Dan Savage: Love him or hate him?

I’ve been listening to a lot of the Savage Love Podcast lately.
I don’t read a lot of Dan Savage’s blogging, and some things he said around Prop 8 and race really got me angry.
That being said, it’s been nice to listen to something that isn’t about the state of the world, or the economy, or other depressing topics. I always say when the world is getting me down we can always talk about sex.
So that’s where Savage Love comes in. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a sex advice podcast where people call in with questions (about all sorts of things) and he responds. Sort of like our Ask Professor Foxy Series, but definitely less feminist and a lot more vulgar. If only Professor Foxy had her own podcast! Maybe one day.
I’ve probably listened to ten of his old shows by now (lots of long distance driving lately) and I’m undecided about him. Sometimes I love what he says and think he gives good advice, other times he’s a total jerk and gives terrible advice.
What do you all think about Savage Love?

Join the Conversation

  • Lshygirl5

    I sometimes get angry that Dan Savage seems to be so biphobic, but most of the time I think his advice is pretty spot on and I love that he advocates talking to your partner about the sexual things you really want.

  • Nothing Sacred

    I feel the same way. I love Dan Savage for his honesty, openness, and his Utilitarian ethos. I find he is compassionate a lot more often than he is, well, savage, and when he is the latter I usually feel the person deserves it (for example, a male escort who never disclosed his HIV-positive status to any of his clients.) Sometimes people don’t understand anything other than brutal honesty, and Dan does that well. I also interpret a lot of his frustration to be directed at the world we live in: where abstinence-only is the law of the land, where the worst thing a woman can be is a slut, where people can still get stoned for loving one kind of person rather than another… It’s a messed-up, sex-negative, harsh, misogynist, bigoted world out there.
    I am not a bigger person, nor am I bisexual, but I don’t remember anything he has said about size or bisexuality that has seriously offended me. Nor do I find him misogynist: quite the opposite, I would say. He might every now and then mention that he finds the idea of himself personally participating in a particular sex act with a woman less than enticing, but he fully endorses it for anyone else! Not everyone embraces every kind of sexual expression for themselves, but as long as they support others’ rights to do whatever they enjoy (as long as no non-consenting person is harmed, of course) what’s the problem?
    When I was young (i.e., before I realized I was a feminist) I used to listen to Loveline because I found it entertaining. Now THERE was a bunch of sexist, patronizing crappy advice. It was just Dr. Drew Pinsky telling people to see a doctor and Adam Corolla going off into one of his libertarian rants about how much better the world would be without any kind of restrictions on anything. I will give them credit for spreading the word about Plan B: I really did not know anything about it as a teen and Dr. Drew talked a lot about it. Too bad he’s become more and more of a sleazeball over the years. And the less said about Adam Corolla, the better.

  • Lexicon

    I enjoy him, but I find him sexist more often than I’d like to.

  • Eresbel

    Love him. I think he’s feminist. He’s pretty egalitarian when it comes to most things. I have yet to read something of his that was unfeminist.

  • Loulouloulou

    I love him too. Occasionally I disagree with him on the finer point of something he says, but 99% of the time he’s right on the mark.

  • Loulouloulou

    Dan doesn’t say that we all have to maintain our looks exactly as they were when we met our partners. He says that *within reason* we oughta keep reasonably fit and healthy and within the ballpark of what we were back then, taking into account medical, reproductive etc things that come along. If someone wrote in saying that they had lost 100 pounds and their partner wasn’t attracted to them any more his response would be the same.

  • Loulouloulou

    That’s not what he says! He says most men like to look at images of other women, and if he is attached to it and it’s part of his sexual life to the extent that you can’t come to a mutually agreeable arrangement for him to stop, then you can either a) leave, b) have him hide it and be happy in purposeful ignorance, or c) fight against it and either get angry when you find his stash or have him be resentful.

  • Michael

    “Well, my partner didn’t like that I wasn’t “tiny” anymore and my appearance had “changed.” What would Dan Savage say?”
    That your partner should leave you, and that you should wake up every morning thanking your lucky stars that the asshole left before you had to take the time and energy to DTMFA.

