Savage Love

Do I have to tell my one-night stands that I'm in a monogamish relationship?

By Dan Savage

When I was fourteen, my parents informed me that I had a half brother. He was my father's son by another woman. My parents were already married when my brother was born, but I hadn't come along yet. It was a huge scandal when it happened. My half brother came to live with us after his mother died. He was sixteen. My half brother got me pregnant. He didn't rape me; I wanted to have sex with him. Everyone in the family found out — huge scandal number two — and it took me years to get over it and stop blaming myself.

Now I'm twenty-six and engaged. What do I tell my fiancé? My parents wound up divorcing — my mother called the police on my half brother and tried to physically prevent me from getting an abortion — and I don't speak to her anymore. But my father and brother are still in my life.

I get panic attacks when I think about having to tell my fiancé about any of this, Dan, because I don't want him to see me as sick. But if I don't tell him, he'll hear about it from someone else. What do I do?

— The Sister Act

"This could happen to anyone," says Debra Lieberman, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Miami. 

A quick clarification: Lieberman means this could happen to anyone who meets a sibling under similar circumstances. 

Coresidence throughout childhood — particularly early childhood — creates sexual aversion in adulthood, explains Lieberman, who has studied "sibling incest avoidance" extensively. It's a phenomenon called the "Westermarck Effect," and it doesn't just affect biological siblings; adults who grew up in the same home experience the same feelings of sexual revulsion. 

"TSA and her half brother were not raised throughout childhood together and neither observed his or her mother caring for the other as an infant," explains Lieberman. "These are the two cues that have been shown to lead to the categorization of another as a sibling. When these cues are present, strong sexual aversions tend to develop. Without these cues, no natural sexual aversion will develop." 

(What this means, of course, is that everybody who read TSA's letter and thought, "What a sicko! I would never fuck any of my siblings!" needs to back the fuck off. If your parents had surprised you with a long-lost sibling when you were fourteen, dear readers, you, too, could be facing an extremely awkward conversation with your fiancé. There but for the grace of God, etc.) 

So what, if anything, should you tell the man you're about to marry, TSA? 

"If it were me," says Lieberman, "I would probably say something. I would explain the situation and the science. Unfortunately, this might gross out her fiancé, especially if he has sisters. But living with this stress" — the fear that he'll find out at some point — "does not seem like a happy life." 

I agree with Lieberman: Tell your fiancé what happened, TSA. Emphasize that you were young, confused, and Westermarck-Effect-deprived. You can also refer him to Lieberman's website — — where he can peruse the research. 

Good luck, TSA.


I'm a twenty-three-year-old female in a monogamish relationship — thank you for that word! — with my wonderful boyfriend of two years. I moved away last year to attend graduate school, and we agreed it was okay to sleep with other people while we're apart. The last person I slept with was an acquaintance who knew both of us and understood what the deal was with our relationship. My question is, if I'm just looking for casual sex or a one-night stand, should I make it clear that we're just going to have sex and I'm not interested in dating? How much should I tell the person I'm trying to pick up about a significant other they won't ever meet?

— Full Disclosure Necessary, Yathink?

If you meet a guy in a bar, exchange four words with him (and two of them are "Open up!" right before he spits a Jäger shot into your mouth), and you wind up back at your place, FDNY, the person you're about to fuck can reasonably make two assumptions: (1) you're a slut (in the sex-positive, reclaiming-that-word, sisterhood-is-powerful, drink-Jäger-out-of-a-hot-guy's-mouth sense of the term), and (2) he's unlikely to see you again. Under circumstances like these, FDNY, you are not obligated to disclose your relationship status. The only things you're obligated to disclose are the precise kind of clitoral stimulation you require and the exact time you'll need him out of your apartment. 

But if a nice boy asks you out on something that your parents and steampunks call a "date," and he explains that you're really, really special, and he refrains from spitting Jäger shots into your mouth, you are obligated to disclose your relationship status to him, lest he make the entirely reasonable assumption that you're single and interested in him, too.


