American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics

American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics
Category: Social Sciences
Author: Dan Savage
Publisher: Penguin Books
Published: 5/27/2014
On the heels of his Emmy-winning It Gets Better campaign, columnist and provocateur Dan Savage weighs in on such diverse issues as healthcare, gun control, and marriage equality with characteristic straight talk and humor.

Book Summary - American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics by Dan Savage

Key Insights

Sex education in America is inadequate. Filled with misconceptions around sex and sexuality, many long-held beliefs don’t hold up. Explore and break down the common perceptions about sex, sexuality, and relationships in American Savage.

Gay rights activist and sex advice columnist Dan Savage shares what he’s learned over his career and his sometimes controversial positions. Not willing to stay confined to the topics of sex that come to him in his advice column, Savage is willing to take on politicians and religion.

American Savage is about challenging norms and expectations, approaching issues with an open mind, and becoming more tolerant.

Key Points

Using the Bible for antigay arguments may be convenient, but it is also hypocritical.

After being raised Catholic, Savage highlights the conflicting use of the Bible when it comes to the rights of LGBT people. According to the Old Testament, a man that “lies with” another man should be put to death.

The Bible also supports slavery and wants to stone women who have sex before marriage in other passages from the Old Testament. Most people accept that these positions are outdated and wrong. From that perspective, the Old Testament is not appropriate for Christianity in modern times.

To accept one part and not another by cherry-picking what fits your needs is hypocritical. People that want to condemn homosexuals will accept part of the Old Testament because it fits their bigotry.

The persecution of gay people by the Church and others relies on the hypocritical interpretation of the Bible. Despite the hypocrisy, the Church has used its power to influence politics. The Church has tried to block same-sex marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples.

Sometimes extramarital sex is best for a relationship.

Savage started his sex advice column in 1991. Since then, he’s heard a variety of relationship questions.

One situation he’s heard about from a number of his readers is a sexless relationship. A person writes in because they feel deprived of sex. The reason for their situation may vary. Some people find that having children changes their partner’s sex drive. In other cases, chronic illness changes the level of physical intimacy that may be possible or desired.

One husband wrote that his marriage was wonderful but was sexless. His wife had no libido and he couldn’t bring it back. Savage advised that a discreet affair may be the best thing for the relationship.

The man took Savage’s advice. He later wrote back in with an update to say that his wife’s sex drive had returned. The husband ended the affair at that time and their marriage remained intact.

Every partner should be GGG: good in bed, giving pleasure, and game for anything.

More often than suggesting taking a lover, Savage focused on his regular mantra for a healthy relationship: good, giving, and game, or GGG. This means that you should aim to be good in bed, give pleasure to your partner without immediately expecting reciprocation, and being game for anything reasonable.

Partners that have a GGG approach to their relationship are more open and honest. You communicate sexual needs and work to try to make sure your partner’s needs are met. This way, both people feel free to ask for what they want. By putting in work on their partner’s desires, the relationship is healthier and both people are happier.

The GGG approach is also supported by research. One study in The Journal of Sex Research found a higher level of relationship satisfaction with GGG. Those who were willing to try new things had a happier relationship. Another study showed that being more GGG meant a higher sexual desire over time.

The Catholic Church’s view of sex is out of touch.

In Catholicism, sex is only for procreation. It is a sin and unnatural to have sex for any other reason.

This position is inconsistent with scientific realities. Studies show that sex can be critical to relationships. They help create and maintain intimacy. To limit sex to reproduction would inhibit that intimacy (or lead to more children than a couple might be able to comfortably care for).

Consistent with its view of sex as only a reproductive act, the Catholic Church does not approve of birth control, abortions, or non-heterosexual sex. Any of these would mean that sex was appropriate for something other than procreation.

The Church’s position is also out of touch with what individual Catholics believe. Premarital sex is considered acceptable by two-thirds of Catholics and 93% support using condoms. When it comes to abortions, there is no difference between Catholics and non-Catholics. Regardless of the Church’s position, Catholic women and non-Catholic women have the same number of abortions.

Sex education in the United States is inadequate.

Many schools require sex education at some point during adolescence. Unfortunately, the sex-ed curriculum is also disconnected from reality in the way it frames sex.