  • ATorres

    I like that Dan Savage has such a sex-positive, open, and honest way of discussing sexuality. I think for the most part he gives really good advice in a non-judgemental way, which is really refreshing given our society’s lack of real sex education and tendency to view sexuality in very shameful ways, especially women’s sexuality. I also really love that he supports womens choices regarding contraception, and abortion.
    However, I often have some real issues with his use of derogatory terms and overall immaturity regarding womens bodies (he referred to vagina’s as “the terror eye”). He also tends to discount or disregard the role that sexism and oppression affects womens sexuality…as others have mentioned here. I totally agree with Dulcinea’s comment regarding his views on porn. I think its just that sometimes he really shows his white male privilege…and you can tell he is not exactly connected with lesbian communities or womens groups very much…which I think if he did listen to, or seek out those communities more, his advice would be so much more inclusive.

  • nattles_thing

    I did that once. I was miserably sick and I spent an entire weekend in bed with my lap top. It warped my brain a little.

  • j-doug

    Sorry, but Dan Savage isn’t “Fatphobic,” and I’m still not sure that should even count as a word. Arguing that people in relationships should remain healthy and have an obligation not to let themselves go is not fatphobia, it’s simply a recognition of the fact that relationships, especially sexual ones, often have a superficial component. Realizing that there’s nothing wrong with this is not fatphobic, it’s just realistic.
    Beyond that, he often indicates to people who say that they’re overweight but don’t feel like reducing their superficial standards and can’t find an SO or a sex partner that they either need to go to the gym or recalibrate their standards. Again, not fatphobic, just realistic. More power to you if you consider yourself overweight and landed a skin-deep hot SO or sex partner–your mileage may vary.
    He’s an entertainer, and it works for him, meaning that he gets through to people. My attention span is simply way too short for Professor Foxy and I have yet to agree with this blog’s sex advice as much as I agree with Dan’s. In my opinion he’s a Feminist, with some flaws. Turns out, we all have flaws in our ideologies. Who knew? Plenty of writing goes on in these comments and on the pages of this blog that is not Feminist as I consider it–including shaming of people for sexual proclivities and a desire to close debate and dominate other discussants, but that doesn’t make this blog antifeminist.
    It would be nice if we could consider honesty and openness as important Feminist ideals rather than valuing circumspect and over-delicate communication which obscures understanding. No need to be gender- or race-insensitive sure, but also no need to conform what you say to what you think everyone else wants to hear.

  • nattles_thing

    Yes. THIS.
    Prof Foxy generally gives solid advice, but she’s not a great writer and she sometimes comes off as preachy. Dan Savage pretty much always writes a great column. Also, he gets much better questions.

  • sliderule

    I like Dan Savage but I like Miss Information on Nerve even better. She’s frank and no-nonsense and swear but not a dick about it like Savage sometimes is.

  • Loulouloulou

    Yep, I think so too. Her advice is a it wishy-washy.

  • nattles_thing

    He’s gotten that question a bunch of times, and he always answers it pretty much the same way, and I honestly think it’s good advice.
    I can’t help but feel that if Prof Foxy got that question she’d tell the person to shut up and stop being so shallow, and that would be terrible advice.
    Dan Savage doesn’t hate fat people. He’s just a big fan of truth in advertising, and his answer to that question really seems to depend on whether the person was fat at the beginning of the relationship. I’ve definitely seen him take people to task for fatphobia. Like this column: http://www.orlandoweekly.com/columns/story.asp?id=11662

  • Loulouloulou

    Sorry, Alice-Paul, I missed what you were saying. Dan would indeed tell you to dump that motherfucker already, because he tinks people oughta be kind to and supportive of their partners, not arseholes. Good on you for journeying healthily, and best wishes.

  • Eresbel

    An advice column is just someone’s personal opinion on what someone else should do. Of COURSE he’s going to have his own personal opinions in there.

  • Whit

    Searching “dan savage” into any fat acceptance blog will lead to much the same results.

  • Eresbel

    Dan does say that not all gay men find vaginas distasteful. Frankly, who cares even if they do? Some people just find particular body parts revolting. It’s weird, but whatever.

