
- Swimming with Sharks: Towards the end of Guy's kidnapping and torture of his abusive boss Buddy Ackerman, Guy's girlfriend and colleague Dawn walks into Buddy's apartment for a late-night meeting. Buddy tells Guy that Dawn slept around with most of his company's staff (including him) to advance her career. Dawn vehemently denies it, but that doesn't stop Buddy from manipulating Guy into shooting Dawn so they can blame the kidnapping on her.
- A man on his deathbed turns to his wife of 70 years:
"Dear, I can now ask the question that I've never tried to ask in all our years of marriage: Did you ever cheat on me?"
"... Yes darling, I did. But it was always for you!"
"For me?! How the hell was it for me!?!"
"You remember when you said your boss was hesitating between giving a promotion to you or your coworker?"
"Oh! Oh, I see. The from the bottom of my heart, I forgive you."
"But that wasn't the only time."
"Yes, you remember when the banker refused to give you a loan to start your own business?"
"You did that? And all these years I never knew, and could never thank you!"
"And you remember that time when you really wanted to be elected president of the Homeowner's Association, but you were short by 27 signatures?"
- A Sexy Secretary starts crying after sleeping with the CEO of her company.
"Oh, nothing... I just never thought I'd have to sleep with someone to succeed."
"Psh! You think you have it hard? Look at me, I had to succeed just to sleep with someone!"
- A common joke in the Dungeons & Dragons fandom is to compare the three main caster classes to high-scoring students: Wizards (study spells to learn them) are hard workers, Sorcerers (naturally have magic, usually due to magical ancestry) are gifted, Warlocks (granted powers and magic by an otherworldly entity, usually to fulfill its plans) are screwing the teacher.
- Alexander Pushkin wrote a famous epigram about Prince Dondukov-Korsakov, who was rumored to have a highly successful career due to being Sergey Uvarov's lover. It roughly translates as "In the Academy of Sciences//at the top Prince Dunduk has a seat//Some say it does not befit//That Dunduk gets such a honor//So why does he have a seat?//Because he has an ass."
- The Alice Network: The other waitresses assume that "Marguerite" is sleeping with the owner of the restaurant to get favoritism and promotions, and slut-shame her accordingly.
- Belisarius Series: Antonina, a High-Class Call Girl, instantly becomes respectable after marrying a great general, naturally enough. She is however talented enough on her own account to allow her boost in status to make her a stateswoman and Lady of War.
- Dangerous Liaisons: Valmont reminiscences about the time he had an affair with a well-connected noblewoman in exchange for her pulling strings to advance his career. He despised her (he mentions that he was tempted to tell her "Madam, I'll forget about the position I'm seeking if you'll let me leave the one I now occupy") and took immense pleasure in trashing her reputation the minute she was no longer useful to him.
- Discussed in the Honor Harrington novels. Captain Lord Pavel Young is convinced that the title character must be sleeping with Admiral Courvosier, her mentor and patron, along with a number of other senior officers that have helped foster her career. He is so convinced that he even spends time and money trying to find evidence of the affair so that he can publish it and ruin them both. Courvosier, however, just has tremendous faith in her aptitude, and views her as the daughter he never had.
- Jedi Academy Trilogy: It's often stated that the true reason why Daala became Admiral was that she was Tarkin's lover. Kind of confirmed to be true in Death Star, where Tarkin privately believes that the boost he gave her career is just enough to get her past the difficulties female officers face in the Imperial military. It's made clear that she's a brilliant and hardworking commander who stood head and shoulders above her male peers in ability. It's also indicated that she probably would've been better suited for an Army rather than Navy command and that her many failures in chronologically later books are the result not of sleeping her way into a position beyond her qualifications, but of a brain injury she suffered when her shuttle was shot down in battle.
- Sano Ichiro: Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu's rise in Edo society is attributed to his being the lover of Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi.
- Something to Talk About: Emma is presumed to be having sex with Jo as a means of advancing her career by Barry Davis and Jo's father. Davis sexually harasses her with a similar offer, Jo's father claims she's a slut who should be fired. In neither case are they right about this.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: Petyr Baelish holds more unofficial power than most people in the kingdom realize. Instrumental in his rise was Lysa Tully, a noblewoman who has been in love with him since childhood. Petyr strung Lysa along for over a decade, using her status and connections to become Master of Coin and eventually convincing her to murder her husband so he could gain even more power by turning the high lords against each other.
- Played With in the T2 Trilogy. Infiltrator Serena Burns, attempting to secure a job as Cyberdyne's head of security, implies that some of her "upward mobility" on her faked resume was due to her "horizontal agility." The two Cyberdyne CEOs eat the implication up with spoons — the government watchdog Tricker sees it as a red flag.
