Dan Savage: best sex advice for a busy university student?

How does one write a good sex column? For that matter, how does one write about a topic that is often the most intimate and sometimes uncomfortable thing a person can share in an honest and funny way?
“You don’t write about yourself, and you don’t write about your own sex life,” said Dan Savage, a man who knows a thing or two about writing a good sex column — he’s been writing his extremely successful column on the subject, Savage Love, since 1991.
“The mistake that college sex writers tend to make is they write about their own adventures, and then what happens is you run out of adventures and so then you have to stop writing your column,” said Savage.
“Also people start to think you’re only having these adventures to get material, and they don’t believe you anymore. They don’t think you’re being honest. “
Savage’s column isn’t about his sex life at all, but is a “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts” style question and answer series (although a great deal less lame).
It all started when Savage was working as a manager at a local video store when his friend and co-worker Tim Keck (co-founder of The Onion) announced he was moving to Seattle to start an alternative weekly newspaper called The Stranger. Savage offered this advice: “Make sure your paper has an advice column — everybody claims to hate ’em, but everybody seems to read ’em.” He then typed up a sample column for Keck, who then offered him a job.
His talk given during UMSU’s Celebration Week seemed to mirror his writing style.
“What I do and what’s really fun about these is, conservative groups on campus will accuse me of arriving with my big gay agenda, to talk to the kids about whatever it is that I want to talk about, and I actually go out there and get the kids to talk about whatever it is they want to talk about,” said Savage.
Anyone and everyone who attended the talk got a full dose of what has been called “one of the filthiest mouths of anyone you could ever meet” by This American Life.
Yet aside from all the talk about butt plugs, foot fetishes and how to give a good blowjob (put a fist around it), the talk didn’t really seem dirty at all, and touched on what is probably the foundation of the wall of confusion surrounding sex.
“Why is sex so complicated? Well, why are our dinners so complicated?” said Savage.
Sometimes Savage’s column can diverge into a more somber tone. Recently, during an episode of his podcast, also called Savage Love, a man diagnosed with ALS (sometimes referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease) called in asking whether or not he should pursue a relationship knowing he will soon be gone.
What does an advice columnist do in a situation like that?
“Well, you empathize, and I think you don’t blow smoke up someone’s ass in a situation like that. Sometimes there is no answer, and you just have to be sympathetic and give whatever assistance you can without painting too rosy a picture and without saying something false.”
Savage said he hadn’t had anything that grave since the nineties.
“I started writing my column in ’91, and the first six years, people were still dropping dead of AIDS in the street. There were still guys walking around with [hicksens catheters] in their chest, who were single and have 18 months to two years to live and wanted intimacy, wanted a relationship, and wanted a partner, and I would give them advice about how to do that,” said Savage.
“So it was kind of harkening back to how serious things were for everyone in the ’90s, before effective treatments came along for HIV.”
Having “America’s favorite sex columnist” in a room, and being an overworked university student myself, I had to ask what his best sex advice was for a busy university student:
“Enjoy. Whatever it is that turns you on, whoever it is that turns you on,” said Savage.
“Go for it, and enjoy, and go to the goddamn gym. Which is not about everyone being the same size, it’s not about all women being a size 0 and all men looking like Ambercrombie models, it’s about being in relatively decent shape for the shape that you are. Your genitals work because blood flows to them, if you have lousy circulation, your genitals aren’t going to work.”
“The more physically active you are the more physically engaged you can be. It’s not about body fascism; it’s about health. The better you feel physically — not ‘you feel good because you look great’ — the hornier you’ll be and the better your sex will be.”
There you have it. You want a better sex life? A gym pass may be a worthy investment.