Savage Love

The National Organization for Marriage slams Dan on fidelity; Dan fires back.

By Dan Savage

My wife and I click on just about every level — parenting, money, religion, politics, etc. — except for sex. After our last child was born, my advances were increasingly rejected. In an attempt to avoid pressuring her, I stopped initiating. One week passed, nothing. A month passed, nothing. A year passed, nothing. Depression and anger set in. But I was committed to being the "perfect husband," so I did not pressure her, hoping her libido would return. It didn't. Our "happy" life continued, and if you were a friend or neighbor, you'd have no idea this was going on. After two years, I finally lost it and confronted her. I expected that an open dialogue would improve the situation, but a month passed and she never brought it back up.

She's a stay-at-home parent, so she does most of the shopping, laundry, etc., but I contribute to the housework. We live in a large house, so we also have house cleaners and landscapers. Additionally, our kids are respectful and have been taught to pick up after themselves. The bottom line is that I've removed all of the obstacles I can think of.

I realize that I'm lucky to be happy and fulfilled in just about every area of my life, but I've become fidgety, short-tempered, and hypersensitive. I do not want to have an affair and I do not want a divorce. I love her and our children, but I'm at a loss as to what to do. Knowing there are women out there in the world who actually enjoy sex is devastating (it kills me to listen to you field a call from a sexually confident woman on your podcast). I am mourning the loss of intimacy and connection with another person.

Please Advise Troubled Husband

I'll get to you in a minute, PATH, but first…

MTV, a cable-television channel that has been broadcasting music videos in a continuous loop since the summer of 1981, has elected to speed the moral collapse of the United States by putting me on television. My upcoming sex-advice program is tentatively titled Savage U, and it represents MTV's first foray into non-music-video programming. (My preferred title for the show — Dan Savage's Alaska — was rejected by the program's co-executive producer, Piper Palin.) This news has upset not only my son, who has been in the MTV stage of his development for roughly three years, but also Maggie Gallagher, the head of the National Organization for Marriage, who has been stuck in the raving-bigot stage of her development for nearly three decades.

"Renowned sex columnist Dan Savage, who is an openly gay man," Gallagher wrote on her blog, "will be taking his popular sex and relationship advice column to MTV in a show appropriately called Savage U where he intends to educate your college student about the importance of honesty over just about anything else, including fidelity."

Gallagher, who once had a child out of wedlock, speaks for the fidelity-over-anything-else crowd (fidelity over honesty, reality, statistics, biology, ability, etc.). Now, some people are capable of abstaining before marriage and being faithful to one partner for life — some people, but not Maggie — but these people represent a tiny minority of sexually active adults. And while those who make this aberrant lifestyle choice should not be discriminated against, the rest of us — the majority of sexually active adults — should be free to engage in grown-up conversations about sex and desire and the more reality-friendly ways in which we define fidelity without being shouted down by the monogamously correct.

I'd like to address Gallagher's two main objections to Savage U in some detail:

"Savage, for all his experience, does not know what women are like," says Gallagher.

I may not know what women taste like — I've never gone down on one — but I do know what women are like. My mother was a woman, my sister is a woman, my favorite bartender is a woman, my first sex partners were women, and many of my friends, neighbors, and coworkers are women. And as someone who is attracted to men and is in a long-term relationship with a man, I know what straight women have to put up with.

Ironically, Gallagher is a practicing Catholic who cites her faith as a reason for her opposition to same-sex marriage. But not knowing what women taste like has never stopped the pope from offering his unsolicited advice to women — no birth control, no abortions, no oral, no anal, no handjobs — and it seems a little hypocritical of Gallagher to suggest that I'm not qualified to offer advice to women, since I don't fuck 'em, without first telling that old fag in Rome to STFU already.

"The possibility of taming one's sexual desire for the sake of another, or of a vow, is not in the Savage moral imagination," says Gallagher. "Libido will have out, and honesty about that is the best policy."

