From bestiality to butt plugs, nationally syndicated sex columnist and popular podcast host Dan Savage has heard it all. He’ll take on Boston’s queries when he drops by the Wilbur Theatre on Jan. 23 for Savage Love Live with Dan Savage, but first, we got him on the line to talk a little shop.
What can audiences expect from the show? They can expect to see me, at least once or twice, stumped. One of the tricks of the advice column racket is you only take questions that you have answers for; then you seem to have all the answers. You seem omniscient. But when you take them live, you will be asked a question, invariably, that you can’t answer, and you’ll be exposed as the fraud you are.
What’s a question that stumped you? I got a question on the podcast from a woman whose clitoris suddenly, after years of service, went numb in a way she didn’t understand; her gynecologist had been kind of blase about it and blew her off. So she came to me about it, as if I’m a gynecologist or I would know…. A lot of those people are hoping I’ll then turn to experts, people who will take my calls who wouldn’t take a call from a civilian.
I wonder what the problem was — overuse? [Laughs.] It’s funny, people do often ask that. Can you overuse your genitals? You can blow out a muscle, if you hit it too hard at the gym, but generally we regard using our body parts for their intended purposes, and others—like, we were never intended to snowboard, but we do—as good for those body parts. A certain strain of sex negativity informs this attitude that oh, if you masturbate too much or have sex too much you’re going to break your junk. And it’s really, really difficult to break your junk. I mean, you have to know when to say when, but through routine use it’s only going to get stronger and better. You’re not going to wear it out.
That said, is there any sexual position or toy that you would not recommend using? [Laughs.] Um, that’s a personal and subjective question. There are certain things that I would not want to do, or used on me, including the clitoris, that other people enjoy very much. I have friends who have done sounding, which is when you insert a metal rod into a man’s urethra, and that is an act that freaks people out, when they see pictures or read about it. But people I know who have done it say it’s actually a very pleasurable sensation; it’s not like having a jagged piece of glass shoved up your penis. But it’s not something I would necessarily want to experience.
Most memorable moment? I was recording an interview with a man who’d married his horse…. I think to ask whether he’d married a boy horse or a girl horse, because that had never been clarified. You could hear him over the phone just draw himself up in outrage. There was this long pause before he spat out, “I am not a homosexual!” As if the worst thing I could imply about his horse marriage was that there might be something gay about it.
How does one become a sexpert? By accident. I met somebody who was about to start a newspaper, and I said “Oh, have an advice column, because everybody reads those.” And he said “Excellent advice. Why don’t you write it?” I was terrible at it at first; it was going to be a joke at first. I was just going to be a gay guy giving sex advice to straight people in a straight newspaper. The joke was that I was going to treat straight people and straight sex with the same contempt and revulsion that mainstream sex advice columnists had always treated gay sex with. I was going to go “Ew, yuck, must you? Oh, the terrible, disgusting, sad, heterosexual lifestyle. You must break your mom’s heart every day. But here’s some advice.” And the column just took off. Straight people weren’t used to being treated that way, and it was a new and novel experience for them. And they loved it. … So the only qualification you need to give advice is that somebody asks you. But there’s so much I’ve learned writing an advice column that I would have never had to track down or think about, like where the clitoris is. Returning to the clitoris for a moment! The first time I mentioned it in the column, many years ago, I put it in the wrong place! [Laughs.] I literally didn’t know where it was. Isn’t it on the soft palate? That’s where mine is!
So, do you feel that, at this point, it’s sort of impossible to shock you? You know, it used to be someone would ask me about a sex act I’d never heard of and I’d be totally shocked. But I don’t get those questions anymore. You know, before Google, before the Internet, before Wiki, I regularly got questions like “What’s a butt plug?” And now butt plugs have a Wiki page so I don’t have to explain them. What I’m constantly shocked by is people’s stupidity, and their cruelty, and their self-serving presumptions. People will write me letters about what’s going wrong in their lives and the terrible things being done to them, and they’re clearly the wrong party—not the wronged party. And that always amazes and shocks me.
Oh yeah, absolutely. [Laughs.] That’s half the fun, getting that letter. You’re like, oh sweet, I can set down the laptop and pick up the baseball bat and let this person have some advice.
Speaking of odd sex acts, I’m currently in a debate with some friends—have you ever heard of soaking? Soaking? I don’t know. What is it? Educate me!
It’s apparently something common among Mormon teenagers, to avoid angering God. The guy inserts his penis into the girl and then they just lay there motionless—no thrusting allowed. Oh my God. I would file this under “I didn’t know this. And it’s depressing.”
[Laughs.] Until you realize you want to come out of the closet officially. You know, it’s just more evidence of the kind of weird workaround that horny young people will create in the presence of anti-sex religious dogma, that allows them to be sexual with a Get Out of Hell Free card attached. Like all those Christian teenagers who, after abstinence education exploded, were having anal sex. Because anal wasn’t mentioned in their terrible sex ed classes, so it didn’t count as sex or losing their virginity. So that [soaking] is like that. Like God says we can’t fuck, but if I just put it in you and I don’t move and I don’t come, we didn’t fuck!
No, I’m not a quitter, not like Emily Yoffe, the recently retired Dear Prudence. [Laughs.] It’s a really wonderful and sweet gig. And like Ann Landers, it will have to be pried out of my cold, dead hands some day.