Dan Savage Is Answering the Un-Googlable in Savage Love
Dan Savage has come a long way from his early days as a sex advice columnist, when he says it was a lot more common for him to get easily Googlable questions like “What’s a butt plug?” With the increased availability of the Internet, he gets a lot more questions about “situational ethics,” which he says are “a lot harder to answer.” Savage stops by the Wilbur this weekend for Savage Love Live, where you can anonymously ask all your secret sex questions. In the meantime, here’s what he had to say about the advice biz.
What’s been the most consistent question you’ve gotten over the years?
“Is this normal?” People are obsessed with that. At some point, hopefully after a couple years of reading my column, maybe it begins to dawn on people that when it comes to human sexuality and human relationships, variance is the norm. The weirder you are, the more idiosyncratic your desires are, the more normal you are, not the less normal you are. People really obsess about whether they’re having normal sex, a normal amount of sex, normal sex partners, normal kinds of relationships. As if normal is good.
It seems like the concept of nonmonogamy has come up more and more often in recent years for you. Do you think there’s a cultural movement behind people being more open about that now?
I do. I think there’s a huge cultural movement around people being more open about it, because monogamy doesn’t work. It has been a disaster. People are sick of failing at this thing and feeling like failures and coming around to the realization that we aren’t failing this thing. This thing has failed us. The lie we’re told and we are compelled to tell and those of us in the advice racket or advice professions are expected to tell and sometimes screamed at if we refuse to tell, which is that monogamy is easy.
Do you often get people writing back and saying, “I did this, and it was great,” or “I did this and it was terrible”?
A handful of times I’ve given advice and people have been like, “I took your advice and I destroyed my life. Now what do I do?” Oh, well, if I’d known that detail, I might not have given the same advice. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to jump in a time machine and we’re going to go back, and you’re going to redraft your letter and I’m going to reframe my advice. But it can be paralyzing, that thought, that somebody could take your advice and explode their lives. It’s funny, somebody took my advice once and exploded his life and Terry [Miller, his husband] and I swooped in and scooped this person up and took care of them during this difficult time, and 18 years later, we’re still friends. So sometimes you give terrible advice and you get a lifelong friendship out of it.
If they don’t like your advice the first time, why write back and ask you to fix it again?
Well, in this case somebody asked me if he should come out to his parents and I was like, yeah, they know, tell them. And he told them and they didn’t know, and it was a disaster. He lived in Seattle, so we ended up hanging out with him and meeting him and I got his mother’s phone number and had my mother call his mother. Literally I got Mom involved. That was the level it rose to. DEFCON Mom. But it all worked out in the end.
You’re famous for giving political figures’ names new meaning. Is there anyone who might be earning their way towards a new definition for their name this campaign season?
I’ve tried a couple of times. I thought Huckabee should be what happens when you’re giving a blow job and you retch, or throw up a little. You kind of hucked a bee. And it didn’t stick. … What was so great about Santorum is his name sounds like some sort of medical definition. It doesn’t sound like anything else. You could do it to Ted Cruz, but “cruise” already has a sexual meaning. I wouldn’t want to wake up in the morning thinking, “I Fiorinaed my husband last night.” And I don’t think anyone else would either! It would kind of ruin sex forever. That was one of the dangers. Like, everybody wanted me to do this sort of sexual redefinition for everybody. Eventually it was just like, I don’t want to have to think about sex and have this string of right-wing Republican names rattling around in my head. Last night, I hucked a bee, while my husband and I were Scaliaing each other before the Fiorinaing started, but we had to jump in the shower, because there was Santorum. Like how depressing would that be?
This interview has been edited and condensed. See Savage at the Wilbur this Saturday at 7 p.m.