The possibility of taming one's sexual desire for the sake of another most definitely exists within the Savage moral imagination. I frequently discuss the "price of admission," that is, the personal sacrifices, large and small, that make long-term relationships possible. For some, the price of admission — what it costs to ride a particular ride — includes "taming one's sexual desire for the sake of another." If anal sex is something you enjoy but you're in love with someone who doesn't do anal, going without anal is the price of admission. If you're not into monogamy but you're in love with someone who insists on it, then monogamy is the price of admission.

Yes, libido will have out — but "libido will have out" doesn't translate into "Dan 'Doesn't Fuck Women' Savage says anything and everything goes." Two people in a long-term, committed relationship should be open and honest with each other about their sexual interests, turn-ons, drives, etc., because, yes, libido will have out. Meaning sexual compatibility and sexual satisfaction have a huge impact on the health of our relationships and marriages, Maggie, particularly if your spouse is your sole source of sexual satisfaction and release. People who can be open and honest with their partners — whether the relationship is monogamous or not — are likelier to have their needs met and likelier to meet their partners' needs. And when needs are met, people are less likely to cheat and more likely to stay married.

Openness and honesty don't automatically translate into everyone gets everything everyone wants. Not all needs can be met. But sometimes just having the sacrifices we've made for the good of our marriages acknowledged — getting a receipt after paying the price of admission — is good enough. Getting some credit for going without anal, along with the green light to jerk off to anal porn now and then, can make going without anal easier. Indeed, it can make going without anal virtuous, something that speaks well of the going-without-anal partner's character and priorities.

But there are times when monogamy — its pressures, its discontents, its unquestioned acceptance — can destroy an otherwise decent marriage.

Take PATH's marriage. If his wife doesn't come around — if her libido doesn't kick back into gear after mental or medical intervention — this couple is surely headed for divorce. PATH is not only feeling depressed and resentful, he's also contemplating an affair (even if he's in the dismiss-that-idea stage). Sooner or later, he's going to cheat or walk. But this marriage, a marriage that works on every other level ("parenting, money, religion, politics, etc."), could be saved if Mr. and Mrs. PATH were encouraged to openly and honestly discuss their sexual needs and their sexual disconnect. If Mrs. PATH is done with sex — for now, perhaps forever — Mr. and Mrs. PATH should be encouraged to come to a reasonable, mutually agreeable accommodation, one that allows for Mr. PATH to get his needs met elsewhere if that's what he needs to stay sane and stay married.

I'm not sure what to call someone who places a higher value on preserving monogamy within a particular marriage over preserving that marriage itself, Maggie, but I wouldn't call that person a defender of marriage.

Find the Savage Lovecast (my weekly podcast) every Tuesday at thestranger.com/savage.

mail@savagelove.net

Commentarium (66 Comments)

Apr 13 11 - 2:04am
FuckYou

For the first guy, well, the only one, all I can say is chill brotha chill.

Apr 13 11 - 2:11am
FuckYou

Oh and in all respect, I gotta say, "Savage, for all his experience, does not know what women are like," that's a good one. Bravo I say.

Apr 13 11 - 11:21am
thinkywritey

Not really. It suggests that women can't have opinion/give advice about men, men can't have opinions/give advice about women, or that gay men can't have opinions/give advice about women, and presumably gay women can't have opinions/give advice about men. Which means practically no one can have opinions/give advice about relationships, unless we retreat to gender-restricted compounds.

Apr 13 11 - 1:27pm
FuckYou

I didn't mean it like that. I meant it jokingly. Chill. Well, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but not an uninformed one. Oh and as for taken advice from women on men,dating,etc, well, things tell me otherwise. Why should gay dudes be interested in chicks, there gay. Same thing with lesbians, if it's not your buisness, why worry about it? Gender Restricted compounds? What would that be exactly?

Apr 13 11 - 2:14pm
thinkywritey

I'm pretty chill, trust me on that. Was just sayin'. I wouldn't say Savage is uninformed, at all; the hundreds of pleas he gets for advice, I'm sure, paint quite a broad picture. But suggesting he knows nothing about women because he's gay also kinda suggests that heterosexual men DO "know women"... cuz they... fuck them?

Apr 13 11 - 4:08pm
tsktsk

fuckyou,
they're, their, there...