  • Whit

    You don’t have to feel that he personally offends your identities to recognize that he buys into (at the very least – getting paid for your opinion means that what he writes is going to be taken as his opinion) a lot of tripe that comes from the dominant cultural narrative about race, fat, age, bisexuality, etc.
    Any sort of “I’m a _____/I know someone who is a _____, and this isn’t offensive!” argument sounds to me like Camille Paglia talking about feminism. Just cause you identify as a woman doesn’t mean you grasp feminism 101, yo.

  • el211

    I just think his point of view is depressing. Certain sex acts are mandatory? You have to be good, giving, and game or you’re a terrible partner? And then he goes off on political rants all the time when he’s supposed to be writing an advice column. I just can’t read his column. It makes me depressed.

  • mouchette

    He can be a bit mean spirited and insensitve when people genuinely are feeling vulnerable. I think men’s use of internet porn and pornography in general is something that can be damaging to a relationship and women’s collective psyche. I know this is an unpopular opinion, and Savage consistently comes down hard on women who feel neglected in their relationships because their partners are addicted to porn. I think this is a very real problem, you hear about it all the time, and it’s even touched on in films like “Little Children”. Savage has consistenly been dismissive and insensitive and even quite mean to women who are affected by this issue. It really irks me. I have tried not to let it bother me as much as it did when I was younger, but nonetheless this issue persists and his insensitivity to it persists. I wrote to him once about a different issue and he told me to break up with the guy. I followed my own gut and we had a 7 year relationship until he died of cancer. So glad I didn’t take his advice to heart…

  • Pantheon

    Yeah, sometimes people ask why he’s qualified to give advice and he says its because people send him letters asking for his advice. He doesn’t claim any other qualifications and he only gives his own opinion. Sometimes he does get quotes from experts though.

  • Pantheon

    Its probably always a good call to make your own decisions about your life. No advice columnist can ever know all the relevant details. I read advice columns for entertainment, but I would never expect their take on a situation to be better than mine when I’m the one there on the ground seeing it all. The only time I might write in would be to ask for general information, like for example sex ed info, if I didn’t know how to find it elsewhere.

  • argolis

    I’m curious — which sexual acts does he believe are mandatory?
    I’ve listened to a number of Savage Love podcasts and I’ve never heard him say that you have to perform a particular act or else you don’t deserve to be in a sexual relationship. I have, however, heard him say that if, for example, a guy absolutely refuses to go down on his girlfriend despite her requests, then that is enough to justify a break-up.

  • Pantheon

    Has anyone read Dear Prudie at Slate? I think its funny how she recommends counseling/therapy to almost everyone, like she’s trying to cover herself legally or something.

  • Pantheon

    He says “oral sex should come standard” but he’s been known to make exceptions for people who really hate it, for example, those have an oral sex related trauma or assault in their past. And he definitely applies it equally to men and women.

  • Pantheon

    I think that Dan does draw a line between sex acts that he thinks are normal and everyone should be willing to try, like oral sex, and then sex acts that are a little more risque but still not that big a deal, etc, through a continuum up to acts that he doesn’t think anyone should be pressured to do unless they especially want to, to acts that no one should ever do (like bestiality). Obviously everyone is going to draw those lines a little differently– some people might think oral sex is more risque, or light bondage is no big deal, or whatever– but he has decided where he draws the line and since people are asking for his opinion, that’s what they get. His opinion is that a partner should be up for trying things that they might not necessarily be into as long as they are harmless, like wearing some silly costume or something. But I’ve never heard him say that someone should be willing to try, say, sado-masicism if they don’t already enjoy pain. I don’t think he would ever tell someone that they should be willing to be hurt or endangered if their partner enjoys it, he would say the couple should break up and find people who have more compatible desires.

  • argolis

    Yeah, that sounds pretty spot-on to me. If you are going to deny your partner oral sex or, say, limit positions to missionary, you better be upfront from the start about that.

  • Pantheon

    Yeah, I think the real solution is to discuss all this ahead of time and make sure you’re on the same page. I’d like to think Dan’s advice about what sex acts are required only applies to cases where people are making assumptions about each other and haven’t bothered to discuss it. I don’t think he’d object to couples making their own agreements otherwise, but the issue is when they’ve been together for awhile and suddenly find out they don’t agree on something.
    As much as I agree with him in principle about fairness, I hate giving blowjobs. Just hate it. Its the taste. But if my boyfriend is ok with that, I don’t think Dan would mind.

