Mentor Series #1: Dan Savage & the Savage Love Podcast

If Reconciling Feminism & Sadism is something that comes up for you a lot, I’m going to give you a bit of homework: Go listen to the Savage Love Podcast.

You probably know Dan Savage’s advice column, Savage Love—it’s printed in alt-weekly newspapers around the country. The podcast is an upgrade, in my opinion, where people call in their questions and Dan records his answers, sometimes calling back to discuss the quandary personally. I’ve been reading Savage Love since I moved to Seattle in 1999, but when I started listening to the podcast my interest and understanding of Dan’s philosophies jumped exponentially.

I’ll admit, I don’t really listen to podcasts. I subscribe to a couple dozen of them in iTunes but I can’t make time to listen to most of them. But I really love listening to Savage Love. I usually put it on the computer while I’m making brunch on Saturday or Sunday morning, pausing here and there to discuss the question with Kristen (or whoever happens to be over, but it’s usually Kristen) before Dan gives his answer. I make time for this one because it’s useful, stimulating, and interesting. I always learn things, even if I get annoyed at Dan’s harsh feedback or at his occasional asshole statements.

Speaking of that. Some of you who have already read some of Savage’s work, or listened to this podcast, or just read about him, know that sometimes he can be really abrasive. Sometimes to the point of being phobic, in fact: he’s been deeply criticized for being size-phobic, using the word “retarded” (which he still does), and occasionally bordering on sexist around women’s bodies. He does that gay male ick factor thing, so sometimes conversations about things like not-good-smelling vaginas freaks him out and he says stupid shit.

Here’s what I have to say about that: I totally agree. Sometimes there are whole podcasts where I’m just shaking my head, saying, “ugh. Daaaan. Really?” I don’t agree with everything he says. Hell, I don’t agree with everything anybody says. And I don’t expect you to agree with everything he says. I do expect you to be critical of him in moments when he is fat-phobic or sexist. But that doesn’t mean that the other 90+% of the time is not useful—it is. His philosophies of sovereignty, relationships, sex, BDSM, kink, negotiation, fetishes, long-term relationships, poly, open relationships, kids, religion, politics, and all sorts of other things are very useful.

So what I’m saying is, even if you disagree with lots of what he says (and I expect you will), there is much to learn from this podcast. I credit it up there very highly with The Topping Book, The Bottoming Book, Tristan Taormino, and Babeland for my background in kinky sex education.

And hey, Savage Love has a new iPhone app! Which I’ve downloaded and it’s pretty awesome. It’s all of his best columns, indexed by topic, plus the podcasts, and you can submit questions directly from the app. No, this is not a paid advertisement, this is just me going off in praise of something that I really support, and that has really changed the way I relate to sex and sexuality and relationships, and something I highly recommend for everyone.

Try it out, listen to a few of the past podcasts and see if you like what he’s got to say. Look beyond your annoyance (if you are one of the ones who gets really annoyed at his methods or his occasional asshole statements), and see the value, the kink-positivity that he encourages.

Read up at and check out the podcast, or the app, if that’s appealing. Hope you like it.

UPDATE: A couple commenters have mentioned what Dan Savage said after Proposition 8 passed in California, where he basically blamed black voters for the passing, which was racist and basically unforgivable. I can’t believe he hasn’t apologized for that yet. I do not agree with what he said there and he definitely lost some of my respect. Most of what he addresses in his podcast are issues around sex, sexuality, kink, and relationships, and his advice, as I said, is often really good, and I’ve learned a lot from him. I don’t know at what point these kinds of ignorant, racist, occasionally sexist comments will or should become a dealbreaker, but as long as I am still learning about sex and sex advice, I’m interested in learning from him. I do not listen without criticism, and I do not agree with everything he says. I hope you’ll put on a critical ear too.

Published by Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is "the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queers" (AfterEllen), who "is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places" (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and they are the current editor of the Best Lesbian Erotica series. They identify as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor, and an introvert, and they live outside Seattle as an uninvited settler on traditional, ancestral, & unceded Snoqualmie land.

7 thoughts on “Mentor Series #1: Dan Savage & the Savage Love Podcast”

  1. Gold says:

    Savage is totally hilarious, clever, sensitive, and great at giving sex and relationship advice. Except when he's giving it to, say, lesbians or transmen. He's been making strides toward the latter lately, hosting Buck Angel on his podcast a few weeks ago and doing guest advice for his most recent column. As for lesbians… I just remember he the one time he told the lesbian who had a question over her bisexual girlfriend's desire to be fucked with a strap-on to stop dating her and date "a real lesbian." I'm not even bi, but it still struck me as ridiculous. And the "split canned ham" comment… Oh, Dan.

    That said, I've been reading his column since I was way to young to know what the hell he was talking about, and he's definitely been a positive force in the world. I wish I could find an equivalent to him who didn't suck at giving dyke-related advice. You should start an advice column, Sin :P

    By the way, if you like his podcast, look up the episode(s?) he was a contributor to This American Life. The one I'm thinking of was called Return to the Scene of the Crime. His vignette was about his relationship with the Catholic Church during and after his mom's passing. It wasn't about sex, really, but he's good at telling stories and it's worth a listen.

    1. Sinclair says:

      So agree with you about lesbians & trans men, but I also do think he gets better. And he's not bad with *all* his advice to lesbians or trans folks, it's just sometimes he gets it really, really wrong. I don't remember that "real lesbian" thing over a strap on, though just last week a (self-identified) lesbian called up saying she got out the strap on and wanted her lover to suck it and did that mean she was trans? I thought Dan handled that pretty well (short answer: no, probably not, unless you are trans).

      I have done a little teeeeeny bit of advice here … not sure I could keep it up regularly though! It's a lot of work. Though I appreciate the vote of confidence!

      I haven't heard him on TAL, will look that up, thanks for the recommendation!

  2. While I enjoyed Dan Savage's columns for a long time, I lost a lot of respect for him for his column after Prop 8 passed in which he essentially blamed black voters. I just can't be behind that. And he refused to back down from it or apologize. I just find it too hard to have a "that said" kind of attitude about it. (E.g., "That said, I do really think he has great advice," etc.) I wish I could get past it because I do think he says some pretty great stuff. I wish there were someone doing what he does who were less of an asshole and more humble, more open to being wrong and learning something occasionally!

    None of this is to say you shouldn't recommend Dan Savage!

    1. Sinclair says:

      Yes, I remember that certainly. He was way out of line and I really disagreed with him, and I'm still baffled that he hasn't apologized. I guess I do have that ability to get past it—with a very critical ear—and appreciate the stuff he does that *is* good, even if on occasion he is so wrong.

  3. SigRed says:

    For queer people of color it's hard to take the attitude of, Oh well even if he said racist shit after Prop 8 he's really good with the sex stuff. That's white privilege at work, to either not be aware of the racist shit he said after Prop 8 passed or to be so blase about it.

    1. Sinclair says:

      I'm definitely not being blase about it, and I am aware of what he did. But I still think much of his work around sex, sexuality, & kink is valuable.

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