I am in love with an intelligent woman. She is exactly what I've always wanted: smart, articulate, independent, and friggin' beautiful. The thing is, we fight constantly. Everything is going well, and then I say the wrong thing or use the wrong tone, and she blows up. In these fights, I am required to remain calm, but she can yell, scream, mock, or ridicule. These fights sometimes end in physical confrontations that she instigates. The therapist we're seeing takes my side, but still nothing gets better. Her feelings are the only ones that matter. I'm afraid to read the advice you're going to give me.

— Confused, Pissed, and Sad

You don't mention your own looks, CPAS, but I'm guessing there's a big looks gap in this relationship, i.e., your girlfriend is objectively hot, while you fall somewhere between "Ron Jeremy" and "unconventionally attractive" on the male beauty spectrum. And that's not an accident: she knows that you think you're unlikely to do better than her, looks-wise, and that allows her to be just as psycho as she wants to be. Because she knows you're not going anywhere. 

Here's the advice you were afraid of, CPAS: go somewhere, anywhere, that she isn't. You wouldn't be putting up with this shit if this woman's outsides were as ugly as her insides. 



What happened to your column? I remember back when your columns involved wonderful details about things like proper dildo protocol, indulging odd fetishes, and funny sex adventures. Now it's all about the philosophy of what loving relationships should truly entail. I miss the old Dan who would coach readers on how to put large things inside themselves and recount funny/titillating anecdotes.

— Where's My Dirt?

Google happened to my column. 

Back in the getting-large-things-inside-my-readers days, WMD, people would write me and ask, "How do I get this large thing inside of me?" Now people with large things can turn to Google for information about how to get their large things inside themselves. Another question I used to get all the time: "What's a cock ring?" Now cock rings have their own Wiki page. 

There's just so much good, basic info about sex online — including basic how-to info — that people don't have to ask me for basic information about fetishes or kinks or dildo protocols anymore. So most of the questions I get nowadays, and most of the ones I answer, are about relationships. Don't blame me, WMD, blame Google's algorithms. 

It has been a long time since I filled a column or two with titillating sex anecdotes. I'm on vacation right now, so... wow me with your best/kinkiest/craziest vacation-sex stories, dear readers, and I'll fill next week's column with 'em.

Find the Savage Lovecast (my weekly podcast) every Tuesday at





Commentarium (20 Comments)

Jul 27 11 - 6:17am

Confused, Pissed, and Sad - It might sound counter intuitive, but you have to leave if you ever want a normal relationship with her. Bear in mind there is probably only a small chance of that. She has ALL the hand. You have no hand because she has probably called your bluff a million times. You have to get some genuine space and accept that it might not work. While you are there, try to grow some balls, son. I know its hard, but I am speaking through hard earned horrifying experience. Unless you can enter back into a relationship where she respects you she will treat you like this... and probably cheat on you as well. She needs to come to you, at least halfway. If she cant choose to do that of her own volition when she realises what she has lost, then it ain't ever going to happen. If she realises what she has lost... and is okay with that? Then you aren't wasting each others time. On a bright note? I have seen this work out ok. Someone I knew was dating a guy I thought was a JERK. Turns out that is cause he was a JERK. So she left. Shortly after, he was back. Miraculously, he had dejerkified. I actually like the guy now, and credit him with renewing my faith that motivated people can actually fix their shit.

Jul 27 11 - 9:26am

CSP- You girlfriend is what's typically called "A Bitch." She's a common creature and not worth your time. Dump her and move on. Period.

Jul 28 11 - 3:59pm

LMAO. Short and to the point. I love it. It's true, buddy. Good luck to you.

Jul 27 11 - 11:16am

There are plenty of "smart, articulate, independent, and friggin' beautiful" women out there who arent also psycho. I should know, I live with one. Don't settle.

Jul 27 11 - 11:34am

CPS - While, far be it from me to question Dan Savage, I was in a very similar situation and am by no means on the lower end of the looks spectrum. For me it was a matter of trying to tell myself "she wasn't always like this / she will get better, etc." The only thing is, just like you can't make another person happy --- you can't make another person treat you well. More importantly - you shouldn't have to. You should get away from this girl as quick as you can (and I say this lovingly) and probably get some counseling and look into why you've put up with this as long as you have.