- Mia in the first Vampire Academy book sleeps with and interacts with multiple male students as a way to rise up in social ranks, and also as a way to get at Rose and Lissa because the ones she sleeps with do her bidding.
- Agent Carter: Peggy Carter is frequently put down by her coworkers because they view her only as a lucky secretary who got her job by sleeping around with Captain America and other men. Worth noting here that Peggy was in a position of authority with the SSR before Steve finally got himself enlisted (she was his instructor in Basic Training), and there's absolutely no evidence she got there through any means other than her own merit. She spends much of the first season fighting to prove that she's every bit as competent as they are but ultimately learns to ignore her lack of recognition and trust herself.
- Babylon: Subverted. In the pilot, Finn tells Mia that Liz was hired because "the Commissioner saw her TED Talk and his dick went hard". At first viewing, it seems like Finn is making a misogynistic comment about Liz because he’s The Resenter. Then, come Episode Three, you learn that Richard has had multiple affairs, including at least two in the workplace - Finn has a habit of spying on everyone, and he genuinely thinks that’s the case with Liz as well.
- Bones: One episode features a dead victim who had recently changed careers. It turns out that his first boss had only hired his brother as a favor to him, and his new boss wouldn't extend the same courtesy, leaving the brother jobless. When the victim went back to the original boss to get both their jobs back, he found his sister-in-law using this tactic to save the brother's job herself. She killed the victim to save her marriage.
- The Drew Carey Show: Recurring character Larry owes his entire career to his willingness to sleep with the elderly Mrs. Louder.
- In First Wave, the Gua themselves state this as a perfectly valid method for assisting in their infiltration of Earth in preparation for the all-out Alien Invasion. It also helps that, compared to Gua intercourse, which is extremely painful (which seems like a terrible survival trait), human sex is highly pleasurable.
- Halt and Catch Fire: In the first season, everyone at Cardiff assumes that Cameron only got her job because she slept with Joe MacMillan.
- A surrogate version happens in I, Claudius. Emperor Tiberius discovers that his Hypercompetent Sidekick Serjanus is plotting to depose him, but Caligula says he knows of an ambitious officer in the Praetorian Guard called Macro who can be used to take Serjanus down.
Tiberius: Can you trust him? How well do you know this Macro?
Caligula: Well I've slept with his wife a few times...
Tiberius: And that's what passes for a polite introduction in Roman society, is it?
Caligula: Oh, he knows all about it! I told you he was ambitious.
- In M*A*S*H, more than once other staff members make remarks suggesting that Margaret has slept around to help her career. And while it's never shown (or confirmed by "Hot Lips"), it is made clear she has had sexual relations with high-ranking officers. Of course, this is all the old Margaret of the early years, not the later, one-of-the-gang Margaret. But even in her Hot Lips days, it was suggested she only slept with high ranking officers because that's just the kind of men she likes, and that she hasn't used it to her advantage - the show does make it clear, and always did, that she is extremely good at her job.
- Mr. Robot: Tyrell Wellick seduces both men and women to try to become CTO of E Corp, such as when he slept with a male secretary to steal information about his rivals.
- A Mr. Show sketch: A valedictorian of his law school has a law firm interview, only for his three potential employers, in the middle of talking about his potential career tell him they want him to give them a blowjob, much to his horror. When he tries to reject their offer, they reveal that society is built on blowjobs, from law to medicine to religion to even prostitution.
- Star Trek: In the cut-throat Mirror Universe, the Klingon Promotion is true for all species, not just Klingons. However, Starfleet commanders have on-board concubines, who can double as full-duty crew members themselves. In the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "In a Mirror, Darkly", Hoshi Sato starts out as Captain Forrest's mistress, then jumps back into bed with Commander Archer (whom she previously used in the same manner), then later seduces Sergeant Mayweather to help her in her murder of Archer to take over not only the ship, but the entire Empire!
- V (1983): This seems to be accepted practice among the reptilian Visitors. Diana boasts that she got her position in the invasion fleet because she's one of the (unseen) Visitor dictator's favorite mistresses. Brian, the leader of the Visitors' youth corps, sleeps with Diana herself, his own superior, to curry her favor. However, there are clearly limits to this approach. A rival points out that the Leader has become wary of Diana's ambition, is rumored to have found a younger Hot Consort, and the fact that Diana has been sent billions of light-years away to Earth hardly implies that the Leader can't bear to be without her.
- The White Lotus:
- Mia decides to sleep with Giuseppe the lounge singer in the hopes that he will introduce her to contacts in the music industry.
- She offers to have sex with Valentina in return for the chance to fill in for Giuseppe while he is in the hospital. Valentina agrees, and it turns out Mia's the first woman she ever slept with.