  • argolis

    Sorry, for some reason all of my replies aren’t showing up beneath the comment I’m replying too! Hope this doesn’t confuse everyone.
    Btw, I kind of adore all of your comments. I know I was more aggressive in the last post but it was nice to see you articulate so many of my own thoughts in a polite and clear manner.

  • Pantheon

    Were you replying to me or someone else? Maybe if you’re having a computer glitch you could write at the top who you’re replying to. And make sure the little box is checked when you’re typing your reply. Otherwise I have no tech advice…

  • argolis

    Yep, I was definitely replying to you.

  • idiolect

    Actually, I want to say one more thing:
    regarding fat as a character flaw for which people deserve to get dumped.
    I can see where you got that, and that is the sort of thing that made my gut reaction to this stuff be “ew,” but I think there’s a really important presumtion in there that maybe shouldn’t be made:
    No one deserves to be or not be with someone else, and when someone decides to get together with you or break up with you, it is not a statement about the objective quality of your character in any way. All it means is that you do or don’t suit this person’s particular wants and needs. I don’t think people should be so cold as to just drop someone at the first failure to meet their needs at all (that’s ludicrous, and I’d dump someone if they thought that!) but I do think that if it looks like being with someone will mean compromising your needs, you should seriously consider whether those are needs that you ought to be compromising. That sort of thing will end up being different for everyone, but I personally want my romantic partner to also have a rich sex life with me, and am not willing to compromise on that point. I would want the same from them — the idea of someone staying with me because of some outmoded notion that it’s noble to martyr one’s own sex life for the sake of “higher” things (whatever those are) is really just profoundly insulting.
    Anyway, the point is that it isn’t about whether people “deserve” to be dumped or not, at all — it’s about whether the relationship itself is a healthy and fulfilling one.

  • MaggieElisabeth

    1. His insistence that you have a RIGHT to a healthy sexual relationship with your partner/s, if you so desire. This applies equally to men & women & trans folk and he rarely lets anybody off the hook.
    2. His political incorrect opinions (sometimes very refreshing)
    3. His surprising, but often spot-on advice
    1. When he says things just to shock people. For example, recently he made a big annoying show of saying penises were “better” than vaginas. Obviously he likes penises: he’s gay! But seriously, it’s like apples and oranges and by privileging one, you’re just saying it to piss off all your lady listeners.
    2. Half the time when he apologizes, it is dripping in sarcasm.
    —-> With all his faults, I still enjoy him and appreciate the podcast and column. I’m a fat woman who does not feel offended by his statements about weight. Like most of the Feministing commenters, I agree that it’s about the expectations of the partner going into the relationship.

  • Honeybee

    If you read what he says and what acts he refers to and WHY he says this it makes perfect sense and I agree with him.
    Sometimes the people really are too selfish to do things for their partner and they need to hear that.
    But more often it comes down to individuals and what they need. E.g., with oral sex, alot of people need oral sex for them to be satisifed with their relationship. So his advice will be that if his/her partner won’t do it, then you should leave, because you will never be satisfied in the relationship otherwise. There’s also a certain amount of (and I fully agree with this), that if the person really really loves and you aren’t asking for anything outrageous, then it IS selfish and being a bad partner to deny your partner, and I agree with that. But also I respect some people have boundaries which is why I also agree sometimes you just have to leave someone because they won’t perform the acts you like.
    I will admit I relate to this because I require oral sex from my partner. And I will and have leave someone if they will not provide it for me, because as Dan says, I cannot be fully satisfied sexually without it. Cannot. So if I can’t get it from my partner, that means I can’t be fully satisfied sexually which means the relationship isn’t meeting all my needs, which means either the partner needs to start doing it or I need to leave, as it’s the only way I can ever be happy. And that’s what he wants – for everyone to be happy and sexually satisfied.

  • impression

    I don’t think the point is that there are things that people are “required” to do, but more that if there is some sex act that your partner is really into and you’re not, you should do it or break up. Because that makes you sexually incompatible… and that’s solid advice, in my opinion!