Apr 13 11 - 8:38pm
FuckYou

"But suggesting he knows nothing about women because he's gay also kinda suggests that heterosexual men DO "know women"... cuz they... fuck them?" I meant it jokingly, relax.

Apr 16 11 - 11:38am
Still

He's not as good in the woman-understanding department than he is with men. Not because he's gay, because he's a male. But unless we only accept trans as advice columnists (I'm not sure I would help, though), it will always be a problem.

Apr 13 11 - 2:29am
graydonatvail

Jeeze, what part about "duh" and "reality" don't they understand. From the people that brought you Ted Haggard and the priest/child abuse scandal, here's some sweet-ass marriage advice.

Apr 13 11 - 2:43am
aok

You would never know that Savage gets laid at all. His bitterness and name calling renders most of his valid points moot. I've read my last Savage Love not because I disagree with him, but because his rants have just become boring and predictable.

Apr 13 11 - 7:02am
Moops

Anti-sex, "save it for marriage, gays are wrong, virginity is the most important thing and Baby Jesus weeps when you touch yourself" sentiments are even more boring and predictable.

Apr 13 11 - 11:22am
thinkywritey

Anyone who disagrees with Savage is automatically labeled "anti-sex." Trust me. I had a Savage Love dogpile on me when I said that I don't think it's unusual for a person in a committed relationship to not be so keen on the idea of a threesome. Apparently, that alone makes me viable for a stake-burning.

Apr 13 11 - 1:29pm
FuckYou

Savage himself said it or some weird drooling follower? Also, was this in person or online? Cause if it's online, well, don't take it too seriously, and good judgement helps to weed out bullshit.

Apr 13 11 - 2:11pm
thinkywritey

I'm sorry, I should have clarified; it was more than once, in the (active, usually thought-provoking, often funny, lightly-troll-filled) comment thread at the website of Savage's home paper, The Stranger.

Apr 13 11 - 4:45pm
yourfriend

I find it endearing. Despite his often grumpy facade, it's evident that he really cares about his readers.

Apr 13 11 - 4:15am
S

OH I AGREE WITH DAN SO MUCH. Shame I'm not an American college student. Good luck on TV Dan!

Apr 13 11 - 7:30am
Jean Paul Funky

Haha....is Nerve being taken over by prudish, hypersensitive commenters? Methinks you need to find another webzine.

Apr 13 11 - 7:50am
MRAGH

Fuck religion. Fuck the Pope. There is no god, wake the fuck up people.

Apr 16 11 - 11:42am
Still

I've always find it funny that catholics take sex and contraception advice from a 80 years old (presumably) virgin, and family advice from men with no family.

Apr 18 11 - 12:02pm
MindReader

Kind of like heterosexuals taking advice from homosexuals, isn't it.

Apr 13 11 - 7:56am
Jess

While I do not always agree with Dan's (may I call you Dan? "Savages's" seems so serious) tone or the way he sometimes comes across as thinking women are a bit icky, I continue to read him because he speaks to my experience with a high sexual drive and the complexity of jamming that drive into a monogamous relationship. I haven't had sex in six months and haven't had a satisfying sexual encounter for nearly two years in my otherwise-ridiculously-good relationship and without someone out there telling me to consider the ways in which I can try to achieve honest communication and even consider ways of accommodating my needs alongside my partner's, I would have given up ages ago and felt like an ass for it.

Dan Savage may not "know" women to the way his detractors think he should (I assume by leasing a vagina through some nefarious scheme so he could get up close with the clockworks), but he knows enough about sexuality for me to feel that he at least understands some part of what this particular woman (read: me) is going through.

Apr 13 11 - 8:35am
oma

I agree with Jess about Dan's tone towards woman and why I tend to just ignore it, but the letter writer wasn't really given any advice in this case, as it was just a polemic justifying Dan's valuation of honesty in relationships (which I agree with.)

Specifically, this just isn't about his wife's changed sex drive. True, she could be stressed out or having children changed her in some way that should be medically addressed (and if she refuses to try therapy or seek the advice of a doctor, this guy should probably just call it quits), but since the letter writer seems to have tried dealing with environment factors to the best of his abilities, what he needs to do now is figure out if his wife is as interested in keeping this marriage together as he is. It could be something as simple as she isn't in love with him anymore and had decided not to leave because it would mean giving up her big house with maid and lawn service. The husband owes it to himself to make sure his wife really wants to be with him.

