American Savage by Dan Savage: book review

Dan Savage is an outspoken, irreverent, gay sex columnist who gives sex advice to all genders and orientations at Savage Love and on his podcast. With his husband Terry*, he started the “It Gets Better” video project, designed to help kids who are bullied realize that it does get better.

Now he is the author of American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics, a book about sex, love, and marriage in our contemporary culture and how politics, religion, and sexuality get mixed together — and badly mixed up.
I admit it — I’m a Dan Savage geek. I find his sex advice smart, witty, usually right on the mark. I read his column, I subscribe to the long version of his podcast, I go around quoting him. When Dan had me on his podcast giving senior sex advice, I felt that I had achieved star status.

So I was prepared to like Dan’s new book. I had no idea that I would love it, highlight it, bookmark it, rave about it. I had no idea that Dan could write so eloquently, and from the heart. For example:

  • “Sex education in America is a lot like a driver’s-ed course that covers the internal combustion but not steering or brakes…so long as we skip past pleasure, desire, and negotiating a romantic or sexual relationship … we aren’t really teaching young adults about sex.”
  • “Fighting your sexuality is like holding your breath: It can be done, yes, but not for long (when it comes to your breath) and not forever (when it comes to your sexuality).”

Politically, Dan is razor-sharp. His one-hour, dinner table debate with Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage, about gay marriage is worth watching on YouTube — but what you don’t know about what happened before and after the debate is here in American Savage, such as the one question Terry asked after the debate was over:

“Do you think our son should be taken away from us?”

 “You shouldn’t ask me a question when you know you won’t like the answer,” Brown said.

“Get the fuck out of my house,” Terry said.

Dan’s personal stories are moving, especially when he writes about his mother’s death, his husband, or his son. Each time he speaks from his heart with a story from his own life, it is to illustrate or lead us to an important point.

Dan Savage makes you think about things you thought you knew. For example, when is/isn’t it okay to cheat?

“We are socially monogamous — we pair bond; we couple up… but we are not sexually monogamous… The fact that your partner is willing to ‘forsake all others’ only means something is your partner doesn’t, on some level, want to forsake all others. and your partner doesn’t.”

How can you help laughing when he writes about Rick Santorum (“then the third most powerful person in the United States Senate [who] equated gay people to child rapists and dogfuckers”) and Dan’s campaign to launch a new meaning for the word “santorum”: “the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex” in our culture and in Google searches.

I could go on for another hour, but here’s the bottom line: I recommend American Savage to everyone, straight or gay, who cares about how confused our culture is about sexuality and religion and politics. Please read this book and share it with people in your life who agree with you — and those who don’t.

*Okay, since I’m being honest here — I drool over the photo of Dan’s husband Terry posing in underwear, which I’ll share here with you, at the risk of undermining the intellectual nature of this book review.

Terry posing in underwear


  1. Walker Thornton on June 3, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    Admittedly, Terry looks pretty hot, but it hasn't distracted us from your review. The book sounds like a worthwhile addition to my reading pile. Thanks Joan.

  2. TheGirl on May 30, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Interesting read, does he cover aging and sex, particularly STDs. I'm more interested in the health aspect of it….

    • Joan Price on May 30, 2013 at 2:57 pm

      No, TheGirl, that's not the thrust of his book. I write about aging and STDs — have you read Naked at Our Age? I write articles on this frequently, too. Is there a particular aspect you'd like to see addressed?

  3. Joe Thomas on May 29, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    It looks pretty interesting. And by the quotes you put I can predict is worth reading. There are some things I can't understand, like how some people is closed to information about sex… Definitely we have to read more and watch less TV.

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