Dan Savage is taking it to the streets.
The journalist's uber-popular sex and relationship advice column "Savage Love" brings in millions of readers, and his epic It Gets Better movement has raised awareness of the bullying epidemic plaguing school-aged children across the nation.
Savage has been one of the most outspoken voices for gay youth over the last few years, and is an unequivocal advocate for same-sex marriage and equal rights. Now, MTV is giving him another outlet: his own sex and relationship advice show, "Savage U," which is set to premiere on April 3. The show features Savage going to several American colleges and speaking to students about sex and relationships. (He even answered some of the HuffPost audience's questions!)
HuffPost TV spoke to Savage about the show, what he hopes to achieve and the one thing that has shocked him on this nationwide tour.
You don't just stumble into writing a sex and relationship column. How did this all begin for you?
A million years ago, I was living in Madison, Wisconsin with my then-boyfriend. I met some folks who were moving to Seattle to start a newspaper, and the first thing out of my mouth was, "You guys should have an advice column." The soon-to-be publisher of this paper looked at me and said, "That's good advice. Why don't you write it?" And I know it sounds disingenuous two decades later, but I wasn't angling for the gig. I'd never written anything in my life -- and if you dig up the first two years of "Savage Love," that's very clear -- but it was just one of those weird, kismet-y moments that change the course of your life.
So when you were younger, were you the same outgoing, outspoken guy you are now?
I was. I grew up in a loud, argumentative Irish Catholic family, where everybody could disagree and be loud, but everyone loved each other. It was an affectionate take-the-piss-out-of-everybody kind of dinner table. I look back now and I think I was always ready for this kind of career: I read Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren when I was in puberty; I read Penthouse for the articles; and my mother was the Dr. Phil of the neighborhood and I was the sissy, faggy homeboy who would tag along when she was giving advice to the other ladies. I've been steeping in women giving advice my whole life.
I was a bit worried for you in that you're going directly up to college kids and talking to them about sex, whereas with your column, people can just write in and remain anonymous.
We didn't have any problem with people wanting to appear on camera. We still have anonymous questions when we do the Q & As. So many young people today live out their lives online, so it's not as scary for them.
What was your main impetus for the show, other than obviously wanting to help people?
I've always wanted to do sex advice on television -- the kind of stuff I do in print. You don't often see sex advice given on TV, that's for sure. Sex is represented in two different ways on TV: 1) It's a consequence -- a risk-free universe where you can do anything on impulse or even drunk, without there ever being a downside, or 2) Sex is so risky and dangerous that no one should ever do it, ever. My attitude is, and always has been, you're going to do what you want to do, so you need to think through the potential downsides, risks, consequences and mitigate for those risks. Then go ahead, bungee jump.
We don't tell people not to snowboard because people die snowboarding every year. We don't tell people not to get on an airplane, drive, leave the house, go to the gym or eat chicken salad. Every year, hundreds of people die from listeria. We don't tell people not to eat chicken salad -- just keep it in the fridge, don't be an idiot! But we know that some people are going to leave that chicken salad on the counter and then they'll eat it and die. The same attitude should apply to sex.
Have you had any startling revelations while shooting this show?
I've been jokingly referring to this show as "18 And Not Pregnant." When you get to college in the US, you discover this self-selection process where the kids that get in are the ones that are using birth control. On college campuses, most of these kids are keeping it together. I was surprised at the number of them who are using condoms and birth control. Everybody -- and this may have been because there was a camera pointing at them -- was emphatic about their religious use of contraception and the ease of its availability. We didn't find a lot of people who weren't being safe. I don't think that's true of US high schools.
Stupid question: Do you think kids should be educated on this stuff before high school?
Absolutely. We need comprehensive, reality-based sex advice. We're moving in the opposite direction again, too. We just had a law passed in Utah, which bans any discussion of contraception; only abstinence may be discussed in sex ed classes. Homosexuality or the existence of gay people cannot be mentioned. You look at countries in Europe and other Western democracies that have these comprehensive, age-appropriate sex ed from grade school and up, and they have much lower rates of teen pregnancy, STIs, out-of-wedlock births and they have much better results. In the US, it's the definition of insanity: Keep doing the same thing over and over and hope for a different outcome.
So nothing shocked you, really. No trends that you saw?
Well, when we went to UC Irvine -- and that's a school that's very computer-driven, very brainiac, and about 50 percent Asian and first-gen immigrant parents -- the questions there were so sweet, like: How do I ask a girl out? How do I know the guy is interested in me? I felt like I'd fallen through a wormhole and it was 1956, and I was giving advice to Archie and the gang. We were at Cornell the week before, and people wanted Varsity-level advice on bondage technique. [Laughs.]
Is this show fully "yours"? Or did MTV adjust the concept at all?
There are time constraints; we only have half an hour. My column can get crazy and kinky, so we don't have a lot of that kink on the show. It's a different audience and venue, and that's not new for me. When I go on CNN, I don't rant and rave about fist-fucking.
What is the ultimate goal that you'd like to achieve with this show?
I want to get the conversation started. People get into trouble sexually and with relationships because they're too inhibited. They can't articulate their desires or their feelings. They've been told that sex should happen naturally, so without any conversation, discussion, thought, pre-thought or intention. That's where people get fucked up, where people get caught in situations that are traumatizing, either for them or for someone else. Being able to discuss it out loud with a sense of humor and playfulness helps set people at ease.
Sex is crazy and unique. We all look ridiculous in pursuit of it, we all look ridiculous doing it, and we all feel ridiculous five minutes after we're done, and we should all be able to laugh about it to help keep it in perspective.
Do you expect backlash from parents and the like?
Yeah, the haters are going to hate. That's what they tell me. That's what the kids say, or said, 10 years ago.
Sometimes when writers or columnists try to catapult into TV, it ruins their careers; fans abandon them, people say they "sold out." Did this concern you at all going in?
I have thought about it, but the reality is I'm not hosting a game show on MTV. I'm not Chuck Woolery. This will be an extension of what I do, what I have done for a long time. I think anyone who wants to declare me dead because of this isn't paying attention and has an axe to grind.
I've been offered TV shows in the past, and I've turned them down. That's really made some people's heads explode. People in LA who do TV, they fly you in, offer you money and no one turns them down. I've turned down reality shows, game shows ... those wouldn't be who I am, what I do. One of the reality shows was offering me a lot of money, too. They offered [my husband] Terry and I north of a million dollars to destroy our family on television. We wouldn't, we couldn't. We really couldn't do it to [our son] DJ. There was no hesitation.
"Savage U" premieres on MTV on Tuesday, April 3 at 11 p.m. ET