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Dan Savage brings sex and dating advice to MTV

By Sandy Cohen
AP Entertainment Writer / April 2, 2012
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LOS ANGELES—Dan Savage first brought his frank and often funny brand of sex and relationship advice to Seattle's alternative newspaper in 1991. Now he's bringing it to MTV.

The 47-year-old columnist, podcaster and pundit answers questions from college students around the country on "Savage U," which premieres Tuesday. Each 30-minute episode is set at a different university, and students determine the topics discussed.

Though Savage famously feuded with Sen. Rick Santorum in 2003 and remains outspoken about issues related to sexuality and reproductive rights, politics aren't a part of the new show.

The author of the syndicated weekly column "Savage Love" and the co-creator of the It Gets Better project, Savage took a break from advice-giving to dish about his new show and Santorum's bid for the Republican nomination.

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AP: What inspired your move to TV?

Savage: TV across the board has a really kind of schizophrenic take on sex. Crazy, impulsive, what I would regard as risk-taking sexual behaviors are presented as kind of normative and not anything you need to worry about, but then whenever sex advice is given or sexual problems are discussed, the attitude is well any risk is too much risk, and you should never do anything that's impulsive or risky or dangerous because you will die. Sex will kill you. What Savage Love has always done is found a happy medium where you mitigate for risks, you do what you can to minimize them, but for personal fulfillment, you've kind of got to do the things you want to do... That's the conversation I wanted to bring to TV about sex -- the conversation we've been having in my column for 20 years about sex: Cognizant of the risks, aware of the dangers but celebrating what's so fun and affirming and awesome about it.

AP: What changes have you seen in the 20 years you've been writing your column?

Savage: Back a million years ago when I was writing my column, there was no Internet, so I got a lot of questions that I called referrals. People just wanted to know where Planned Parenthood was or where the BDSM group in their town was and they couldn't find that info because there was no Google.... Now a lot of the questions these days are sort of situational ethics: This is the circumstance, this is what I did, this is what was done to me, what's the right thing to do? I feel more like an ethicist now than a sex columnist, because I don't have to explain the particulars of any sex act usually, because that info's out there and really instantly and easily accessible.

Another difference is I was writing the column for 10 years before abstinence education came along, and 10 years after. And I saw the general average sexual IQ among the young people who were writing me drop and drop and drop and drop. And it was shocking to behold... At the same time they were getting abstinence education -- which didn't include any information about sexual identity or responsibility or birth control -- they were being told that being curious about sex meant they were bad people.

AP: What's happening with the It Gets Better series?

Savage: We plow ahead with the video project. We've created this online resource, this library of advice, coping mechanisms, strategies, perspective for young LGBT people that they can access anytime. We're trying to fill a very particular need that a lot of LGBT young people have which is for adult role models' perspective. A young kid who's bullied for his race, religion or class can go home to mom and dad of the same race, religion or class that they can turn to for advice and support. Too many young queer people go home to nothing, or tragically to parents who are also bullying them, and we are trying to meet that particular need, and we are and we have, so we're going to keep doing that.

AP: You redefined the word "Santorum" as a sexual neologism online in 2003 after the senator compared gay sex to pedophilia and bestiality. What do you think of his chances for the Republican nomination?

Savage: No one's more shocked than I that he's doing as well as he's doing... This is about desperation in the base to not support Romney, who they can't stand, and Santorum's relevance has increased as the economy has improved, and the GOP has reverted to attacking fallopian tubes and uteruses and vaginas again. He's good at that. They want to shrink the size of government until it's small enough to put in your vagina.

AP: Is 30 minutes long enough to tackle topics on "Savage U"?

Savage: I wish it was an hour. I could listen to me talk all day.

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AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen is on Twitter: www.twitter.com/APSandy.

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