Apr 13 11 - 12:50pm
joyce

Well, to be fair to the guy's wife, the letter does seem to state that he seethed silently about the lack of sex for 2 years (!), then "lost it" and confronted her once, then resumed seething silently. And she didn't reject his advances - he just stopped initiating for those 2 years without trying to have a conversation with her about this problem. He just waited for her to read his mind. These two have serious problems with communicating and should visit a therapist.

Apr 13 11 - 1:03pm
LB

Best answer yet, Joyce.

Apr 13 11 - 3:07pm
Jess

I'm not sure it takes much mind-reading to think that an adult might want sex on a more than bi-yearly basis. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm all for the "bring it up, get it out on the table" mindset myself, but people handle things differently. Even if the wife doesn't want sex herself, she surely noticed that no one was having sex in her marriage. She couldn't bring it up? Initiate once? It's not the husband's (or any single person in the relationship's) job to do all the heavy lifting sexually.

Sometimes people think that they should stop beating themselves up with all of the initiate-->get rejected/have pity sex scenario and see if their partner will make a move. Sometimes they're then horrified by how long their partner can not do or say anything.

Apr 13 11 - 5:46pm
Jennifer

Great answer, Joyce. Moreover a marriage with terrible communication on issues of sexuality, intimacy, etc. surely cannot be as golden in other ways as the letter-writer would have us believe. I'm imagining a passive-aggressive marital dispute over, say, cleaning the litter box. Maybe the cat doesn't end up crapping on the floor but that doesn't mean all is well in the litter-box department.

Apr 15 11 - 8:35am
bk

Indeed. This marriage has serious communication problems. I can't imagine seething in silence for anywhere NEAR this length of time without directly addressing the issue. Yes, it must be devastating being sexually rejected by your spouse in this way, but you've got to speak up. The sexual bond is a huge part of marriage, it smooths over irritations, brings you closer, etc etc...If it's important to you, why would you be willing to give that up?

Apr 16 11 - 9:05pm
ricochet

Joyce, you certainly seem to be reading a lot into path's letter that just isn't there. Read it again. And again if it's still not clear to you.
The wife shut him down. He respectfully didn't push. Taking that tack resulted in no sex at all. Apparently, nobody seems to recognize the wife's responsibility in this passionless play.

Apr 13 11 - 9:54am
anonymous

"and it represents MTV's first foray into non-music-video programming"

Uh, I thought MTV stopped playing music videos years ago. Good luck with the show.

Apr 13 11 - 11:14am
Starcat

Tongue, meet cheek.

Apr 13 11 - 11:18am
andrea

I went to Catholic school, and one of my religion teachers told us, IN CLASS, that if you didn't have sex with your spouse, your marriage would die. And she didn't mean it in a "It's your responsibility to do what your husband demands" way, because this was a coed school and she was talking to both genders in this class--she meant that sex was a major engine for intimacy and bonding in a relationship, and if spouses didn't get together, pretty soon the marriage would be over. I totally believed her, and as far as I can tell, she was totally right.

Apr 14 11 - 1:43am
Cannabear

Awesome Andrea. Whether you're Catholic or just attended Catholic school, I think it's important to talk about how Catholicism isn't as effed-up sexually as many people seem invested in believing.

Apr 14 11 - 9:51pm
nope

...Except for the whole abiding by the pope thing, and the pope not allowing contraception, nor such things as bjs or anal. It's great that Andrea's school gave her the right idea, but if you're still abiding by the whole "nothing more than sex amongst married people for the purpose of procreation," you're pretty "effed-up sexually."

Apr 14 11 - 9:51pm
nope

Oh, and all of the pedophile scandals.

Apr 15 11 - 12:51am
Cannabear

Thanks for the predictable, nope. My point is that most individuals are capable of integrating their faith with healthy sexual practices. The fact that you can associate some weirdness (and outright evil) with people who are Catholic doesn't mean that Catholicism is the cause of bad sex. Stupid and evil shit happens in America, committed by Americans, and yet somehow I still manage to benefit from - and take pride in - being American.

