Dav Savage has come out with a new podcast Hot Mic, a curated, hand-selected, show made up of sex-positive tell-all stories and interviews. Like his advice column and podcast, Savage Love, Hot Mic contains Dan's tough love interjections and moments of truth. I got a chance to talk about what made Dan Savage one of the 21st centuries leading sex positive writers.
What were the dinner conversations in your family? And what was that environment for you?
Well, my parents were both raised in homes where children were meant to be seen and not heard, and they wanted to do the opposite with their kids, so they encouraged us to think, and argue, and debate. Dinner was punctuated by not enough food because we were so poor. Sometimes you wouldn’t get fed if you didn’t win an argument. We were allowed to have opinions, and we had to defend those opinions. We didn’t get gold stars just for thinking thoughts.
Did these discussions ever include what we would now call sex positivity?
When we were teenagers, my parents felt that they needed to talk with us about sex, and that good parents could have an open dialogue with their children about sex, but it was hard for them. It made them uncomfortable. Them pretending that they were comfortable with it, and straining, made us really uncomfortable. More so then I think the standard-issue kid discomfort with parents talking with them about sex.
My parents talking to their kids about sex were like dogs trying to swim: They could do it, but really just barely. What planted the seed in me was my difference. The realization that when I was getting called a faggot when I was seven, and eight, and nine, and ten, and eleven, and twelve, and then realizing at twelve, “Oh yeah, everyone was right."
Who then did you see as people you could explore those topics with?
No one. It’s funny, there is that very famous Harvey Milk speech about the kid growing up in Iowa who realizes that they are gay and thinks that they have two options, the closet or suicide, and then they open a newspaper and read about this gay man who was elected to the city council in San Francisco, and suddenly they realized they have a third option, which is come to California. And I was literally that kid. I was twelve years old or thirteen years old when Harvey Milk got elected, and I read about it in the newspaper. So it is very emotional for me when I hear the tape of that speech. When I first heard that speech like a decade later, after being that kid at twelve that he was talking about, that was really shattering for me, and I really felt this connection. Even though I wasn’t the exact kid he was talking about, I was one of the kids he was talking about.
And the thing that was so crushing was the realization that you were gay, and your parents say they love you, and you look at them and you think, "No you don’t. Because I have heard what you’ve said about people like me. And you don’t know I am one of those people. But you will one day. Right now I cannot risk telling you, and right now when you say, 'I love you,' I don’t believe you."
The reason that I ask who you reached out to is that you seem to have a facility with people and how they talk about sex, not just how they think about sex, but how they have sex.
I was always just really curious about what other people experienced, and I think that it all comes back to being gay. Because when you are gay and out, you end up having very explicit conversations with your friends — about when you came out to your parents, the first time you realized it, all this shit. That stuck with me, and I became curious about other people’s sexualities and how they experienced them, so I would just ask. Because I am a nosy parker that way.
And sex is fascinating, and everybody’s got their shit. In college, in the early '80s, everyone confided in you if you were gay. You were everyone’s advice columnist, even if you weren’t officially an advice columnist. Because the straight kids thought, perhaps even correctly so, that you knew more about sex.
How did that lead to your term “monogam-ish"?
I was always more interested in what was practical than for what was ideal. How do you make this work? How do you make a relationship work? I was seeing so many relationships, from my vantage point of doing the column or the podcast, fail. And fail not because there was something wrong with the relationship, but because there was something wrong with our expectations. Or the culture’s expectations.
I would see a relationship fall apart because monogamy wasn’t working for one or two of the people in this couple, so [they] would have to kill the relationship. Not kill the monogamy, get rid of the relationship. Because monogamy is the ideal, not love, not a relationship, not a survival. And then the next thing out of their mouth would be, “All three of my marriages were monogamous." What that says is that you are not committed to the people that you marry, not any one of them, but to monogamy.
So a lot of my advice is just practical and commonsensical. With the power of a monogamous commitment comes the responsibility of being someone’s source of sexual fulfillment. And if you’re their source of sexual frustration, well, sex wins. In the end, you’re going to get cheated on. Sorry, sex wins. Sex always wins.
Many people claim your advice or commentary can be harsh or rude, but sometimes it is just practical, like, "People watch porn."
Often, the question you get when someone has a problem with their partner watching porn, the statement that they make about why it makes them feel terrible is, “It makes me feel like I am not enough for [my partner].” You are expecting to be enough for someone, and you aren’t enough for anybody. No one person is all things to another person sexually.
So when somebody says, “It makes me feel like I am not enough for him." My answer is always, “You aren’t. Get over it." And that’s okay. Of course, that’s okay. It has to be okay, because that’s the reality. Your relationships are more likely to survive if you are not at war with reality. Because you are in it [reality].
What help or advice have you been asked for from people who identify as feminists?
This is going to sound awful, but what leaps to mind is that so often what happens when someone invokes their feminism in a question to me — particularly when a young woman does it — it that so often their feminism and sexual desire are in conflict. They'll say, “I’m a feminist, but I want to have my hair pulled and my ass slapped, or be tossed around in bed. How do I reconcile my desires with my feminism?" Maybe you cannot. Maybe you shouldn’t bother trying. Maybe you can live with the paradox. Maybe the chasm between your politics and your sexuality is something that you can enjoy.
Wouldn’t it be worse if it were the reverse? That you were not a feminist and that your desires were completely vanilla.
A lot of sex is about transgression. We are all burdened with the self, and so a lot of our fantasies are about not being ourselves, or being the opposite of ourselves. That’s play. Play is healthy for children, and it is healthy for adults. It is just that often with adults, play gets mixed up with orgasms and sex. And then the sex sensitivity in the culture tells us that that is wrong.
You can be Wonder Woman one minute and the damsel in distress the next, and you’re not going to put yourself on the rack about it. The moment you put sex into it or politics about feminism, and misogyny, some people start to seize up. I think you don’t have to seize up. I think you can have both.
There is that cliche about the male CEO who goes to the dungeon and wants to have a female partner who rips him apart and tells him he is scum? Is he betraying his gender? [Laughs] His role? His masculinity? In a way, he is reaffirming it. I think that is often what is at play for people with strong feminist politics and sexual fantasies is that they need a moment to let go of their power, or to give it to someone else. Then, when you orgasm, and you climb out of bed, how much more aware and in control of your power are you going to feel?
Photo courtesy Hot Mic
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