An Open Letter To Dan Savage
Dear Dan Savage,
If my memory serves me well, which it usually does, I believe I first started reading your column, Savage Love, online in A.V. Club, back when A.V. Club was affiliated with The Onion. My family didn’t get the internet until I was in middle school, so I’m assuming I first stumbled on The Onion, and your column, when I was somewhere around 14 years old. I continued reading you online until I went to college in a small upstate New York city where a local independent, alt newspaper ran your column. Every week, I’d grab a free copy and immediately flip to the second-to-last-page where Savage Love was hidden near the horoscopes. In my later college years, I started listening to the Savage Lovecast podcast. I’d listen to the Lovecast on my daily walk to and from work, or on my less-than-daily runs. Today, 30-year-old me still listens to the Lovecast each week and I get your column delivered right in my feedly feed reader, which is how I do most of my online reading now.
Inexplicably, I have not read any of your books yet (realizing I need to remedy this, I just ordered Skipping Towards Gomorrah — it should arrive next week), however, I feel that 16 years of absorbing your advice gives me a solid understanding of what I’m likely to find in your books. I finally got around to reading Sex at Dawn last summer, based on your frequent references to it, and I’ve been recommending it to practically everyone I know ever since. It sort of changed my life.
Despite my 16 years of reading and listening, I essentially managed to ignore most of your advice for the first 15 of those years. I can be a stubborn asshole sometimes.
My history is this: I was in a monogamous relationship with my high school boyfriend turned college boyfriend from ages 15 to 21. Then, I was in another monogamous relationship from ages 21 to 29. During relationship #1, I was perhaps delusional, but mostly just naive. I thought maybe — just maybe — we would be that high school couple that gets married and lives happily ever after. Then, I saw the movie Unfaithful and envisioned my future self as Diane Lane, being stuck in a boring marriage while secretly fucking a hot, young Latino in a sleazy East Village apartment, wreaking havoc on my marriage and my life. And then I decided that if that’s how I envision marriage to said high school sweetheart, I better not marry that guy. And so that ended.
Relationship #2 was dysfunctional, to say the least, though not to discount the love and commitment that was buried underneath it all. My partner was a recovering (and sometimes active) addict, and I was the co-dependent, flimsy, needy version of me supporting him over the years. At 29, and with the help of some therapy, I reached my monogamy-and-messed-up-relationship breaking point, and decided that it was about time I took the reins of my own life and learned how to be a FUNCTIONAL HUMAN BEING (your words, my emphasis added).
The past year has been a journey not only in self-discovery, but in sex-discovery. I’ve written about some of this journey online, and so I won’t bore you with boring details, and instead I’ll just tell you about the sexy ones…
In April, I started seeing this guy I call Mike* and we quickly figured out that we have an intense sexual chemistry together. I learned that I like men who are aggressive and dominant in bed. He showed me some kinky things that he’s into, and I learned that I LOVE those kinky things too. He has a four-poster bed, with hooks and carabiners attached at the top of each post, with four more down near the mattress. He showed me that he can tie rope around my wrists and ankles in a knot that allows me to struggle (and oh, do I struggle!) without the rope tightening dangerously. I learned that nipple clamps are a whole lot of fun, as are spreader bars, sex swings, and toys that inflict spankings. He showed me how to use basic toys, like vibrators, in the bedroom together and how much fun that is. We communicate well — really well — probably even better in bed than out of it. It’s because of YOU that I recognize and value the importance of good communication in kinky play. Thanks, Dan, for opening my mind to kink and teaching me about how to do it both sexily and safely.
I met another guy, Sam*, over the summer and there was also sort of this instant recognition of chemistry. Sam, lucky for me, enjoys a lot of the same kinky things I do. Sam and I happened to be in San Francisco at the same time in December and we attended an event he found on FetLife — a kinky play party — which was a first for me. To be honest, there were a lot of incredibly unattractive people there. But they were all so unabashedly comfortable in their own naked skin! It was rather inspiring and I somehow felt 100% comfortable. Sam and I carried out a scene. Me: bent over a large round table. Him: flogging me. Gently at first. Very gently. Then, increasing intensity over time. I undressed as he directed me to. There were some people watching us, respectfully. It was perhaps the hottest thing I’ve ever done.
