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Sleeping Their Way to the Top

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For a kid from the small street I did very well on Wall Street
Though I never owned a share of stock
And now that I'm known in the biggest banks
I'm going back home and give my thanks
To the one who broke my heart in Little Rock!
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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.

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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.

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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.

Overlaps with Sleeping with the Boss and Sextra Credit.

Compare with Dungeonmaster's Girlfriend and Nepotism. Contrast Sexual Extortion. See also Meal Ticket.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Berserk:
    • 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.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • 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 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 think that he slept with Lelouch for his position.
  • Kurenai in Black Flames Dance in the Wind: Rise of Naruto is eventually revealed to have used sex to help advance her career, always dropping her current beau once she gets what she wants. Her current boyfriend Asuma knows she's done so but laughs at the idea of her using him in such a way because he's just barely shy of being Persona Non Grata in Konoha.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • In Liar Liar, Jim Carrey's character, 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 takes effect just after he finishes.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, who she had given a lapdance earlier on in her previous job as a stripper and becomes an outcast because of it.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Literature 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sano Ichiro: Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu's rise in Edo society is attributed to his being the lover of Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi.
  • Discussed in the Honor Harrington novels. Captain Lord Pavel Young is convinced that the title character must be sleeping 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Drew Carey Show: Recurring character Larry owes his entire career to his willingness to sleep with the elderly Mrs. Louder.
  • Halt and Catch Fire: In the first season everyone at Cardiff assumes that Cameron only got her job because she slept with Joe MacMillan.
  • 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. And 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 the ship.

    Music 
  • 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, although whether or not the favors and promotion are related is left unclear.
  • 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".
  • 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

    Theater 
  • In William Shakespeare's King Lear, the bastard Edmund has affairs with both 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.
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • Metal Gear Solid 2 sees Otacon insinuating that Mei Ling achieved the rank of Captain young due to an affair with a much older Admiral.
  • 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.

    Webcomics 
  • 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]
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.


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