Recent Savage Love Letters of the Day: What about #MeThough? What about shitty fingers? How do you ask your partner to let you fuck someone else without it damaging their self esteem? Also: last week's column and Savage Lovecast.
First, a follow-up from the LW regarding those shitty fingers of hers:
Thank you for answering my letter even though you thought it might have been fake! For the record, it wasn't—why would anyone wanna take the risk and smell shit? Ignorance is bliss. Anyway, thanks for the sage advice as usual, Dan. It came just in time for me to cancel next date guilt-free.
A rant about a recent column:
It was very surprising for me to be so at odds with your two responses in “Parental Controls.” While my problems with the responses are technically different, they are related.
For MISSCLEO, a mother sent a question about how to handle her son, whose desire for women’s undergarments had led him to acquire them in ways that may be criminal, such as shoplifting or stealing from an individual. While your response did note that MISSCLEO should warn her son against the “Not Okay-ness” of these sorts of methods of fulfilling his personal kink, you seemed to come down surprisingly hard on the mother. You go as far as tell her “I’m going to advise you to back the fuck off.” While it is indeed unrealistic for any parent to expect their child to be completely open about their sexual turn-ons, your answer shames the mother while giving her, and her son, no actual advice on how to solve the legality issues. If the mother just tells her son stealing is wrong and then drops the issue, how will that stop her son if he feels he needs panties again? He will have no recourse. Perhaps the mother could give the teen an allowance so she does not need to directly buy the panties or bras, or she could encourage him to get a job. Merely turning a blind eye will only make things worse, possibly conflating his sexual thrill of underwear with the rush felt when shoplifting or stealing.
Then, in your answer to PARENT, you waste no time in painting the asker as the bad guy (“Sex-positive, huh? Could’ve fooled me.”) for accidently stumbling upon their father’s porn stash and becoming uncomfortable. This is despite the asker saying that some of this porn depicted “violent sexual acts” and “themes of incest.” To my utter shock, you actually seemed to defend incest merely on the grounds that it exists (Pedophilia exists, too, but I would hope you would be loath to defend that). You go on to say that the happy childhood and lack of visible strife from the mother suggests that the father was somehow fulfilling his urges in a “healthy” way, which seems more than a little presumptuous. The first thing you hear anyone say when they are interviewed about a loved one being a serial killer is “but they were so nice.” People can get good at hiding their vices.
What these two responses have in common is that they bring one very specific question to mind: Dan Savage, where exactly do you draw the line? From my admittedly limited understanding on these matters, I have always assumed sexual activities and kinks are okay if they fulfill two major criteria: Complete Consent, e.g. it does not count if one party is drunk or in a position of power over another, and Harmlessness, i.e. the act or kink does not hurt anyone. With these in mind, we can conclude some obvious examples of “Not Okay” sexual behavior, such as bestiality, since animals cannot give consent, and rape, which goes against consent and is very harmful. However, these criteria are not met in regards to your opinions regarding MISSCLEO and PARENT. For MISSCLEO’s teen, his illicit means of obtaining women’s underwear is harmful (stealing) and potentially without consent (if he is taking them from a person directly). For PARENT’s father, well, his “kinks” should be more obviously wrong (in fairness, the “violent sexual acts” could have been misinterpreted BDSM, but considering PARENT at least claims to be sex-positive, they probably know the difference). Incest is especially thorny, as not only does it run afoul of the cultural universal “incest taboo” (right up there with murder as something nearly all human cultures can agree is wrong), but depending on the relationship, such as between an uncle and a niece, there exists a power dynamic that inhibits consent, and relatives committing incest have inflicted untold mental and physical pain on countless helpless individuals, my sister-in-law included.
You can argue that engaging in certain acts purely through fantasy is okay so long as there isn’t any actual pain, but couldn’t that be said about anything? Can Pedophiles enjoy their “kink” so long as they don’t engage with a child themselves? Can rapists pretend to violate victims all they want as long as they don’t actually commit rape? Suicidal ideation is a warning sign that a person may commit suicide, so why is rape ideation not an indicator for actual rape? I have a feeling that, in an effort to avoid “kink-shaming”, you have gone too far in the other direction and are too permissive with what can be considered a healthy kink instead of something dangerous. If you do not set some sort of boundary, who is to say that rape, real non-consensual sex, is not merely a “kink” and that you should respect their right to enjoy their “kink” in privacy? So I reiterate: Where do you draw the line?
Lots of people have fantasies about non-consensual sex acts, and those fantasies can be safely explored with consenting partners who either share them or aren't traumatized by them and are willing to go there to please a partner. As for theft: It's wrong, I said so, and encouraged MISSCLEO to hammer that point home. As for PARENT's dad, perhaps I was a little too hard on him. But he mom and dad are dead, the home he grew up in was loving and safe, and I think his dad—his kinky dad—deserves the benefit of the doubt. Instead of viewing his father as a secret monster and his whole childhood (and that loving home) as a lie, he should regard that loving home and his parents long and happy marriage as evidence that his father was not a monster, regardless of how off-putting, un-sexy, or monstrous (to PARENT) his father's kinks might've been.
