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.
Dan tackles real-life issues you’re never going to hear discussed in a public school — especially not in today’s political climate. Even in AYS, there were questions too embarrassing to ask in front of a group of other teens. And there were things about my personal life and sexuality I just didn’t want a room full of kids from my youth group to know. (After all, outside of church, most of us weren’t even friends!)
While Dan’s had his share of controversy over the years (and, certainly, I’ve had issues with his column at times), it’s clear that he’s genuinely committed to helping people. And while maybe it’s not accurate to say that Dan’s column is always “safe” or completely nonjudgmental, there is one thing Dan always is: honest. He tries his hardest to give accurate information about sexual risks, even when writers ask about sexual practices he’s never heard about before. He will regularly bring in guest experts to answer questions related to trans issues, medical dilemmas, and even more exotic problems.
Along with It Gets Better, Dan’s been providing a sorely-needed service for queer teens for years: providing an accurate source of information about gay sexual acts and relationships, which teachers in most sex ed programs aren’t even allowed to talk about. Savage U is just the newest incarnation of this effort, and it’s one I think is poised to be wildly successful and reach millions of teens and young adults — queer and straight — who desperately need answers.
The first episode of Savage U is now available to view online for free. In it, Dan answers anonymously-submitted questions from his audience, reassures one young woman that her high sex drive is normal, helps one insecure bisexual boy learn how to get out of the “friend zone,” and delivers a reality check to one young couple who admit they don’t use birth control or condoms:
What do Care2 readers think of Savage U? Is this program helping fill the gaps for college students who didn’t get adequate sex education in public school? Would you want your college-aged child to attend one of Dan’s question and answer sessions?
Photo credit: Better Than Bacon via Flickr