Editor’s Note: This article contains explicit language. Reader discretion is advised.
This past Friday, students and community members gathered for a question and answer session hosted by Dan Savage, an author, columnist, and activist for the LGBTQ community who is widely known for his shameless approach to talking about sex. Upon entering the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, each audience member received a pencil and a small slip of paper that prompted a question about sex or relationships. A few minutes after the slips were collected, Savage entered the stage and spent the next two hours answering as many of them as he could.
Within the first few questions, Savage had already touched on his “big sweaty gay agenda,” the state of LGBTQ rights under Donald Trump, and his campaign ITMFA, where he implored the audience to “impeach the motherfucker already” by donating to organizations like Planned Parenthood through the purchase of ITMFA apparel. He also spoke on the controversy surrounding transgender women using their respective public restrooms, stating that it was the “same bullshit in a brand new package” that the gay male community experienced 40 years ago. He did note, however, that the way the media approaches these issues has progressed. They now talk to the people involved in the controversy, rather than just about them, and this largely affects the timeline of such issues. When the public can put a face, personality, and life to a subject that may be foreign to them, it makes room for compassion.
Throughout the session, Savage returned to the subject of monogamy numerous times. It was initially brought up by a question from an audience member that noticed her boyfriend looking at other women. In response to this particular question, Savage stated that, in a monogamous relationship, “you will still want to fuck other people,” and that this doesn’t invalidate the feelings involved. It is about the commitment, the willingness to abstain from such urges out of respect for the other person. The relationship between two people is more important than the preservation of monogamy. Savage shared that he views monogamy as a societal construct, citing one theory that claimed this can be seen through the differences between the male and female orgasm. This theory makes women out to be less monogamous, referencing their ability to orgasm multiple times and their copulatory vocalizations that serve to let other males in the area know that while a woman is “having sex with this male right now, he will [orgasm and] be asleep soon.”
Savage also touched on one-night stands, polyamorous relationships, and the NoFap movement, referring to the latter as a “huge chastity fetish roleplay.” He also dispelled what he called the “funeral home guarantee” while elaborating on the qualities of a successful long-term relationship. A relationship should not be deemed successful when one partner dies, but rather when the relationship ends and everyone involved can look back on it fondly and acknowledge the growth that arose from it. In his advice for successful relationships, he emphasized prioritizing sex early, and not taking each other for granted or making monogamy a default setting. Savage urged the audience to find a different definition of success that focus more on joy, connection, growth, and positive change rather than length.
In response to one audience member’s question regarding why people have sex even when it isn’t pleasurable, Savage attributed this to poor sex education. He elaborated on this topic more when asked about its potential for progress, and his view was not nearly as optimistic. In today’s political climate, he regards its preservation as a political fight. Sex education is now, more than ever, in the hands of parents and it is their responsibility to cover the kind of sex that people are actually having. Nobody teaches children that sex is about pleasure, intimacy, connection, and release. Schools teach terror and biology, and this simply is not practical. It’s the reason that girls have sex even when it hurts and that so many couples do not know how to communicate about their desires and discomforts in a healthy way.
To hear more of Dan Savage’s insights into sex and relationships, his weekly column “Savage Love” is available online at https://poly.rpi.edu/s/8eud2.