- Defied by Kenny Chesney's "Big Star":
She doesn't care anymore that her high school girlfriends cut her down
They only thought she entertain is where they are and where she is now
All her old neighbors swear they're certain she slept her way to the top
She knows you don't get where you're going
Unless you got something they ain't got...
- Lana Del Rey, "Fucked My Way to the Top".
- Linda Davis's "Company Time" (originally recorded by Mac McAnally) is about a woman named Ruthie who gets sexually harassed by her boss. In the third verse, it's revealed that she's "upstairs on the seventh floor / executive assistant to the chairman of the board" and is asked daily for sexual favors by him in exchange for a pay raise. Although the actual song leaves some details unclear, the video implies that Ruthie ascends the ladder normally and ultimately puts the sleazy boss in his place.
- Referenced by way of pun in the They Might Be Giants song "Hey, Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had A Deal":
I could never sleep my way to the top
'Cause my alarm clock always wakes me right up
- The title character of Evita, as evidenced by the song Goodbye and Thank You, becomes the lover of increasingly more powerful people, until she finally settles by Juan Peron.
- In William Shakespeare's King Lear, the bastard Edmund has affairs with both of the king's evil daughters simultaneously to further his own political career. It works for a time—he gains command of the English army and has two women clamoring to marry him and make him heir to the throne—but then his brother returns from exile to challenge him, one of his mistresses poisons the other and then stabs herself, and Edmund loses a duel to join the ten other major cast members in making the play a tragedy.
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert: Nadia, the head of the NKVD. The upper echelons of Soviet command suspect her of this. We, the player, get visual proof that it's true (however, it turns out it's less out of personal ambition and more to be able to assassinate Stalin, although she doesn't live very long after that happens).
- The Princess, the Player Character of A Dance with Rogues, is often accused of seducing Master Nathan and sleeping her way up in the Family ranks. It is only partly true: while she does use her charms and sexy skills a lot, it's only to complete her missions for the Family when her brains and brawn prove ineffective, so every Rank Up she earns, she earns the hard way. Master Nathan, for his part, is one of the few men who never, ever views her as anything but an adoptive daughter.
- Fire Emblem: Three Houses: Dorothea admits to "buttering up" some nobles to get her foot in the door at Garreg Mach (and given the way an associate of hers uses the term, that's almost certainly sexual). Once there, she's an open Gold Digger looking to secure her future by marrying one of the rich young nobles that attend. However, it's also explicitly stated that she studied her ass off and aced the entrance exams fair and square, so nobody disputes the fact she earned her place.
- In the mobile game Idle Guy, one scenario has your boss ask you to come home with him, with the dialogue making it clear that he often makes advances on his employees. Agreeing to go with him is the only option with a positive outcome (specifically netting you money and happiness), as the other two (running away or sending your friend instead), will result in you either being sent on a business trip to the middle of nowhere for refusing the boss or getting the whole company shut down after your friend sues the boss for sexual harassment, both of which will cause a hit to your happiness points.
- Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty sees Otacon insinuating that Mei Ling achieved the rank of Captain young due to an affair with a much older Admiral.
- Tanya Winters in Saints Row, advanced through the ranks of the Vice Kings this way, before killing Warren to seize control of the gang after he takes over.
- It's suggested several times in Misfile that several angels think that Cassiel got her current position in oversight because she was sleeping with Rumisiel, the Archangel Gabriel's younger son. She has a less-than-stellar reputation in part due to this.
- Kat's rival Hillary used this in an arc of Sequential Art after her modeling career went under due to the economy. Unwilling to work her way out of retail, she began a relationship with Pip to cover for her absences while she hooked up with various men in exchange for connections until she found one she could blackmail into giving her a high-ranking position.
- Monette is accused of this by an older coworker in Something*Positive ("All that time on your back must have done wonders for your posture"). Monette counters with the coworker's approach resulting in bad breath and gangly knees.
- Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic: Wolf, a high-ranking drow male, has absolutely no problem with the concept of sleeping his way up the ranks of the drow's matriarchal society.
Sylvan Elf: How did you get this job, anyway? Did you march into battle in a dress?
High Elf: Wield a warrior handbag?
Wolf: I slept my way to this position.
(he smirks, they both sulk)
- Justice League Unlimited: Tala is a powerful sorceress and dangerous villain in her own right, but she also makes a point of attaching herself to the most powerful man in the villainous hierarchy. To the point that she switched her loyalty from Grodd to Luthor the instant Luthor shot Grodd. While Luthor definitely enjoyed the benefits, he clearly didn't forget her fickleness, as his plan in the finale relied on rewarding her as a traitor deserves, so this tactic wasn't the best strategy for her.