Sex Advice Columnist Dan Savage Still Fresh After 20 Years The gay activist, journalist, and sex advice columnist talks about the evolution of readers' questions, and dispels the notion of "normalcy" when it comes to dating.
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Sex Advice Columnist Dan Savage Still Fresh After 20 Years

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Sex Advice Columnist Dan Savage Still Fresh After 20 Years

Sex Advice Columnist Dan Savage Still Fresh After 20 Years

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Welcome back to ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR and WNYC's hour of trivia, puzzles and word games. I'm Ophira Eisenberg. And I'm delighted to welcome our next guest, author and creator of the It Gets Better campaign, legendary sex columnist Dan Savage.


EISENBERG: So I'm a straight, married, monogamous woman living in a major city...

DAN SAVAGE: I don't give advice for free.

EISENBERG: No, don't worry.


SAVAGE: I am a professional advice columnist (laughter).

EISENBERG: I'm totally kidding. I'm totally kidding. I love when I listen your show that when people call up and they're like, I'm a heterosexual, straight, monogamous - blah, blah, blah. They almost apologize for being somewhat vanilla.

SAVAGE: Yeah, the tables have turned.

EISENBERG: The tables have turned.

SAVAGE: It's the vanilla, missionary position, marital, heterosexual norms who feel just like freaks, and they are because...


SAVAGE: ...When you ask people what normal sex is, they say missionary position, opposite sex, within the bounds of matrimony, open to contraception. And that actually, statistically, is freakishly rare.


SAVAGE: That is not normative sex. Normal is what happens near this theater on any given Saturday night.


EISENBERG: You've been doing this for over 20 years. I remember reading - I mean, I remember reading it. It was, you know, in my little Canadian newspapers - the Georgia Straight or the Vox (ph) or where I was living in Canada - and, you know, was exciting. It was very edgy. But over 20 years, God, the questions - are they the same? Are they different?

SAVAGE: They're really - I've been writing since - over almost 25 years. I'm giving sex advice to the children of people who were childless when they were reading my column, which is scary.

EISENBERG: Have you had to become more political? Like, did you - you didn't start off being political.

SAVAGE: Oh, actually, the column was always political.

EISENBERG: It was always political.

SAVAGE: And I would always get pushback on that because I would start writing about politics. I'd write about choice. I'd write about access to contraception. I'd write about HIV/AIDS. I'd writer about queer youth years ago. And, you know, I'd take on politicians, and I would always get these angry letters from conservatives who like my column when I'm not pummeling them.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

SAVAGE: And they would say, stick to sex. I don't come to your column for politics. And my response was always - when American politicians leave sex alone, I will leave American politicians alone.


SAVAGE: But they don't and they can't.

EISENBERG: So what background do you have to have? What kind of schooling do you have to become a sex and relationship...

SAVAGE: The only qualification you need to give someone your advice is that idiot was fool enough to ask you for it.


SAVAGE: When you look at like Ann Landers - I have no qualifications. I'm just a kicky Midwestern gal with a lot of opinions. You look up advice in the dictionary, it says opinion about what could or should be done. And the only qualification you need to share your opinion is somebody asks you for it.


SAVAGE: That's my qualification.


SAVAGE: And if people, you know, after all these years, if people thought my advice was crappy, they wouldn't ask me for my advice. They'd go, oh, we're going to ask Prudie (ph).

EISENBERG: So in the very beginning when you were in Madison, Wis...


EISENBERG: ...And you were working at a video store?

SAVAGE: I was.

EISENBERG: Which is amazing already, paints such a picture. And a friend was putting - you pitched the column to a friend.

SAVAGE: Accidentally. Tim Keck was one of the co-founders of The Onion. He is one of the two guys who invented writing complete [expletive] on the AP Style. That was Tim. And he and his friend Chris sold The Onion, and Tim moved - was moving to Seattle to start The Stranger. And I met him and he was telling me about it. And I said, oh, should have an advice column because every reads those. You see that Q&A format, you got to read it. And he said excellent advice, write the advice column.


SAVAGE: And I wasn't angling for the gig which is obvious if you read the first year's worth of columns. I didn't know what I was doing.

EISENBERG: I don't know if you still find yourself needing love, sex, relationship advice.


EISENBERG: You do? Who do you go to?

SAVAGE: My mother, who is dead. And she does not visit me.


SAVAGE: Or try to kiss me. I wish she did.

EISENBERG: But your mom was a good advice?

SAVAGE: She was a good advice giver.

EISENBERG: Oh, so that's where you get it from perhaps.

SAVAGE: My mother was the sort of Dr. Phil for her neighborhood. She was the woman that all these ladies in the neighborhood came to in the '60s and '70s for these coffee clutches and she would give them advice. And I was the little gay boy who stayed at home and baked cakes with my mother, so I would be there and I would hear it all. And then my mother would say and of course now you get paid to do what I, as a woman, did for free. And isn't that way the world works?


SAVAGE: And then I would say Ann Landers made a lot more money than I did doing this, you know - stuff it, Mom. And then we would laugh, and she'd tell me to be monogamous. And I'd say ha, ha, no.


SAVAGE: But I would sometimes - I would talk to her. And she would give me advice, and she was a great advice giver. She was very insightful and empathetic and very supportive of the choices you would make even if she disagreed with them.