Something a little briefer on MISSCLEO:
The one thing I would have added to your advice for the mom who caught her son stealing lingerie: If she can afford it, after the talk about where the bra came from, she should give him an Amazon gift card. (Maybe $50-$100?) No matter how close they are, he's not going to ask his mom to buy panties for him, but she can give him the means and then assiduously ignore boxes that show up with his name on them.
The same advice also came in over the Twitter...
MISSCLEO could give her kid an gift card, so that he could buy his secret underwear online.
— Bruno (@Brular) October 18, 2017
Thank you both! There's the constructive advice that MISSCLEO needed and the furiously loquacious LWer above faulted me for not providing: a gift card and some respect for her son's privacy!
On incest porn and stats:
In your current column, your stats on incest porn searches are from a book with a title saying "what big data says about who we really are." Good lord. Data is not information. Correlation is not causation. Meaning putting an incest search term into porn hub does not a motherfucker make you be. I have discovered incest porn very recently. It's something different. I have never ever wanted to be sexual with any of my family. My friend's family maybe. I'll tell you what. Lately 16 out of a 100 incest search terms are coming from me every 5 minutes during peak pud pommelling time. Curiosity did not kill the cat. Searching "real brother and sister fuck outside parents bedtime" does not a sibling relationship deviant make you. If that was the case, any Quentin Tarantino fan is clearly Charles Manson in the making.
A suggestion for the podcast:
I was listening to a recent magnum edition of the podcast where Dan was answering a question from a woman who feared her SO had a feces fetish. Hearing about other people's weird fetishes is one of the things I most enjoy about the podcast. For example, one of my all time faves was the woman whose SO had a fetish about getting hit in the face with a pie. Had the thought that you may want to collect these interesting fetish calls and offer them as a premium for subscribing to the magnum edition. Sort of the equivalent of a NPR tote bag for the savage lovecast set. Just a suggestion. Keep up the good work.
And, finally, a word from a doctor on BANDAGE:
I am a child therapist and after reading had to drop a note. I agree completely with your support to the parents to not make a big deal and to create boundaries for experimentation etc ...
What is missing, and could be truly significant if undiagnosed or unseen, is the possible link the parents mentioned. At the age of 2 the boy had “groin surgery.” Two-year-olds can not understand medical procedures. Young children who have painful and sometimes frightening medical procedures can be traumatized without a way of speaking about it, understanding it and processing it to completion, thus it can show up in behaviors. Trauma can become sexualized especially if, as you mention, like a bathing suit, was at all related to body parts that may have been involved—catheter, constipation, soreness or intrusive medical procedures around the genitals, cleaning/wiping etc. I see in this story the possibility that he might be working on processing what happened to him at a time when he was preverbal so he continues to do it with a behavior. HE is in control of bandages, gauze etc.
If/when, kids/people, develop behaviors that turn into fetishes due to a trauma it is ideal to treat the trauma and relieve the person of that which can be carried for years(sometimes forever), in less healthy symptoms/behaviors (or just pesky ones, like generalized anxiety, phobias, etc). The jury is out as to whether the fetish works for or against (sometimes both) in these situations. Thus, why not treat the trauma and leave the fetish alone and see if it is still useful/present/part of the person’s personality.
A well-trained child therapist would likely put BANDAGE behavior aside and would focus on assessing what happened around the surgery and do some work with the boy around that and not “treat” the bandage behavior. The bandage behavior is a possible symptom of his trauma and that link can be made. “When you were little you had an operation,......fill in with what happened, see if he remembers anything or has any associations that reflect this. EX: fear of shots, doctors or other behaviors like bandaging that may, in fact, be related.
These possibilities btw, are very normal and common.
Having an assessment would allow the boy to go along his merry masturbatory way if it is more in the realm of experimentation, and it would also allow him to deal with the root system of that trauma if it is hanging around.
Generally speaking. Hospitals are a lot better with kids, but the fact remains that young children especially those who can not express or understand, often have residual trauma from these experiences that they benefit from dealing with later as they do often have behaviors, phobia’s, or anxieties related to the event, though not immediately obvious.
We think young children do not remember, but the body does, and it alerts the person to other potential dangers (residual anxiety or phobias), and it wants to heal, (behaviors that mock the event in an attempt to process it ).
All of which can be dealt with when it shows up and when the child is more able (more mature /more verbal) to deal with it.
If you have the ability to circle back to these parents, I would encourage them to meet with a trained child therapist who works with early childhood trauma- NOT a therapist who might focus on eradicating the bandage behavior.
I don’t know where they live but could connect them here if they live in Seattle. If they are not here, they could start with contacting the local children’s hospital, their son’s doctor, or ask around for a referral from friends, the child’s school etc. for a therapist who is trained in doing trauma-oriented work with young children.