With over two decades spent instructing eager readers what to do and not do in bed via his widely-syndicated column Savage Love, Dan Savage is the reigning daddy of the sex advice world. He’s not content to just chat toys and titillation all day, however: he co-founded the It Gets Better non-profit to support suicidal LGBTQ youth; he uses his column to urge readers to donate their time and money to activism; and he has been an outspoken advocate for basic human rights for women and folks in the LGBTQ and non-monogamous communities, and a critic of the Trump administration and its conservative ilk (witness his glorious repurposing the name of Rick Santorum after the politician made horrible homophobic comments). Currently, he is spearheading the Impeach the Motherf-cker Already campaign; merch sales have raised over $150,000 so far for the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the International Refugee Assistance Project. Savage journeyed up to Canada this past weekend for the Curious Minds Weekend (presented by Hot Docs and The Globe and Mail) for a talk entitled “The Next Sexual Revolution”; we grabbed him while he was here to talk butt plugs, horse marriage, non-monogamy—and how women can put an end to f-ckboy culture.
What question do you get most for your column?
“Is this normal?”
What question has stopped coming recent years?
“What’s a butt plug?” I started writing the column 25 years ago and there was no internet, so people would hear about a butt plug and not know what that meant or how that worked. They’d write me every once in a while and ask what a butt plug is and I would explain it and that was a very easy column to write: it looks like a lava lamp, it goes in your ass. Now there’s a Wiki page for butt plugs so nobody asks me that question anymore.
What question do you wish you’d get more of?
“What’s a butt plug?” Because that was an easy column to write. In the post-“what’s a butt plug” question world, every question is situational ethics: “I did this, they did that, so who’s right? Who’s the asshole?” And usually everybody is wrong and everyone’s the asshole, but you’re having to cut the baby in half, which is a lot harder than telling people what a butt plug is and how to use it correctly.
What question has stuck with you the most?
I once interviewed somebody who’d married his horse. At the end of the interview I asked him if he’d married a boy horse or a girl horse and he got all offended and said, “I’m not a homosexual.” As if the worst thing I could imply about his horse marriage was that there was something gay about it.
What is the biggest sexual mistake you could make? What’s the best thing you could do to improve your sex life?
Being hung up on “normal.” When it comes to human sexuality, variance is the norm, so all of us are weird and not all of us are weird at the same time. So whatever it is about you that you fear disclosing to a partner is something you have to embrace. And, in the end, you should embrace it because sex always wins in the end. Sex is bigger and more powerful than you are. One of the lies we were told as children is that we will grow up one day and have sex, but the truth is that one day we will grow up and sex will have us. The column questions that always blow my mind are when people say they’ve been reading me for 20 years and then are doing everything wrong and it just makes me feel like all of that writing was for nothing.
One of things you discuss most in your column is our society’s ongoing inability—our refusal—to prioritize sexual compatibility when choosing a long-term mate and the very real, very traumatic fall-out that almost always results. They feel like if everything else is working, it’s fine to sacrifice good sex. I also don’t understand people who have been reading your column for so long can still not get it! It’s like watching the same TV show where it’s just like, but why?
Don’t go into the dark house.
Don’t split up while you’re looking to escape the axe murderer.
Except the axe murderer is pegging.
The ass murderer.
What is the key to to a more inclusive, sex-positive society?
The culture moves because individuals move in a different direction and we’re seeing a much more sex-positive culture that’s emerged.
Where’s that coming from?
Gay people! What queer people did when we marched down the street was we showed straight people that there’s a million different ways to be queer. Straight people saw that and thought, why is there just one way to be straight? So queers, in liberating ourselves, also liberated straight people from a very confining idea of straightness.
Non-monogamy pretty much started in the queer community as well.
Honesty about non-monogamy started in the queer community. After having to come out and look your mom in the eye and say “I suck dicks,” being honest with your friends—even your straight friends—about the fact that you’re queer, or the fact that you’re in a non-monogamous relationship, is not scary. That’s actually pretty easy. Straight people get really hung up on that. What gay people modeled was that you could have commitment and variety and still very much have love and a life with someone and that if you had to sacrifice monogamy or commitment, it might be better to sacrifice monogamy and keep the commitment, which is what so many same-sex couples do.
Why do you think that so many people are so hung up on monogamy? I interviewed Sex at Dawn author Chris Ryan and he said our ongoing commitment to monogamy is like if like 50 per cent of all planes fell out of the sky and the public said, “we need to keep going you guys, it’s A-OK! Nothing is wrong, just keep flying.” We’ve made some strides, but it’s still a real mind-block for most people.
There are perks to monogamy: around disease, around emotional security/jealousy issues and around paternity, which is why women were enslaved, to assure the male that the offspring were actually his. So, why the paranoia about sexual exclusivity? The problem is we now conflate monogamous commitments successfully executed with depth of feeling and love and that’s the problem. Telling people that if someone really loves you they’re not gonna want to have sex with somebody else and you believing that—even though you love them and you also still want to have sex with somebody else. That undermines relationships. That destroys relationships. I can understand why people are interested in monogamy for those practical purposes but that conflation of monogamy with seriousness of commitment, that’s what I don’t understand as it makes no sense at all.
I always say, “Monogamy is hard, non-monogamy is hard and being single is hard. They’re all hard, just for different reasons.”
I like to say “disease, death and oblivion are still better than high school.”
