Dan Savage Educates Your Children?


Renowned sex columnist Dan Savage, who is an openly gay man, will be taking his popular sex and relationship advice column to MTV in a show appropriately called "Savage U" where he intends to educate your college student about the importance of honesty over just about anything else, including fidelity.

He is of course the author of the "It Gets Better" campaign, which I liked as being (unlike most responses) apparently clearly targeted to the problem of gay teen suicides, and not using them for some other purposes.

There was a thoughtful analysis of his sexual ethics in the Washington Monthly recently, for folks who want to get a taste of what he writes.

The essay, by a Lutheran Minister, ends by pointing out where Savage ethics lead. A young man, in love with his girlfriend, with whom he has had a rather open and satisfying sexual relationship, but is tempted by more "sexual variety" asks how he can ask for that without ruining his relationship, which he values.

Savage, who for all his experience, does not know what women are like, advises him to tell her openly and honestly what he wants, because otherwise the young man will just cheat on her.

The Lutheran minister, wiser in the ways of men and women, suggests that this young man is going to get pretty lonely looking for another woman able to give him all this young woman does--and who doesn't mind his playing around on the side.

The possibility of taming one's sexual desire for the sake of another, or of a vow, is not in the Savage moral imagination. Libido will have out, and honesty about that is the best policy.

He brings, in other words, the best of gay sexual ethics and experience to a straight audience, with potentially disastrous results.


  1. JT1962
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    So you, Maggie, think that all straight couples value virtue over honesty? You think that every straight woman in the United States would rather have him frustrated with his situation rather than telling her what he honestly feels? No one said, not even Dan Savage, that she would put up with his wants but the truth is, most women would rather hear the truth than to have him lie and say all is fine and then find out that he's been cheating on her. It may not end up great for either party but the truth is the best in this case. I'm sorry that you can't see past his being gay to the fact the he's advocating honesty!

  2. Marty
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Yes JT. Some people actually advocate resisting their baser instincts, whole others (Savage) embrace them in open honesty.

    Swingers clubs are easy to find, if you're into that sort of thing.

  3. Dwane
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    I have to disagree with you on the Maggie. I believ honesty ion this area is crucial - to many peole get married to the incompatiple person - one reason why there is such a large divorce rate in the country.

    Whille we all have various sexual moral and beliefs of what is acceptable, that does not mean it is universally accepted.

    When you have people who are habitual adulterers - on the donw low is that mroe acceptabel than being honest up front with the person yuou are in a relationship with -- male or female.

  4. Soo
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    I'd like to believe that a significant majority of couples who have different sex drives/sexual interests don't end up cheating on each other or otherwise disparaging each other because of the vows they take, but I don't think that's the case. I don't agree with many things Savage says, but I'm a woman and I think he's right on the money in terms of being upfront and honest about sexual compatibility if you have any hope of a relationship lasting. Sex certainly isn't everything in a relationship, but it can easily be a deal breaker if there are issues and a couple refuses to discuss it or compromise.

  5. Dwane
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    I honestly would prefer Dan Savage educating my children when it comes to sex vs the abstience programs that are being pushed.

    I beleiev it is really the responsibility of the parents to properly educate thier children. Which unfortunately doesnt happen.

    This belief that a womans virginity is any more or less valuablel than a boys if a farce.

    Or that women are not as sexually interested as men.

  6. Leslie
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    While this may not be a welcome revelation to many typical, straight women (myself included), I'd rather know the truth than find out I'm being cheated on. Believe me. I found this out the hard way.

    Honesty isn't always easy, but it's absolutely essential. Just because the guy tells his girlfriend what he's really feeling (which, I thought, was kind of the point of relationships in the first place) doesn't mean they need to act on something they can't compromise on. Honesty is ALWAYS the best policy. If they can't reach a mutually agreeable solution, they can just go their separate ways. The guy will be free to find a girl who's just as into sexual variety as he is (hey, they're out there) and the girl will be free to find a man who prefers mutual monogamy.

    It's not the easiest solution in practice, I know. But, unlike you guys, the self-appointed moral police of the universe, most of us, straight and gay, would rather make a painful choice than live a lie. Imagine that.

  7. Mike Brooks
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    I don't have a problem with honesty. The real issue is why is the young man in the example interested in "sexual variety?" And the reason is because of Savage and his ilk.

    Most concerning is that but for guys like Savage speaking about sexual partners like flavors of ice cream, many men like the young man with the girlfriend would be happy with the sex in their opposite sex relationships. This is how homosexuality is learned; this is where straight men become converted (imagine how vulnerable adolescents are), and this is why the "I was born this way" is but a myth propagated to elicit sympathy for immoral, disordered sexual behavior.

    Homosexuality can be taught; homosexual "marriage" leads to teaching homosexualty to children. Parents should be very concerned.

  8. Posted April 5, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    This is right in line of teaching this to children. They are going for the children.