SAVAGE: Which is an important skill that I do not share with my mother.


EISENBERG: That is not true. You always, when you give advice, you're super open. You're always saying, like, and if you're into that, that's fine. If you're into that, that's fine. You just got to make...

SAVAGE: So long as you're not harming anyone. You know, sometimes people say to me you're the anything goes guy; you're the libertine, and I'm not. If you read my column, I'm often telling people that's the price of admission you have to pay or you're not going to be able to do that, and that's not OK. Like, I have to come down from the - you know, I have to give these rulings, like, you did wrong.

EISENBERG: Right, so you're just like you have to accept your decisions.

SAVAGE: Yes, you know, do unto others as you would have them do unto you in a sex context.



SAVAGE: The golden rule applies when your pants are off as well.


EISENBERG: OK, Dan. We have concocted the perfect game for you. Are you ready for your ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?

SAVAGE: Yes, I am.

EISENBERG: All right your game is called What Are We Savages? So we asked our audience questions. Our audience is filled with nerdy but sexually active millennials. We asked them about their sexual experiences, their habits, their thoughts and you just have to guess how they responded.


EISENBERG: OK. So put yourself in the mind of someone who likes puns.

SAVAGE: Those millenials and their puns.

EISENBERG: Yeah, they love 'em.

SAVAGE: It's crazy.

EISENBERG: House musician Jonathan Coulton is going to help us with this quiz. And if you get enough questions right, Nina Starner in Philadelphia, Pa., is going to win an ASK ME ANOTHER prize.

SAVAGE: OK, good. I'll do what - I'm bad at puns.

EISENBERG: No. There's no puns in this. We're going to start with some easy ones. We asked our audience would you rather be in a relationship with someone who is ugly but nice or hot but mean?

SAVAGE: Well, if they live around this theatre, hot but mean.


SAVAGE: But that's the sort of question I think people would dishonestly answer because they want to make themselves appear smarter, saner, more thoughtful. And they would pick the former; they would pick nice, but not hot because they don't want to admit that they would take hot and mean in a hot second.

EISENBERG: Sixty-nine percent were fooling themselves with just how you said.


EISENBERG: Forget about hot and mean. Hot and dumb - that is the best.

SAVAGE: That's awesome, yeah.


JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: Are you segueing to me?

EISENBERG: Oh yeah, that's you.


COULTON: We gave our audience this hypothetical - my spouse and I have not had sex for four years. I still love her, but I've just lost interest. She's been saying she'd like to explore an open marriage. What advice did our audience give? As long as she's careful and respectful it's OK. It'll make her happy - B - sorry, no, open marriages never work in the long run or C - just have sex with her already. Would it kill you?


SAVAGE: I think they probably went with C.

COULTON: They did, 64 percent. That's right.


WILL HINES, BYLINE: What did they really think, Dan?

SAVAGE: I think they probably really thought C, but they're wrong.


EISENBERG: What's the right answer?

SAVAGE: So I think they - people should think about B and be open to B. But of course, NPR audience is going to go for C every time.


EISENBERG: All right, here's another light one. What percentage of our audience said that they've slept with someone who's first and last name they did not know? Twenty-five percent, 50 percent or 75 percent?

SAVAGE: The actual number is 75, but the answer is 25 percent.

EISENBERG: I - they - we have 50.


SAVAGE: An average of the actual...

EISENBERG: The average of the...

SAVAGE: ...Answer and - true story...


SAVAGE: The night I met Terry, one night stand, picked him up, went home. He was in the shower. I had a go to get his ID out of his wallet to remember his name. What would you like for breakfast, Terry?


EISENBERG: Final question. We asked our audience in a relationship, is it better to love your partner more or to be loved by your partner more?



EISENBERG: Which one?

SAVAGE: Oh, I thought I could just choose both.

EISENBERG: Well, that is kind of accurate, right? Because it always changes a little bit. There's a dynamic...

SAVAGE: Yeah, it sloshes around and back and forth.

EISENBERG: But our audience decided which one they would just prefer.

SAVAGE: Well, if you're the loved more, that's more of the power position, and people don't want to feel vulnerable. So I believe people would choose to be the loved more partner.

EISENBERG: The puzzle players did choose that.

SAVAGE: Thank God.

EISENBERG: They said they want to be loved more - 53 percent. Yep.

SAVAGE: Well, that's almost a tie. That's - that's pretty good...

EISENBERG: Yeah, right. It's almost 50-50. So, you know what? I I feel like you did well enough for Nina to get that prize.



EISENBERG: You inadvertently answered a lot of my questions by the way.


EISENBERG: Thank you so much. Dan Savage, everybody.

SAVAGE: Thank you.


COULTON: (Singing) There's things that you guess and things that you know. Boys you can trust and girls that you don't. It's little things you hide, little things that you show. Sometimes you think you're going to get it, but you don't and that's just the way it goes. I swear I won't tease you or tell you no lies. I don't need no Bible. Just look in my eyes. I've waited so long baby, now that we're friends, every man's got his patience and here's where mine ends. I want your sex. I love. I want your sex. I want your...


EISENBERG: Jonathan Coulton.

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