We live in troubling times. What strides are being made? What message do you want to share with the youngsters of the It Gets Better project?
There are always setbacks but we make breakthroughs and progress when we rise up to meet that challenge. The HIV crisis and the AIDS epidemic was the most enormous and colossal setback; some people believed that that was the end of the gay movement, that that would be the end of us all and the end of publicly gay human beings, and we would all march back into the closet or march into funeral homes. That’s not what happened because people fought back. This is a dire moment, and you can say, “nothing’s getting better and nothing can get better from here and everything from here on out is just collapsed,” but saying that actually makes the collapse likelier. Getting in the fight and pushing back ensures victories to come and further strides in the future, if you pay attention to history.
What strides do you think you’ll see in our lifetime? Do you think we’ll make greater inroads with trans rights or poly visibility and acceptance?
We’re already seeing large strides with trans visibility. With the trans bathroom bill explosion in the United States, you saw trans people automatically included in those conversations. You saw trans people on the network news, you saw trans people on the cable news networks, talking about their lives, talking about their need to go to the goddamn bathroom, talking about being included in the conversation immediately and not having to fight for 20 years to be included in that conversation. So even with the ugliness of that trans bathroom issue, you saw evidence of progress that we’ve already made. Poly marriage, that’s going to be really a difficult thing. One of the things marriage gives you is that, if my husband is incapacitated, I have the right to make medical decisions. If my husband had two husbands and we disagreed about a medical decision to be made, what then? I have people I know in long-term committed poly relationships and those relationships should be recognized, honoured and protected somehow, and that’s a debate that needs to happen. I don’t know what format it’ll take, though. I think the next big breakout sexually is going to be the coming of the sex robots.
And, finally, f-ckboy culture. Why is this happening? What can we do to stop it?
Asshole straight boys have always been with us. Asshole straight boys are nothing new.
There’s gay f-ckboys, too!
There’s assholes everywhere. You never know: sometimes people are pretending to be someone they’re not because they think that’s the right strategy and if you give that person a chance to reveal who they really are to you, you might find that there’s a human being pretending to be a f-ckboy.
What causes this behaviour? Insecurity? Laziness? Cruelty? Being spoiled for choice? Why does it fall to women to do all the emotional labour?
Women have to stop f-cking doing that. Pussy ain’t chemotherapy. You’re not going to cure someone. If you give someone a chance, they might demonstrate to you they don’t require a cure and they can drop the façade they’ve constructed because of their insecurities and you’ll see the real person behind it. But so many women feel that they have a responsibility to stick with someone and fix them, and repair somebody who’s really fundamentally f-cked up and damaged, who needs to go off on their own and fix themselves. They’re not in good working order. They shouldn’t be dating anybody and they need to be alone. It’s a kind of female narcissism. Because what you’re saying is, “I am magic. My pussy is magic and my pussy has the power to cure this guy” instead of saying, “this guy is f-cked up and there’s nothing I can do about it. I don’t have that power. I’m not a superhero. I’m not a magician. My pussy ain’t chemo, it’s not going to cure anything.” Men don’t have that. I don’t get those questions from men: “my girlfriend’s horrible, I can’t leave her because then I’d be a bad person for not sticking around to help her.” Because women are socialized to be the fixers of the relationship—and women have to stop that.
What if they’re not fundamentally trash? What if it’s just a “oh, I’ve got lots of different pussy available on Tinder” mindset, or other f-ckboy behaviours like not texting you back after you had a wonderful date, or swiping in front of you. How do you treat those dudes who are lazy or useless?
“How do I treat a guy who won’t call me back, won’t answer my texts and clearly doesn’t want to see me again?” I dunno, maybe you don’t see them again.
There’s a general fear that you’ll never find someone, but, in the end, it’s better to be single than with somebody who treats you like trash. After a series of f-ckboys, I vowed to be myself and I almost immediately met my partner.
It took you dropping your façade. You stopped playing.
You can only pretend to be someone you’re not for so long. How long can you keep the con going for?
I’m going to defend the con. There is something magic about the person you pretend to be and somebody else falling in love with that person because then you have to rise up to the lie. You have to make good on the lie version of yourself. And they know that’s a lie. They know that you’re struggling to be the better person that you lied to them about being when you met, and you know they’re doing the same thing. And that’s why often in long-term relationships you both will fall short of the Potemkin view that you created for those first weeks. Eventually you start farting in front of each other, eventually the cracks show, and the insecurities and inconsistencies—all of that shows. We work so hard to cover up the meanness, but the meanness can show. And then you find yourself having to push that down and be that good person again and make that effort. If the other person’s making that same effort, even though you both know that it’s a lie, you can make the lie come true, in a way. With the right sort of dynamic in a long-term relationship, you become a better person because you’re always trying to be the person you lied to this other person about 20 years ago. For example, my husband leaves his shit all over the floor; he’s a slob. I clean up after him all the time.
You’re the clean one?
I’m the clean one and I clean up after him, but he washes all the laundry, he fixes the car. So I’m just like, “Okay, so, you don’t bitch at me about not doing laundry for 20 years; I don’t bitch at you about the fact that I literally walk through the house putting shit away. Picking up your shit, putting it away. Putting your clothes where they need to go. Picking 20 pairs of shoes up that are all over the house one day.” The price of admission is, that shit annoys me but I don’t complain about it anymore, because complaining creates conflict and it doesn’t change anything. It’ll always be that way no matter how much you bitch.
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