Dan Savage, the creator of the It Gets Better Project, sex advice columnist, and podcast host, has taken his particular brand of wisdom on the road. His mission? To answer the awkward, sometimes gross, sometimes frighteningly uninformed sex questions of America’s college students. The results of his cross-country tour are airing each week on MTV’s new show Savage U.
This isn’t just a cheap ploy to get ratings, and it’s not titillating, exploitative reality TV. It’s a necessary public service. The public education system has failed today’s college students; they often simply don’t have access to adult figures who are willing provide honest, accurate information about sex and relationships. Many young adults and teens don’t have anywhere to turn.
If you went through middle school or high school during the Bush years, chances are you didn’t receive anything even remotely resembling a comprehensive sex education. Even going through my high school’s sex ed program before the school switched to an abstinence-only curriculum was painful — while the school didn’t directly teach that homosexuality was wrong or that contraception was unnatural, they did allow evangelical groups to guest-lecture in class, and they didn’t contradict them.
As a self-righteous (and, admittedly, obnoxious), queer 15-year-old, I challenged the line I was given about waiting until marriage, asking, “What about gay people? They can’t get married – are you saying they can never have sex even if they end up in a stable, long-term relationship?” I was treated to a rant about how the “gay lifestyle” would invariably result in HIV and an early grave. And then I was told that girls were delicate flowers who would be ruined forever if they had sex with anyone.
Even going through the Unitarian Universalist Church’s controversial and comprehensive About Your Sexuality sex education program wasn’t as helpful as you might think. In a room full of bored, upper-middle-class straight kids, the one or two queer participants kept our mouths shut.
When the instructors tried to cover the topic of safe anal sex, they were shouted down with shouts of “gross!” and “ew!” It’s nice to know that the gay and bisexual boys in the group weren’t going to receive information on how to protect themselves from STIs just because it grossed out a couple of squeamish teenage girls. On reflection, I wish that the well-meaning members of the congregation teaching the course had said something. But they just skipped the subject and moved on.
One thing AYS did better than my school sex ed classes was covering contraception and talking about the emotional aspects of sex. It attempted to be nonjudgmental and impartial — something the classes in middle school and high school certainly weren’t. But it was sterile and detached on the part of the instructors, and uncomfortable for students a little too young to deal with the subject matter in a mature way. I learned more than most teenagers ever do about sex from an organized curriculum, but it wasn’t enough to prepare me to eventually become sexually active or navigate relationships.
But Dan Savage was there for me. I’ve been reading his column, Savage Love, since I was 15 years old. And let me tell you: everything important I’ve learned about sex — the emotional complexities, issues of queer sex and queer identity, frank discussions about kinks and fetishes, advice on navigating non-monogamous relationships — I learned from reading Dan Savage. None of this was touched on in any sex education program I attended. And it was this information that helped me become a sexually aware, informed and responsible adult capable of having safe and fulfilling relationships with men and women.
Photo credit: Better Than Bacon via Flickr
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