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Tristan Taormino's True Lust: Adventures in Sex, Porn and Perversion and Dan Savage's Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America are to sex in the 21st century what Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was to martini-and-Valium-addled nonorgasmic housewives in the 1960s. If they're not the most important books of their time, they should be.
Besides their activism and writings, Taormino and Savage are the creators of two of the most-read sex advice columns in America. Savage's appropriately named syndicated column Savage Love (which appears weekly in Metro Times) and Taormino's Pucker Up (a favorite in New York's famed Village Voice) have offered guidance to countless confused sex fans, fiends and freaks. The sexperts spoke to Metro Times and offered some insight on the wiles and mores of sexual living. Consider it a Valentine's Day gift:
Metro Times: It seems the two of you revisit the same questions over and over. It also seems that whatever the question is, it ends up falling into one of two categories: love or lust. Is that true?
Dan Savage: Oftentimes, people talk about love and lust as if they are mutually exclusive categories. It's lust that reinforces love; it's what makes love tolerable. Many of the questions I get are from people seeking permission, more than anything else, to do what their genitals and desires are demanding of them. So I often feel like I'm issuing little permission slips to nervous straight people.
Tristan Taormino: For me, there is a big difference between love and lust. Lust is the more instinctual, primal, physical, sexual part of us. Lust is when the way our body feels, takes over what our brain is thinking. Love is much more thoughtful and more intentional. I mean, sometimes we lust after people we don't even like.
Savage: Tristan's right, people do lust after people they don't even like. I still carry a torch for Ashton Kutcher, who I think is revolting. I guess I just want to fuck the sense into him.
MT: How has the topic of lust redefined itself since you lost your virginity?
Savage: There's a lot more openness it's evidenced by the existence of columns like mine and Tristan's. In many ways it was forced by the AIDS crisis. When we used to talk about sex, we would talk about it as if there was one way anyone ever really had sex, or ever really wanted to have sex, or ever really should have sex. What AIDS did was force a conversation about the sex people were actually having what gay people were actually doing, what straight people were actually doing, what was safe, what was not safe. It opened the floodgates to healthy conversation.
There was no blacker cloud, and it has a tiny silver lining I'd rather have all my dead friends back rather than all this openness. However, it's good for the culture, good for the people and good for their sex lives. People are less ashamed and they are having more sex and better sex now.
Taormino: I absolutely agree. When I wrote my book, The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women, I can remember the distributors and the publisher saying, "I don't even want to say this word when I go into a meeting." They were completely freaked out; they didn't think anyone was ever going to buy the book. Now, it's eight years later and they've redone the cover it has an actual ass on it now which is a big deal. In 1998, they said, "It has to be all text, and the word 'anal' has to be in the lightest color."
Savage: I wonder how many people bought the book thinking it was just The Ultimate Guide for Women?
Taormino: (laughing) Yeah, and then had their eyes checked.
For me because it's sort of my area of expertise I notice that there's so much more discussion about anal sex than there ever was eight years ago. And that's a definite shift. I also think that kids know a lot more about sex, a lot earlier, than I did. I don't think I was as sexually savvy and knowledgeable, at age 12, as some of these kids that I talk to are.
MT: Do you think anal is the last taboo?
Savage: I think it's the last one we can get away with.
Taormino: I don't think that anymore. I mean, S&M used to be incredibly taboo, and we have really seen a level of acceptance and visibility in the last 10 years. I feel like we keep moving further and further.
Savage: You have to remember, oral sex was once regarded as the height of kink. It has now become standard. I mean, the model that doesn't come with oral sex should be returned to the lot. What we define as kinky and what we define as immoral has shifted. There used to be a certain sect of sex acts that "God approved of" (matrimonial, missionary position, heterosexual sex). These days, there's a way to behave ethically while doing whatever the hell we want as long as we're not hurting anybody. Two people giving each other pleasure is not immoral they're not burning down a rain forest, they're not killing people in Darfur.
Taormino: I also think that's partly due to the Internet and people being able to find their niche. There are so many people out there who used to sit alone in their house and think, "Am I the only guy who jerks off to guys' feet in flip flops?" Now, there are six pay sites where they can see that all day.
Plus, I think sex has gotten a lot more queer. One of the legacies of the gay and lesbian movement is the "bend over boyfriend," guys who like getting fucked in the ass by women with strap-ons. To me, that is really queer sex. I think straight people are becoming more queer.
Savage: I always go out of my way to tell people that this is straight sex, not gay sex, just so they don't stop doing it. Straight people thank God are beginning to see more things being possible for themselves sexually.
MT: It seems that lust is one of the "seven deadly sins" that American politicians really go after. Why does lust get more attention than, say, greed?
Savage: Why is lust more constrained than greed? Because it probably should be. Greed unrestrained can hurt a society, but lust unconstrained can really destroy someone's soul. Everyone needs to be thoughtful and self-critical about how they're behaving. They have to decide whether they are a good witch or a bad witch.
Taormino: Part of why the government can go after lust versus greed is because lust taps into people's anxieties in a much deeper way. That speaks to George Bush himself he can't call others out on being greedy when he's obviously a greedy pig.
Savage: There are many points on the spectrum between "anything goes" and "God hates you."
Taormino: I get this comment all the time: "So you are for anything, right?" As if there are absolutely no boundaries that I won't cross. But of course that's not true.
MT: You are both strident proponents of exploring the libido. Do you have any advice for people who are just beginning that chapter of their sexual lives?
Taormino: It's important to begin with a blank slate. I think the mistake people make is believing that there's one way to have sex: It's going to look a certain way, it's going to feel a certain way, it's going to last a certain amount of time, you're going to make certain kinds of noises. I think when you have that model stuck in your head, you can't find what your authentic sexuality is. I'd just encourage people to let go of that bullshit. Because it is bullshit.
Savage: I think you should look inside and see what turns you on. You should consume pornography and erotica and see what you respond to. You should also be open for trying things. Like I say in my column, "Be good, giving and game." If your boyfriend wants to be peed on, pee on him.
Eve Doster is Metro Times listings editor. Send comments to edoster@metrotimes.