Dan Savage Is Coming For—For! Not On!—Your Children!
by Dan Savage
on Wed, Apr 6, 2011 at 12:48 PM
Maggie Gallagher, head of the National Organization for Marriage, isn't pleased about my upcoming show on MTV:
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.... Savage, who for all his experience, does not know what women are like, advises [one recent correspondent] to tell [his girlfriend] openly and honestly what he wants, because otherwise the young man will just cheat on her.... 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.
Gallagher, who once had a child out of wedlock, speaks for the fidelity-over-anything-else crowd (fidelity over reality, statistics, biology, ability, etc.). Now some people are capable of abstaining before marriage and being faithful to one partner for life—some people, but not Maggie—but these people represent a tiny minority of all sexually active adults. And while those who make this aberrant lifestyle choice should not be discriminated against, the rest of us—the majority of all sexually active adults—should be free to engage in grownup conversations about sex and desire and the reality-friendly ways in which we define and practice fidelity without being shouted down by the monogamously correct. Fidelity, after all, can mean so much more than just "you never get to see anyone else naked ever again."
Moving on to some of Maggie's specific objections...
I do not intend to "educate your college students," Maggie. Your college students—the offspring of NOM supporters—are being "educated" at Brigham Young, Liberty University, Bob Jones, Seattle Pacific University, and other Christianist madrassas. My college tours typically take me to secular institutions of higher learning where the kids were hooking up and having sex long before my visit to campus.
I know what women are like. I may not know what women taste like—I've never gone down on one—but I do know what women are like. My mother was a woman, my sister is a woman, my aunts are women, my favorite bartender is a woman, lots of my friends, neighbors, and coworkers are women. And as someone who sleeps with men and is a long-term relationship with a man, I know what (straight) women have to put up with. I'm not the first gay man that women have turned to for advice about love and sex, Maggie, and I won't be the last. And aren't you a practicing Catholic? Not knowing what women are like (or taste like) has never stopped the Pope from offering his unsolicited advice to women—no birth control, no abortions, no oral, no anal, no handjobs—and it's hypocritical of you to suggest that I'm not qualified to advise women, since I won't fuck 'em, without first telling that old fag in Rome to STFU already.
The possibility of taming one's sexual desire for the sake of another most definitely exists within the Savage moral imagination. I frequently discuss the "price of admission," that is, the personal sacrifices, small and large, that make long-term relationships possible. For some the price of admission—what it costs to ride a particular ride—includes "taming one's sexual desire for the sake of another." If anal sex is something you enjoy but you're in love with someone who doesn't do anal, then going without anal is the price of admission. If you're not into monogamy but you're in love with someone who insists on it, then monogamy is the price of admission. Settling down requires settling for, as I've said time and again, and on the sexual front many of us settle for less because we regard our partners are worth the price of admission.
Yes, libido will have out—but "libido will have out" doesn't translate into "Savage says anything and everything goes." Two people in a long-term, committed, loving relationship should be able to open and honest with each other about their sexual interests, turnons, drives, etc., because, yes, libido will have out. Meaning sexual compatibility and sexual satisfaction have a huge impact on the health of our relationships and marriages, Maggie, particularly if your spouse is your sole source of sexual satisfaction and release. People who are open and honest with their partners about their sexual interests—whether the relationship is monogamous or not—are likelier to have their needs met and likelier to meet their partners' needs. And when needs are being met, people are happy, people are less likely to cheat, people are likelier to stay married, children don't wind up being shunted from mom's house to dad's house every other week. (Think of the children, Maggie!)
Openness and honesty don't automatically translate into everyone gets everything everyone wants. Not all needs can be met. But sometimes just having the sacrifices we've made for the good of our marriages acknowledged, getting a receipt after paying the price of admission, is enough. To be given credit for, say, going without anal—along with the green light to jerk off to anal porn now and then—can make going without anal easier. Indeed, it can make going without anal virtuous, something that speaks well to the going-without-anal partner's character and priorities.
But there are times when monogamy—its pressures, discontents, and unquestioned acceptance—can destroy an otherwise decent marriage. Some of these marriages could be saved if both partners were encouraged to come to a reasonable, mutually-agreeable accommodation. Only those who are obsessed with sex to an unhealthy degree place a higher value preserving monogamy within a particular marriage over saving that particular marriage itself. (Think of the children, Maggie!)
These are my sexual ethics and I don't think there's anything particularly gay about them. Openness and honesty and realism, along with a willingness to make sacrifices and accommodations, all work just as well in straight relationships as they do in gay ones.