  9. smp
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    From the article which you linked to:

    In ways that his frequent interlocutors on the Christian right wouldn’t expect, Savage has probably done more to uphold conventional families than many counselors who are unwilling to engage so frankly with modern sexual mores. “A successful marriage is basically an endless cycle of wrongs committed, apologies offered, and forgiveness granted,” he advised one very uptight spouse, “all leavened by the occasional orgasm.”

  10. Maggie Gallagher
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Leslie (and others) thanks for commenting:

    Do you really think there are only two alternatives: ask for permission to cheat or cheat in these situations?

    We all have only our own experiences, but it makes me sad to think many younger women think this way. Or older women!

    I think its very very common for men who love their wives to still be sexually attracted to other women. Asking for permission to act on those feelings is likely to destroy as many relationships as actually acting on them.

  11. Barb
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Since we're so concerned about "honesty," let me honestly say that what we're talking about here is sex addiction. The addict will pursue his (or her) addiction to the exclusion of all else. It becomes their God. The alcoholic, for example, may be "honest" about his affliction, yet continue the behavior until he destroys himself and everyone around him. That's a twisted version of "honesty," and it's the same "honesty" Mr. Savage espouses.

    Some seem to believe that the human being is little more than a different species of monkey. And nobody expects a monkey to curb its appetite. It wants what it wants now. Others of us believe the human being is much more than that, and that our energies, sexual and otherwise, can be channeled in productive ways.

    There are those who will put up with behaviors from their spouse in hopes of holding on to the relationship (good luck with that). There are others who will leave. Still others won't have a problem with the behavior.

    Many of us still believe in monogamy. We wish to instill in our children the idea that it's a good way to live. They will, of course, ultimately make the choice for themselves. Mr. Savage's brand of "honesty" is well-suited to the pulp in which it appears, but it's not ready for prime time, and it's certainly inappropriate for young people.

  12. Marty
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    Every guy I know has these fantasies -- gay or straight -- so let's be "honest" about it ladies? C'mon!

    Men are pigs. Women civilize us.... or not.

    [Honestly, I can't believe I'm sitting here commenting on advice from Perez Savage. ]

  13. Leslie
    Posted April 6, 2011 at 12:50 am | Permalink


    While Dan Savage is pretty much the go-to sex blogger for my age group (mid-twenties), we don't all subscribe to everything he says. As with anything else in life, I take what I like and leave the rest. And, I think Dan is quite a fantastic human being. He cares a great deal about people - as demonstrated by the "It Gets Better" campaign - and he espouses the belief that women have just as much a right to their needs being met in a relationship as men do.

    For me, mutual monogamy is a need. And so is honesty. In a relationship with trust and shared values, the two are not at all mutually exclusive. For that matter, neither are the ideas of social liberalism and a kind of private conservatism in one's own personal life. By that, I mean that I believe in equal marriage and the freedom of consenting adults to do what they want. In my own life, though, I have the somewhat conservative view of sex being reserved for only a man I love, in the context of a committed relationship. Such a belief really is possible. And, it's held by plenty of 20something social liberals (my wonderful boyfriend included). And, for that matter, plenty of same-sex couples, as well.

    Dan Savage reflects a generation of shifting cultural mores and an increased focus on honesty in relationships. But, this is a good thing. Those who want to venture into swinging can feel free to do so with partners who share that desire. Those who love monogamy, conservative and liberal, gay and straight, will carry on as usual. Everybody wins.

  14. TC Matthews
    Posted April 6, 2011 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    If they went into marriage not intending to have a monogamous relationship, they went into it falsely. You should never have to ask, or be asked, whether you want to be monogamous. The end of that discussion came with "I Do."

  15. Maggie Gallagher
    Posted April 6, 2011 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    Leslie, it may surprise you to know I've actually been reading Dan Savage since I was a young woman in my thirties, off and on--he's roughly my age. (Actually my little sister's age).

    He's quite a good writer, and of course nobody takes advice columnists advice wholesale.

    His basic sensibility is that you can do whatever you want --that satisfying your libido is almost a self-duty--but you have a serious responsibility to be honest about it with other people.

    The latter is what makes it a sexual ethic, the former is what makes it an inadequate one.

  16. Ben
    Posted April 6, 2011 at 1:27 am | Permalink

    Maggie, "ask for permission to cheat" makes no sense. "Cheating" requires deceit, the antithesis of communication. Often both men and women desire sexual variety, my marriage is based on honesty and communication.

  17. Mike Brooks
    Posted April 6, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    The kind of honesty presented by Savage is the guilt-relieving sort; it has nothing to do with the feelings of the partner; it's all about the one seeking self gratification trying to get permission to do that which he promised he would forego, and an excuse to account for his bad act if he should act without that permission granted.

    While seeking permission, he simultaneously degrades and insults his partner, implying that she alone is not good enough (nothwithstanding all of the monogamous relationships where one partner is good enough).

    If you want to cheat in an unmarried relationship, then just leave; that's the truly honest thing to do. Then see if you'll be taken back, if she is indeed available for you to be taken back. If you're married, stick to your vows. Geez, what a self-centered bunch of drivel this Savage guy offers.

