The Sexual Libertarianism of Dan Savage

THE SEXUAL LIBERTARIANISM OF DAN SAVAGE….Twenty years into the run of the widely syndicated advice column “Savage Love,” it’s time America took serious stock of Dan Savage — the foul-mouthed sex columnist, gonzo activist, bestselling author, and occasional public scourge of Rick Santorum. In his cover story in the March/April issue of the Washington Monthly, Lutheran minister Benjamin Dueholm argues that Savage is not only the biggest advice writer in America — a kind of twisted second coming of Ann Landers — but also one of the most important ethicists of our time.

For all his celebration of polymorphous sexuality, Savage has not been content to cede judgments of right and wrong to cultural conservatives. In his advice column, he has codified a remarkably systematic set of principles to guide relationships that have sailed free of traditional norms. By engaging so frankly with modern sexuality, Dueholm argues, Savage has probably done more to keep families intact than many cultural conservatives would care to admit.

But if Savage’s principles — roughly: full disclosure, autonomy, mutual exchange, and adherence to certain minimum standards of performance — sound familiar, it’s probably because they are the same rules that govern expectations in markets for goods and services. Indeed, what Savage really offers readers is a kind of market libertarianism for the bedroom — an honest trading floor where the old institutions of domesticity once stood. And that’s the problem. Free market thinking, ultimately, is no more likely to prove beneficial to our relationships than it has in the global economy.

Read Dueholm’s cover story “Rules of Misbehavior.”