We went back to his hotel room and had some more eye-openingly-good kinky sex that week. Thanks, Dan, for reassuring me that kinky play parties can be fun and safe spaces. Thanks also for exposing me to FetLife. I’ve since been to subsequent similar events — discovered through FetLife — and have only had positive experiences so far.
Later in the summer, I began flirting with the idea of seeing a woman. I’d never been with a female, but I sure did find them sexy (at least some of them). I’d never even kissed a girl! So, I made that my August mission. I met a girl who was in an open, poly relationship. She was smart, hot, and down to have fun. We met up for drinks, and I brought along a close guy friend of mine for support. She hit it off with both of us and the night ended in a threesome. It was mostly just me and her playing, but my (very lucky) guy friend got to watch and participate, too. It was a really fun, hot night and I felt so excited to be exploring this side of my sexuality that I didn’t even know existed before!
Thanks for teaching me that it’s perfectly normal and fairly common for women to be sexually fluid. Thank you for teaching me the phrase “heteroamorous bisexual” because now I know how to properly identify myself without saying “I date men, but I fuck both men and women”. Thank you for letting me know that threesomes can be fun and healthy, that communication is key, and that threesomes come in a variety of shapes and forms — what you imagine is not always what you’ll get, but if you’re open-minded and listen to your partners’ boundaries, wants, and needs, you’ll probably have a successful threesome.
In October, Mike and I had a foursome with a polyamorous married couple. Meeting them and talking with them about their polyamorous lifestyle was another eye-opening experience. Here was an actual married couple, with kids, living outside of Western society’s sexual expectations! And they are making it work. They’ve hit some bumps along the way, but they’re figuring out what works for them. Thanks for teaching me about polyamorous relationships and opening my mind to the possibility of maybe one day being in that kind of relationship. Thanks — again — for teaching me about the importance of communication in multi-partner sex situations. Thanks for telling me about establishing ground rules, and how to go about having foursomes safely. Thanks for teaching me about some of the feelings that may come up, and how to deal with those feelings and discuss them with my partner.
Thanks for the word “monogamish”. I use it all the time, proudly. I think I scared off one or two first dates by expressing my enthusiasm over the practice. It’s a good way to weed out the wrong guys.
Thanks for answering so many questions about anal sex! Especially the “how do I prepare for having anal sex for the first time?” questions. I know there have been lots of them over the years. I know this because when I wanted to know how to prepare for anal sex for the first time, I searched the Savage Love archives. Your advice was invaluable. I followed it all and, Dan, now I LOVE anal sex. Thanks.
Thanks for teaching me what pegging is. It made learning how to play cribbage a whole lot funnier.
Thanks for teaching me the phrase “unicorn” as in “the hard-to-find bisexual woman interested in having threesomes with male-female couples”. Last weekend, I had my first experience filling the unicorn role with a couple I met on FetLife. We had first met for dinner and drinks a few weeks ago. We definitely had some chemistry and so we made plans to get together again. Dan, this couple is by far the hottest couple I’ve met (let alone had sex with) in my life. They are both goddamn MMA trainers and fighters for crying out loud! The sex was good, the experience was fun, and I think I’ll probably be joining them again sometime soon.
Thanks for coining the phrase “GGG”, one of the first Dan Savage-isms I encountered. Good. Giving. Game. I am all three of those things, and it sure as fuck is a requirement of all of my sexual partners. Simply put, being GGG makes sex fun, and sex should always be fun.
Thanks for teaching me about where to buy sex toys online, what types of materials to look for, and how to properly keep toys clean. I haven’t yet invested in an njoy, but it’s next on my list.
Thank you for talking about all the things that are never, ever taught in high school sex-ed (and I didn’t even grow up in one of those crazy abstinence-only, anti-evolution states).
Overall, Dan, even if you skipped the details above, what I’m trying to say is: thank you for giving me the knowledge I needed to become a sexually confident and competent human being.
In the last year or so, I’ve learned a whole lot about who I am and what I want, both life-wise and sex-wise. And I know I wouldn’t be so comfortable exploring these new things if not for you. I’m happier than I’d ever been at any point before in my series of monogamous relationships. I think, one day, I’ll be ready for a more serious monogamish relationship, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying figuring out this whole ME thing. You’ve helped me to feel not only just comfortable, but fantastic, in my own skin. You’ve helped me find myself.
Thank you, Dan, for helping me find joy.
Stella J. McKenna