Apr 15 11 - 12:22pm
Kevin

Catholicism is the cause of bad sex...if you follow all of its precepts as well as the directives of the Popes.

Apr 15 11 - 1:22pm
Cannabear

Just to recap, Andrea made a comment about how one of her Catholic school teachers expressed a healthy view about sexuality in a relationship, and nobody saw fit to comment. I think that's because Andrea's contribution doesn't fit the narrative that many Nerve readers want to advance. I thanked Andrea for providing some evidence that there is, believe it or not, a healthy range of Catholic sexuality, and I got expected responses that center around a high-profile guy who's sworn off sex (which most Catholics see as too extreme for them, and maybe unnecessary from a theological standpoint) and pedophiles (which I think every person with integrity sees as evil). The responses support my point about the existence of a favored narrative.

Apr 16 11 - 12:05am
Kevin

Sure, it's great that there are some sensible religious teachers out there. That doesn't change that fact that official Catholic doctrine tells you that you are required to believe & practice some pretty screwed-up attitudes towards sex. Why do people call themselves Catholic if they pick and choose the parts of it that they choose to accept?

Apr 16 11 - 12:46am
Cannabear

I think even most individualists still desire community to some extent. And if you're going to associate with like-minded humans, you may find yourself disagreeing with some or even all of them from time to time, sometimes strongly. By continuing to associate with worthwhile movements, you also have the opportunity to encourage change and diversity of thought, even if the change happens at a glacial pace. Some don't investigate deep enough to find and appreciate thousands of years of accumulated human experience and wisdom; I've had a different experience. At it's core, Catholicism is about contemplation of a person who many believe exists as the definitive nexus between the temporal and the divine, and I'm not referring to the pope.

Apr 19 11 - 10:55pm
RuleofLaw

I wouldn't argue too much, Cannabear. Some people are uninterested in the truth.

Apr 13 11 - 12:20pm
jynn

You tell 'em, Dan! What right this Gallagher woman could possibly have to insult you for simply promoting honesty and openness in a relationship, I cannot imagine. Good luck on MTV, and (if we're all very VERY lucky) maybe someday the Catholic Church will disappear up it's own archaic ass & be done trying to tell strangers how to live their lives.

Apr 13 11 - 2:10pm
Yikes

Poor PATH. Granted, we only know one side of the story, but I really feel for you. I was in a relationship once where we would go months without having sex (I am a woman). It destroyed my confidence, and ultimately destroyed my relationship. I can't even imagine what you're going through.

I hate to bring this up .... but is she having an affair? Are you sure she is heterosexual? Is she depressed? I know people get out their pitchforks when you suggest that there is any sort of medical problem when a woman has no sex drive, but two years is a damn long time.

I think the biggest thing is just to talk it to death. Get a babysitter. Go sit in a park somewhere with some wine and tell her you want to hear every single thing on her mind about your sex life. She hasn't "forgotten" to have sex with you. There is something going on. Talk that shit to death.

Apr 13 11 - 4:57pm
DTO

Well said. best yet. Love Dan, but I feel he left PATH out of the extended advice

Apr 13 11 - 5:33pm
Sex Fairy

Savage! As usual, spot-on advice! I have to agree with Yikes, though...something is likely going on. Yes, parenting is tiring, but to have NO DESIRE for two years?? I can't even comprehend it.
I vote affair.
http://naughtyspot.net

Apr 14 11 - 12:35am
pfie

Go Dan. PATH and Path-Spouse need to work this out. There's nothing like feeling you have a choice to spike the libido. My wife said, "I feel like you're always wanting me to have sex with you". So I stopped pushing her--and she started asking me for sex. This didn't work for PATH in the last 2 years. But without the option for him to get sex outside, she may be feeling pressured to perform for him despite his good behavior--which pressure most women I know hate. It really is a cultural norm that you should have sex with your spouse--even after he's given up asking. But giving him permission (explicit or implicit) to go outside the marriage removes that pressure (for my marriage anyway).