Sex ed curriculum is usually focused on abstinence. Instead of discussing any of the complexities around sex and sexuality, this approach amounts to “don’t have sex.”

Abstinence-only sex ed does not work. Savage points to Mississippi, which uses abstinence-only as its standard for sex-ed programs. Despite the focus on abstinence, the state has the highest number of cases of teens giving birth, the highest rate of gonorrhea, the second-highest rate of chlamydia, and the third-highest rate of syphilis.

The alternative used by many American schools isn’t much better. These “comprehensive” programs encourage avoiding sex by creating a fear of it. The focus here is on the repercussions of sex without any discussion of the pleasures of responsible sex.

Much like the abstinence-only program, these sex ed classes are not working adequately. Among industrialized countries, the United States has the highest rate (by a large margin) of teen pregnancies.

There’s no rational argument against marriage equality.

Throughout the book, Savage points out the hypocrisy of certain positions against LGBT civil rights. He even had Brian Brown, an antigay marriage advocate, over to dinner for a debate about gay marriage.

Savage asked Brown about his position on divorce, which the Church considers a sin. Brown said that it was not appropriate to make something illegal just because you think it is wrong. Confusingly, he believed that it was okay to make same-sex marriage illegal because he thought it to be wrong.

Brown based his opposition to gay marriage on the natural law argument. He claims that marriage is only for procreation. It brings men and women together to make children. Same-sex couples cannot biologically do this, so they cannot be married.

This rationale is also illogical. There are men and women that get married and do not have children. They either can’t or don’t want to. By Brown’s reasoning, their marriages should be illegal too.

Of course, antigay arguments don’t accept these positions as well. So, it is clear that they are irrational, illogical, and hypocritical.

There is no logical basis to stop same-sex couples from being parents.

Conservatives and Christian fundamentalists have also worked to stop same-sex couples from adoption, despite there being no valid reason for their opposition.

The argument against same-sex couples adopting children is based on the idea that children need a “traditional” household with a mother and father. Conservatives argue that it would be “child abuse” to allow a child to be placed with same-sex parents.

One Christian fundamentalist, a pundit named Bryan Fischer, went even further. He argued that gay men are predators that want to prey on children and should not be allowed to adopt children.

These arguments are baseless. First, a heterosexual couple does not guarantee a traditional upbringing with both parents. Second, studies show same-sex parents’ kids are just as happy and functional as the children of opposite-sex parents. Third, mainstream social services organizations support adoption rights for qualified same-sex parents.

Sexual liberation and empowerment aren’t just for pride parades. Everyone can benefit from being more open.

Gay pride parades, BDSM fairs, and kinky street parties are widely criticized by people that discriminate against the LGBT community. One overtly bigoted position was taken by Oklahoma politician Sally Kern. She pointed to these types of events to demonstrate that homosexuality was a threat to America. Kern even said it was a bigger concern than terrorism.

Critics are missing the point. These events are about freedom. Regardless of sexual orientation, you should be free to be who you are. Sexual desires and kinks should be enjoyed safely without shame or stigma.

BDSM practices can be dangerous when practiced alone. Events centered on BDSM allow people that are interested in these activities to learn, share skills, and keep everyone safe. People are empowered to enjoy their sexual fantasies without feeling judged.

There are serious dangers to shaming people about their kinks. Reverend Gary Aldridge was interested in the sexual practice of autoerotic asphyxiation. To enhance his arousal, he limited his oxygen intake. Unfortunately, he died while engaging in this activity. Safe practices can be shared to prevent needless tragedies like this one. However, people have to feel empowered to have those conversations.

Sexual liberation isn’t just for the LGBT community. Halloween is a time that people of all orientations might come out in sexier outfits than they would otherwise wear. Some might be living out fantasies at a time when it feels safe and judgment-free to do so. It can be empowering to have this freedom for more than one day of the year.

Sexual orientation is not a choice.

Conservatives argue that LGBT people are choosing a “lifestyle” and that they should not be allowed rights in support of that choice.

People are attracted to who they are attracted to. Sexual orientation is not a choice. It is not something that a person can wake up and change every day the way they change clothes. Savage compares this bigoted argument to telling a Jewish person not to complain about anti-Semitism. They could just choose not to be Jewish.