Jul 27 11 - 1:39pm

CPS, you are in an abusive relationship. You are a victim of domestic violence. Get out, and get help to get out if you need it.

Jul 27 11 - 4:06pm

So when a woman acts this way, as CPS's girl does, then she's just being a bitch. But when a guy acts that way toward a girlfriend, he's an abusive asshole and needs to be contained and locked up and her friends "forbid" her to see him again? What a double standard world we live in. Physical and emotional violence isnt acceptable behavior in a relationship.

Jul 27 11 - 5:57pm

Asshole/Bitch. Stop seeing him/her. What double standard do you see here? If he feels physically threatened by the "physical confrontations", yeah, he should probably involve the police, but he didn't state that in his letter.

Jul 27 11 - 7:54pm

Sorry, but I think that distinction is legitimate. Both of them are awful people to be in a relationship with, but a boyfriend is more of a physical threat. More women are killed by their boyfriends/husbands than the other way around, and they are more likely to be physically abused in a relationship. With that said, the only difference is of extremity-- like the girl is an 9 on a scale of "get the fuck away from them," while the guy is a 10.

Jul 27 11 - 4:25pm

So she's a beautiful, smart, articulate, independent woman who treats you like shit. She resists therapy because she doesn't see the need to change - and why should she? She treats you poorly and yet you worship her. You love the idea of what she could be. Fair enough. But for now, she is a mean woman who doesn't respect you. Why you would want to put up with that is beyond me.

Good luck to you.

Jul 27 11 - 7:53pm

These other commenters might very well be right: she might be a psycho-bitch and you need to leave. But, there is another possibility (one I was in). I am smart, articulate, independent, and beautiful but, I too have gone into psycho crazy modes when my bf uses certain words and tones. After lots of time reflecting about why I act like a crazy person toward someone I do love (and respect), I realized that I didn't know any other way of communicating when something made me uneasy. This is because I grew up with a bi-polar mother who went off the deep end after my father died (I was 13) and the only form of communication I learned when something was askew, or confusing, or upsetting, was to scream and act psycho because that's how my mom treated me! It was a scary revelation to make because I did not realize that this woman whom I have not lived with for 7 years was still negatively influencing my life. So, what I'm trying to say is maybe your gf doesn't know how else to deal with uncomfortable feelings. Maybe she's was verbally abused and doesn't even realize that's what she's doing to you. If she truly loves you, she will want to look in the mirror and figure out why she acts that way and set up ways to reinforce the type of communication you both want. It's a process. I've been working on it for 2 years and I'm not perfect, but I'm aware. I still want to yell but I know understand that I can ask questions and speak in a normal voice (or walk away) if my bf talks in the wrong tone. If she doesnt want to work on herself though, you really have to move on. For your sake.

Jul 28 11 - 10:07am

Kudos to your response on the first letter Dan.
CPAS - get out. Get out now. She's abusing you, and you can do better than this nut job.

Jul 28 11 - 4:52pm

Dan, I understand how you'd assume CPAS isn't very attractive, but I have another theory. He may be average looking, even "cute, but he certainly doesn't have much self-worth. Abusers like the girlfriend described prey on people who seem weak, indecisive-- like they'll put up with anything. So he could be attractive enough, but for whatever reason, he doesn't see it. I hope he does get out, and finds someone who treats him well (regardless of his subjective sexiness).

Jul 31 11 - 4:24am

i agree, look is so subjective. i'm always amazed how many cute and adorable types don't see just how attractive and goodlooking they are, at least, in my opinion. i think it has to do with his self-worth more than his look too.

Aug 01 11 - 9:11am

I lived with someone like the girlfriend CPAS describes. You may have the standard garden variety "bitch" on your hands, but I detect a faint whiff of Borderline Personality Disorder. People with BPD who are also physically attractive are like the devil's candy-- "Wow, this hot chick is like SO into me!" They are very stimulating when things are "good" but when things go wrong they regress into 5-year olds. If she does suffer from BPD, good luck getting rid of her. I had to endure months of constant phone calls, suicide threats, stalking and all other types of nutjob behavior before mine got the hint that I wouldn't be taking her back.

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