    Great comment, Barb, btw!

  18. Tony
    Posted April 6, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Hi Maggie,

    I mostly agree with your synopsis of Savage's sexual ethic: "you can do whatever you want, but you have a serious responsibility to be honest about it with other people." I would add an additional requirement of "consenting adults" as well; I don't think Savage would say you can do what you want with children or with the unwilling. But beyond that, he would say that anything goes.

    I suppose I don't see a problem with that, as long as the "complete honesty" is scrupulously upheld. There's a relationship "free market," if you will, and a guy who is honest about his want to sleep with lots of other women is going to have a difficult time finding women who are OK with that. Eventually he'll either get lucky and find one of the rare swinging gals, or he'll settle down with a monogamous gal. So long as he's completely honest with everyone involved, I don't see how either outcome hurts anyone.

    Now I might argue that the swinger dude should grow up rather than try to sleep with lots of women-- but the fact is that I feel very uncomfortable telling other people how they should prioritize their lives. Having multiple concurrent sexual partners is not a strong drive for me, so it's easy for me to say swinger-dude should grow up. But maybe it really is a strong, overriding force in swinger-dude's brain. I don't know how his brain chemistry works or what it's like to be him. Maybe pursuing the "swinging dream" really is a worthwhile use of his time. So long as he isn't hurting people-- that is, so long as he's continually honest-- I can't see a good basis for interfering.

    I'll also add that as between being cheated on during a relationship and being told at the inception of the relationship that I will be "cheated" on, I would much prefer the latter. It's better to not even get involved with a cheater than realize after several years of intimacy that you ended up with a cheater. Sadly, that knowledge comes from personal experience.

  19. Wow
    Posted April 6, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    It is no surprise that only Mike Brooks seems to have bought into Ms. Gallagher's foolish article. Even a person deluded enough to believe in god can see that religion offers nothing in the way of sexual education except idealism. Which is why more and more people pay attention to honest individuals like Savage rather than child molesters who practice Roman voodoo.

  20. Lefty
    Posted April 6, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Regarding honesty, like William Blake said,

    "A truth told with bad intent
    Beats all the lies you can invent"

    Even if your words are factually correct, you're only as honest as your intentions. If your intentions are selfish, possibly harmful to the happiness of the person you're supposed to cherish, then you may indeed be truthfully stating a fact when you tell her that you want to swing. But stating a fact in hopes of getting what you want guilt-free doesn't make you an honest person. There's more to honesty than that.

  21. Mike Brooks
    Posted April 6, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    Wow -

    This isn't about religion. It's about commitment, honesty, and selfelssness. Or, rather, it's about the selfish desire to break a commitment, a self-serving request for permission to break a commitment under the guise of "honesty," and pure self gratification.

    The honesty aspect in this scenario came into play when the guy formed the relationship with the woman, implying that he would remain monagamous. He has the capacity to remain honest by honoring that commitment but he chooses, in essence, to ask for permission to be dishonest, to break his initial promise.

    Nothing religious in that analysis at all.

  22. Ben
    Posted April 6, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    People don't seem to be considering what the young lady in this story wants; lot of folks are jumping wildly to conclusions, but we don't actually know what she wants because no one has actually *asked* yet! Monogamy may be important to her, maybe not, or maybe she's feeling trapped and would like some latitude but has been afraid to be honest herself. No one knows without the open communication Savage recommended.

  23. Sean
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    And what exactly are "gay sexual ethics" Maggie?

    Are you honestly trying to insinuate that gay people are, by their very nature, more promiscuous/self-serving/indiscriminate in their sexual practices?

    I'm so incredibly tired of you trying paint this martyred image of yourself as someone who merely wants to preserve a sacred institution, because it's off-hand comments like these that seek to do more than merely "protect marriage", they actively demonize gay people everywhere.

    Case in point: Is Dan Savage actively advocating we all have wild, indiscriminate, sex at the slightest impulse? No, he's encouraging honesty between two people in a relationship so that they can work together to solving the problem without sacrificing their love and commitment.

    Is Savage saying we should all drop trou and become swingers? No, he's saying that if you find yourself significantly unsatisfied in a relationship you should try and work through it with your partner in an open manner.

    Of course, Dan Savage is a homosessual, so one must therefore assume the most heinous, sexually vile motives are afoot, am I right?

  24. Maggie Gallagher
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 2:29 am | Permalink

    Tony, thanks for your comments. I think they are really honest and provide honest engagement.

    The "controlled choice" you present is a reality for millions "to be cheated on, or to be told in advance your are likely to be cheated on."

    There's another point of view: that this controlled choice is a limitation of options, stemming from a dysfunction in our sexual culture.

    To other commenters on religions--I'm really struck by how often I don't mention religions but you hear relgiion.

    it's not that I' object to religiosn argument--I don't. But I can recognize the difference between an argument that appeals to what God wants . . . and argument that's about how human beings are like.

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