Dan Savage: ‘When politicians leave sex alone, I’ll leave politics alone’

Dan Savage is the world’s most influential sex columnist, who regularly offends both conservatives and liberals with his radical views. On the 30th anniversary of his column he tells Eva Wiseman how, for all the controversy, what he’s really interested in is how to make long-term relationships work

Dan Savage is not easily shocked, but recently, well. A few weeks ago he got a letter. A 24-year-old man wanted advice – he’d taken his partner, bisexual, older, to meet his parents for what both thought would be the first time. Except, it turned out he’d met them a decade earlier, when he’d joined them for a threesome. On Zoom from Seattle, Savage chuckles darkly and adjusts his cap. “I was like, oh God,” he says. “It’s all my fault! I felt implicated. Because I helped create a world where middle-aged, married, straight couples can have threeways.” He shrugs. He’s right.

His advice column started as a joke; soon it cracked open, and revealed a map to new ways of living. When Savage Love launched 30 years ago in Seattle’s alternative weekly newspaper The Stranger, the idea was that a gay man – Savage, then 26 and working in a video shop – would give sex advice to straight people. “Hey Faggot!” each letter began. Early questions were easy. “Things like, what’s a butt plug? How do you give a good blowjob?” Straight people had always intuited that their gay friends knew more about sex than they did, “which is true, not because gay people are magic, but because we have to communicate about sex. Straight people get to consent and then… stop talking.” “Use your words!” he tells straights today, often. With the 1990s came the internet, and suddenly most of the answers were immediately Googlable. But the letters kept on coming. “Right away, it was no longer a ‘how to’ column but a ‘why?’ Why did they do that? Why did I do this? And what happens now?”

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