  • Jac

    I started listening to lots of Savage Love last fall, but had to stop around November. I generally expect him to be abrasive, and I’m ok with it when we disagree. When a (male) caller asked how to deal with a (male) friend who had sex with an unconscious (or almost unconscious) woman at a party, Dan said almost all the right things. Yes, having sex with someone who’s unconscious is rape, no you should not ignore said behavior, etc, but he also said it was important whether the woman was technically conscious during the rape, and that he should ask the guy in question to find out. I wanted to call in and point out how stupid that would be, and especially that rape is rape is having-sex-with-someone-who-doesn’t-know-you’re-having-sex is rape is rape is rape. I never called because I couldn’t bear to listen anymore, even just to get the call-in number.

  • questioning?

    I did not see anyone saying that you cannot be offended by Dan Savage. I only saw people say that they like him.
    I’m a black bisexual man, and I certainly do not agree with him on the Prop 8 racism (I am not offended by his comments on bisexuality, however). Still, I enjoy his podcast and his writing. I respect your right to disagree with Dan. Respect my right to disagree with you.

  • sbeath

    I’ve noticed the tendency for Dan to take a narrow view about size issues, but what I find more troubling is the way many discussions of vaginas have included him talking about being grossed out / needing to vomit. I think he takes that tack as an inversion of all the straight people who say that gay sex is gross, but it still bugs me.

  • ShifterCat

    I’m another long-time Savage Love fan. He has made mistakes, but he does tend to admit it and has even published “Extras” columns of reader rebuttals.

  • Citizen Lane

    I’m not sure if fatphobic applies to him. I’ve seen him tell people that they shouldn’t stay with a partner if they’re unhappy with the size (e.g., Person A was one size when he or she started dating Person B, and now Person A is larger/smaller and Person B doesn’t like that) then they should be upfront and honest about it and say, “I’m just not attracted to that. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not for me.”
    And that’s OK; people can be allowed to be shallow in a relationship when it comes to things like attraction, because you can’t really force or fake that. And even if you do, it’s not really fair to the other person. They should be free to dump the shallow asshole and find someone that appreciates them.

  • ggg_girl

    I LOVE Dan Savage so much I named my screen-name after my favorite acronym of his :D

  • sharmy

    i’m another that LOVES dan savage. he tells it like it is, always always always stresses honest communication, and admits his own prejudices (he’s a gay man. he doesn’t like the vagina. this seems totally reasonable to me).
    i read his column the second it comes online every week. love it. i honestly think he’s changed the way i think about my rights and expectations in my relationship.

  • Nothing Sacred

    I’m sure he wouldn’t. But if you or your partner DID want to and just didn’t like the taste, he’d point out that there are flavored condoms and dental dams. Dan is all about working things out.

  • Nothing Sacred

    Did you consider writing to him to discuss this? If you are sincere and polite, he usually responds in a similar fashion.

  • alice-paul

    Let me rephrase. I assume if I wrote Dan about this person, he would say DTMFA.
    But what if my ex had wrote him, saying that I gained 17 lbs and two dress sizes. I have a feeling Dan would say that it would be JUSTIFIABLE to break up with me for gaining weight, or perhaps give me some sort of a reprimand or ultimatum. Its this callous “permission” to do so that I find fucked up.

  • Pantheon

    I tried a flavored condom once– I was fine with it, but the guy said he couldn’t feel anything much through it. I’ve been considering trying something like whipped cream or frosting, but we haven’t really gotten around to it.

  • Pantheon

    Thanks for the compliment, then.

  • Pantheon

    Well, without asking him, I suspect Dan would say that 17 pounds is not much, that people should be healthy above all else, and that if he can’t deal with that he’s in the wrong. The answer still might be to break up, for both your benefit.
    I think Dan would generally say that if you gained, say, 150 pounds, it would be justifiable to break up with you over it.
    On the other hand, say there was someone who weighed more than was healthy for their body type, and someone fell for them like that. And then they lost, say, 50 pounds, to bring them down into a healthier range, and they felt better and could do physical activity and everything. Suppose their partner wanted them to gain 50 pounds again because they found that original size really arousing. I think Dan would tell them too that long term health is more important.
    But WITHIN a reasonably healthy range, Dan thinks you should make an effort to keep your body reasonably close to what your partner fell for and likes; whether that is skinny or curves or whatever.