John Cummins, a conservative politician from British Columbia, has claimed that being gay is a choice. Savage has responded with an open invitation for Cummins to prove that being gay is a choice. Cummins can choose to give Savage oral sex.

Hiding your sexual orientation is a choice and is also hypocritical.

Before the LGBT movement, there was widespread discrimination against homosexuals. It affected every part of their lives. At that time, it was understandable to choose to be closeted.

Now, being a closeted adult is often a hypocritical act. There are many cases of men hiding their homosexuality by loudly challenging gay rights. They don’t have to lie but choose to live in shame and hide behind bigotry.

Republican politician Jim West helped stop a bill to protect LGBT people from discrimination. West was later found to be a sexual predator. He found teenage boys on the internet and tried to get them to have sex with him.

It is hypocritical to claim it is wrong to be gay while hiding your own sexual orientation. You cannot shame others for what you are also doing. Instead, Savage wants people to be open and honest about who they are.

The LGBT movement has fought back against discrimination.

A 1971 essay by Merle Miller titled “What It Means to Be a Homosexual” was a groundbreaking piece that expressed the anger Miller felt. The gay rights movement was in its early days and was starting to push for equality. Miller was angry at the way the gay community was being demeaned and degraded and stated it without mincing words in his essay. Savage was inspired by Miller’s unleashed anger.

Rick Santorum, a high-ranking Republic Senator, once said that gay people were like people who have sex with animals and rape children. Savage and his readers were outraged and decided to respond in kind.

“Santorum” is now used to refer to a mixture that can be a “byproduct of anal sex.” Linking Santorum to the dirtiest thing they could think of was a way to fight back against bigotry. They were portrayed as depraved and dirty but turned that back on Santorum.

LGBT children have suffered appalling cases of bullying. Billy Lewis, a 15-year-old, was bullied incessantly for his sexuality. He hanged himself.

Savage created the It Gets Better initiative with his husband. The goal was to help prevent suicide in LGBT youth by showing them a better future. These youth may feel isolated and bullied, but if they can endure a painful present, there can be a better reality for them in the future.

The illogical approach to policy goes beyond homosexuality. It can be seen in a broken health care system and inadequate gun control.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, aimed to expand health care access and coverage in the United States.

Painted as socialism, Obamacare was opposed by conservatives. However, this characterization is wrong. The ACA came from a solution developed by a conservative think tank. The concept was first implemented by a Republican governor. Even the health insurance industry supported it. Only after it was supported by President Obama was it portrayed as socialism.

The ACA had particularly strong opposition in religious states. Given that Jesus encourages people to care for the sick, this is hypocritical.

Despite the opposition, Obamacare was passed. More people have insurance and are getting regular health care. Still, there is more work to be done. Millions still cannot afford health insurance and it is putting their lives at risk.

Gun control also needs an overhaul. There are so few laws to protect people, but the nation has the highest rate of gun ownership by civilians anywhere in the world. The United States also has the highest murder rate among democratic industrialized countries.

Every time there is a mass shooting, people try to advocate for a change. Yet, the NRA and others accuse anyone lobbying for gun control as trying to take advantage of a tragedy. Conservatives refuse to have a debate about it, postponing it for some hypothetical time in the future where it will be appropriate to talk about.

Meanwhile, people everywhere remain in danger. Guns can be brought into malls, movie theaters, offices, and schools. It is illogical to wait while shootings keep happening. Savage emphasizes that change is needed and it is needed now.

The Main Take-away

Be open and honest. It will be good for you and your relationships. Shaming yourself or others is no way to live. The rationale for judging others is often hypocritical and illogical. Sexual liberation is good for everyone, regardless of their orientation. Fighting for changes that keep people happier, healthier, and safer is important and goes beyond sex.

About the Author

Dan Savage began his media career writing an advice column for The Stranger in 1991 and American Savage is his sixth book. Savage has been a vocal gay rights advocate, co-founding the It Gets Better campaign with his husband. Using his platform, Savage has addressed a number of political issues. Many concern sex, sexuality, and reproductive rights for all sexual orientations, but Savage also speaks out on any issue of importance.


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