Behind the scenes

Q: Tracking roughly the last year’s worth of Savage Love, I noticed that you have published a total of 37 of your readers’ letters. This works out to an average of 3.08 letters published in each column. How many letters do you receive each week, on average? I am really curious to know what the odds are of having a letter published in your column. —Crazy About Numbers

A: It’s a lazy, hot summer day and I don’t feel like breaking a sweat. So I’m going to take it easy and pull a few letters from the ATC file — that’s “About the Column,” not “All Things Considered” — and answer my readers’ burning questions about how I make my living.

OK, what are the odds of getting a letter into the column? Not good, CAN. I get on average 8,000 pieces of e-mail every week — and that’s after spam. (A note on spam: Most people can safely delete e-mail with subject lines like “small dick,” “anal to mouth action” or “lesbian animal sex.” Not me. I have to open those e-mails because they could be legit Savage Love questions that touch on those distressing topics.) About 50 percent of the non-spam mail is from people who don’t have questions for me, CAN, they just think I’m an idiot and want to tell me so. Another 25 percent is from people who think I’m wonderful and want to tell me so.

I don’t take the hate/love imbalance to heart — whether you’re talking advice columns, op-ed columns or sports columns, ticked-off people are likelier to write in and vent. I print the negative letters frequently, as any regular reader knows, but never letters of praise. I mean, what kind of insecure bag of slop prints letters of praise in his own column?

The final 25 percent — about 2,000 letters — contains actual questions. Since I use about three questions per week, the odds of a particular question getting into the column are not only slim, CAN, they’re satanic. People who send in actual questions — not criticism, not praise, but sex questions — have a 1 in 666 chance of seeing their questions in the column. Funny how that pencils out, huh?


Q: My girlfriend wrote a sex column for her college newspaper last year that was mostly about our sex life. I loved the fact she was suddenly a lot more experimental (always looking out for new column ideas!), and I loved having all the other guys on campus know just what kind of awesome sex I was having. Being with her made me wonder about your partner. Does he dig having the world know all about his sex life? —J. Shaft

A: Does the world know all about my boyfriend’s sex life? No, the world does not. You see, JS, unlike most college sex columnists, I don’t write about my own sex life — and it’s going to stay that way. If I want to keep getting into my boyfriend’s pants, I have to keep him out of the column. That’s our deal. On those rare occasions when I have mentioned details about my sex life, JS, it’s almost always bullshit I’ve made up for its shock value. Like when I wrote about having a three-way with Trent Ford and Jim Romenesko — that never happened, JS, it was a lie.


Q: When did one man become the expert on love and dating? Excuse me, a “sexpert.” So tell us all how love works, Mr. Sexpert. You will not respond to this e-mail because I am not one of your followers and it will serve nothing to promote your career. —Danger Boy

A: I’ve never claimed to be an expert, DB, so lay the fuck off. “Sex expert” and — ugh! — “sexpert” are terms that others have slapped on me, not terms I’ve ever used to describe myself (at least not without making little quote signs with my fingers and rolling my eyes). What I am is an advice columnist — and I’m not the only one on earth, so “one man” is not “the expert on love and dating” — and according to Webster’s, “advice” means “an opinion about what could or should be done.” The only qualification you need to give someone your advice is having been asked for it. People ask for my advice, I give it to them. That’s my job. Is my advice “expert”? Dunno. But if I gave unhelpful, useless advice, DB, people would stop asking for my advice, right?

As to how love works, well, no one knows the answer to that one. We all know love when we feel it but the particulars vary so widely, the feeling is so subjective, that making generalizations about love is hardly worth the effort. I mean, what looks and feels like love to me would, I promise you, leave you sexually, emotionally, and spiritually traumatized. (Or should I say, “more traumatized than your letter indicates you are already”?)


Q: I met these two boys at a bar and I thought they were both really nice, and kinda cute. I talked to them for a bit, but the club was closing so I couldn’t really get intense with them, but what I did learn was that they both work for an advice column. Now, they wouldn’t tell me which one, but I think I might’ve figured it out on my own. Just maybe… hmmm. … —Amanda

A: It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had two boys working under me, Amanda, and the last time it happened I was in Las Vegas with Trent Ford, Jim Romenesko, and eight rolls of duct tape. The boys you met must work for Carolyn Hax.


Q: Do you ever get follow-up e-mails from readers who’ve used your advice? I don’t know if this would be divulging a trade secret or anything, but what is your overall success rate? What I mean is, after people have taken your advice, does it have the desired effect they wanted it to have? I would be very interested to read a column or two devoted to Dan success (or failure) stories! —Curious in Cleveland

A: It’s an interesting idea, CIC. If anyone out there took my advice and survived and wants to vent and/or share, please send your story to [email protected]. If I get enough responses, I’ll devote an upcoming column to my few successes and many failures.


Q: I’ve been reading your column for nearly a year and I’ve noticed something. You rarely post letters of praise. Do you get them? I wanted to let you know that there are many people out there who enjoy your work very much and want it known. I understand that the negative letters are more fun to respond to. But give your fans a voice too! We can always count on you to give your honest opinion and keep an open mind regarding any issue [Ed. Note: Except the issue of vaginas, of course]. It’s nice to see somebody who is just as willing to give a verbal slap in the face to members of his own community (your tough approach to gay men who spread HIV) as you are to give praise to those you’re not particularly a part of (like Canadians). I, for one, would like your audience to know that we appreciate your work. Job well done! —Dan’s Biggest Canadian Fan

A: Aw, shucks.Thanks.

Send letters to [email protected]

About The Author

Dan Savage

Dan Savage is a sex-advice columnist, podcaster, and author, and has appeared on numerous television shows. His sex advice column “Savage Love” first appeared in The Stranger, Seattle’s alternative weekly, in 1991. The column is now syndicated across the United States and Canada. He has published six books...
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