Apr 13 11 - 3:42pm
SIS

I was married to the low-libido-once every two month-normally only after I initiated-man for too long.... all of which prompted the statement one afternoon that I WOULD be having sex later that night and I hoped that HE chose to be involved. He did.. that night. Turns out the joke was on me because the whole time I was doing without and wanting more, he was giving my MORE to some other woman.

Apr 14 11 - 7:11pm
prw

:(

Apr 13 11 - 4:21pm
Edward SF

This is the best thing I've read in a long, long time. Bravo, Dan, Bravo!

Apr 13 11 - 6:25pm
Molly

Well said Dan....the comments made about you are insane and show her up in her true light. If what she says about knowing woman is correct then how do female advisors deal with men?

As for PATH.... You really really need to try to talk to her about this. I am wondering if during that time you have made any sexual advances to her at all. Maybe she is saying the same about you, maybe you back off a bit to far and she thinks you didn't want her.

The only way to find that out and forge a way a head for the two of you is through open and honest communication and I agree with Dan if ultimatly it turns out she is 'done with sex' then she should acknowledge the fact that you are not and help you to find an outlet for your sexual needs.

mollyxxx

http://mollysdailykiss.com/

Apr 14 11 - 1:22am
KJ

I love that Dan called the Pope "an old fag in Rome." That's exactly what he is.

Apr 14 11 - 1:37pm
PubicLiceus

And an awesome way to promote conversation and possibly persuade people to your pov. Seriously, is there anyone more boring the Savage? When you're interesting, you don't have to slander public figures.

Apr 14 11 - 9:53pm
nope

God, I know. That Voltaire fella just puts me to sleep.

Apr 18 11 - 12:08pm
PubicLiceus

The differences being, obviously, wit and insight. Voltaire did far more than call people names. As to Savage, name calling seems to be about the only weapon in the arsenal.

Voltaire: "I don't agree with a word you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Savage: I don't like a politician so I'll use his name in a scatological reference.

I'll let history decide.

Apr 19 11 - 10:54pm
RuleofLaw

nope owned by Liceus!

Apr 14 11 - 10:52am
K-Star

I don't know how PATH's attempt at communication went like or how he broached the subject, and I have never been in this situation but I wonder if guys in these situations should try to honestly seduce his wife as if he just met her. I think women in LTR's sometimes feel like they are not as alluring as they once were (especially after childbearing) and they need to feel sexy and desired to stoke the fires. I dunno, just a hunch :) Good luck PATH!

Apr 14 11 - 1:51pm
Smoke

Simple enough...Gallagher owned...Dan Savage is my hero! I can't wait for your tv show, congratulations!

Apr 19 11 - 10:53pm
RuleofLaw

If the show would only debut on 4/20, you'd probably be ecstatic.

Apr 14 11 - 2:09pm
Salty

Maybe the cat doesn't end up crapping on the floor but that doesn't mean all is well in the litter-box department.

Quote of the day!

Apr 18 11 - 12:10pm
PubicLiceus

Yet another example of Savage scatological wit. Yaaawwwwwwwnnn.

Apr 14 11 - 7:14pm
prw

"But [the pope] not knowing what women taste like..."

As far as we know, Dan. As far as we know.

Apr 15 11 - 8:37am
bk

Bwahaha!

Apr 15 11 - 3:41pm
Yes!

Bravo, Dan. Couldn't have put it better myself. Which, I guess, is why you have the TV show.

Apr 16 11 - 9:13pm
ricochet

Dan, maybe in the advice column you could stick to giving advice instead of blowing your own wad. Everybody knows you don't/won't ever see eye to eye with someone like Gallagher(and really, who in their right mind could?) and have an ax to grind against religion(all well and good, I agree with most everything you say) but PATH asked for some help and advice. And your's was pretty worthless, especially since you used his problem to make your own point.

Write a column, but don't pretend you're giving helpful advice when all you're doing is trying to make a point. 'Cuz you're not.

Apr 18 11 - 12:13pm
PubicLiceus

The bigger question is why would PATH as Savage for advice? The cynic in me doubts that PATH exists.

Apr 18 11 - 12:17pm
PubicLiceus

...ask...

Jul 22 11 - 4:40am
River

Hats off to whoever wrote this up and potesd it.