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Dan Savage Keeps it Filthy on MTV Sex Advice Show


'Savage U' takes to American college campuses to reveal what's really happening between (or on top of) the sheets


Last week Dan Savage, America's reigning sexpert--who has a weekly sex advice column "Savage Love," a highly successful podcast, as well as being the co-founder of the It Gets Better campaign--premiered Savage U on MTV. The show whisks Savage to college campuses across the nation (the first is University of Maryland), answering questions in auditoriums, dorm rooms, health centers, and even at frat parties, while delivering zingers, like: "Frat boys are like sailors, they're never as hot in reality as they are in your imagination." We caught up with the man know for his scathing wit and wide-ranging knowledge to see how he keeps such a manic schedule, what it's like to hang out with teenage boys, and if he can ever be shocked these days. The second episode airs April 10 at 11 p.m. on MTV

I have to say, when I saw you going to those frat parties and hanging out in college dorms, I felt sorry for you.

It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.

No, seriously. I know it has to be weird to hang out with teenagers.

I felt like Jane Goodall; I'm there to observe the chimps. I was observing them in their natural habitat. Sometimes in the edits it will look like we were for a long time. But, honestly, when MTV shows up at your party, it ruins it. The lights go on. For as long as we were there, there's no music. So it's like: "Here we are at your party, glad we came?" We tried to be surgical so they wouldn't lose patience.

So, I was just explaining to someone the other day that, somehow, you've become this generation's Dr. Ruth.

I just predicted that in a few years I'd be a short Jewish woman.

Well, you know what I mean. You've become the person that so many Americans look to for honest advice to improve or explain their sex lives. But most of them are straight, right?

From day one, our audience has been straight people.

With this crowd on Savage U, do you ever feel the pressure to tone it down or change the way you are interacting with college students?

No. I've always said the column is a conversation I'm having with my friends about sex. You use the language you actually use. I'm talking about sex the way people are talking about it with each other. It's always been a little mean, a little tease-y. It's what your friends do for the first 10 minutes, they take the piss out of you--and then you get some advice. Sex makes people nervous. Usually through humor, you can talk about it.

I'm not a totally cuddly or empathetic type I'm not a hugger. People respond to that for some reason. Sometimes I beat somebody up in the column.

Well, but on the show you do have heartfelt moments, moments, like with the guy on the first episode when you discuss his sexuality and dating problems, where you aren't as harsh.

I'm capable of empathy. I think that's what the It Gets Better Project exposed is that I do have that side. But I'm still able to slap people around who need to be slapped around. I also wasn't terrible successful with dating in college, so I can relate.

Is there anything that is off-limits for theSavage U show?

Fisting. We are doing this for TV. Fist-fucking still has a home, but you're not going to see a fist-fucking question. Or me telling people, take off your rings, no jewelry, lube up. This is MTV after all.

Understood. But have you seen a pattern to the sorts of issues college-age people are facing?

I realize that everyone has the same problems. Nothing changes. They have issues about sexual orientation, birth control. They have questions about how to process the kinks and the fetishes. Normal people aren't interested in some of it. But it's all kind of the same users manual. That's part of the problem, I'll think, I shouldn't give that person advice because I've written about that before. But then I realize: I've written about that 13 years ago--when that person was 7.

I don't know if you're annoyed by comparisons to Loveline, MTV's last big foray into the sex advice television show. But I noticed one major difference was how exposed people are in Savage U, rather than have their faces hidden or be show in silhouette, they are all front-and-center. Do you think that's because people are not as worried about their privacy due to social media?

I think people are less interested in their privacy. They have different ideas or standards. People had to volunteer to be on the show. We didn't take everyone who wanted to do it. Some people we turned down because we thought better of their question. I told them, you don't want that floating around on YouTube clips or online.

And there were times we shut it down. I'd say, "I'm sorry, you don't want to talk about this. There's a place for this in the column. The show is sort of a hybrid of the column and the podcast. On the podcast, we will speak to them, you will hear their voices, sometimes they give their names and their location and they talk. But there is a level of anonymity as well.

You traveled all over the country visiting schools, I wondered if you felt like there were any regional differences. Did you hear or experience anything different in the South as opposed to the schools out West or in the North?

You got a different sort of questioning. There was a lot of slut-shaming at Auburn: A guy who wouldn't date a girl because she had done something despicable.

The most pronounced was at the University of California at Irvine. It's a bookish, tech-y school; a college where a lot of people didn't have a date to their prom. A lot of them would ask, 'How do I ask someone out?' There were a lot of beginner questions.

Then you go to Cornell and there were more showoff-y questions. They were asking questions about, 'How do I have a three-way?" That was the most pronounced difference.

So the guys you met in their dorm room, the frat boys who were keeping score, who had devised a point system, what did you think about that?

I was surprised by how much I liked them. I would have found them kind of repulsive emotionally. They were Dan and Stan, and they were such nice guys. They had a female friend, which proved to me that they weren't user-jerks. They wouldn't have a girl friend like that if they were. I got updates of them all throughout the fall. Dan ended up winning in the end.

After doing this for so long--with the column, the podcast, and now the TV show--are you ever surprised? Or is it all old-hat by now?

It's rare to shock me. Even if it's not a question I haven't received before; it's rare to blow my mind. I read a lot of sex research now. When you read the research that's being done in the outer limits, how crazy people are and how they get off, then you realize: If it exists in the world, someone somewhere is jerking off about it.

I can be shocked by how poorly people treat each other. How unnecessary that is. Someone will lay out what happened, how horribly they were treated, that can make my jaw fall open. Not because they had some particular fetish or interest, but how cruel people can be. That can blow my mind.

Watch a sneak peek of Episode 2 below.

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