Hey, Everybody...

Some weeks back, One Less Douche wrote in about his new relationship. Thirty-five years old himself, OLD was dating a 20-year-old woman. "As a longtime reader, I know and agree with your 'campsite rule' about having sex with younger people," OLD wrote. "I have a responsibility to leave her in better shape than I found her. Part of that is easy—be honest, caring, open, GGG, etc.—but I would like to humbly request that you ask your readers who have been in relationships with a large age gap what their partners did for them that left them better off?"

Honoring the campsite rule requires simply being honest, caring, open, and GGG, I replied to OLD. He also has to make sure this young woman emerges from this relationship with no STIs, no fertilized eggs, no restraining orders, no emotional trauma, and improved sexual skills. Tons of Savage Love readers wrote in with specific, real-life examples of older partners honoring—or failing to honor—the campsite rule. Here's a selection of their letters.

—Dan Savage

I've had two flings and one relationship (still in it) with two significantly older men, and based on one memorable positive outcome, I can offer a good piece of advice for One Less Douche: wear condoms with a smile.

While in college, I didn't have the strongest boundaries when it came to boyfriends and was pressured sometimes—against my better judgment—to not use condoms for a variety of lame college-boy excuses. I ended up having a couple STD scares and endured uncomfortable side effects from the pill (as well as the $25 monthly charge). Then I had a wonderful fling with a man in his early 40s who kept a variety of condoms in all shapes and flavors by his bed. He was a fantastic lover, by far the best I'd had at that point. He believed that using condoms was a good way to show respect for his partner.

The next time I had a younger boyfriend who didn't want to use condoms because they made sex less "skillful"(?), I had the confidence to tell him, "That's a shame. All of my best lovers haven't had a problem using them," and walk out the door. The boyfriend showed up at my door 20 minutes later with a pack of Lifestyles and an apology. I'm forever thankful to this older lover for teaching me to stand my ground.

Confident and Careful

When I was a 20-year-old study-abroad student (and virgin), I got involved with a man 14 years older. Neither of us was perfect—he should have gone slower in bed and used a condom; I should have been clearer about the fact I wasn't in love with him—but the big problem was that we were at completely different life stages in terms of readiness to settle down.

The first thing about the campsite rule is remembering that you are almost certainly not going to spend the rest of your life at this "campsite." So don't pressure your younger partner to say, "I love you," to move near you or in with you, to meet your parents or let you come meet hers, etc. Treat the relationship as precious, but temporary.

Being Realistic Is Being Responsible

I was 22 when I was involved with a woman in her mid-30s who had just ended a long marriage. As an idealistic 22-year-old male who believed that love conquered all, I allowed myself to get caught up in the fantasy that our relationship had a future. She did as well, but only briefly.

She did nothing wrong, really: Once she got over the initial rush and reality set in, she talked with me about her issues with the age difference, which included the fact that her conservative family could never accept her having a partner who was so much younger. She tried several times to warn me that the affair was time limited but I was too starry-eyed and, what's more, lacked enough life experience to understand WHY it wouldn't work.

Now I'm 10 years older/wiser and I do understand why it wouldn't have worked; as she told me, I needed to have the chance to have my own life, and had we stayed together, she would have been a senior citizen at the point where I would be having my midlife crisis. The memories are great and I wouldn't trade them for anything, but I think OLD and anyone else who hooks up with much younger partners needs to be aware that lack of life experience will make young partners more susceptible to fantasizing about a future together that may or may not be feasible or well-advised, no matter how honest and considerate the older partner is.

Former Campsite

I wish I had known about the campsite rule eight years ago when I met "Todd." He was 38. I was 18. To make matters worse, I had low self-esteem and felt obligated to fuck the rare guy who took an interest in me. He was only my second sexual partner.

Was Todd GGG, kind, and caring? No, no, and no. For starters, he unexpectedly whipped his cock out as I sat in a chair in his apartment on our first date. At 18 I didn't have the strength of character to just walk out the door. He didn't volunteer to wear a condom, and because I felt insecure, I didn't demand that he wear one. We kept seeing each other and it never got any better. He would wake me up by poking me with his erection. He mauled my clit while trying to finger me and refused to cut his nails when I told him that he was scratching my labia. Any request I made during sex was met with sulking and hostility. It was hard enough, as an insecure teenager, to ask for what I wanted, and his attitude killed any notions of sexual assertiveness I might have had.

I've got a whole slew of stories about this asshole but I'll leave you with this: During all this bullshit that he was pulling on me, he was ALSO demanding that we incorporate his cross-dressing and desire to be pegged into our sex life! I wasn't enthusiastic about either of these things, but at least I tried. He wouldn't even trim his fucking nails.

Basically, this guy was the biggest loser ever. Luckily I figured that out after a few months and dumped the motherfucker. My current guy is six years older than me and for the past five years has been a model camper. Too bad I had to learn the hard way how to tell a decent person from a douche.

Current Lover Is Terrific

When I was 17 I dated a 26-year-old. I don't think he was a Savage Love reader, as he definitely didn't follow the campsite rule.

After a year and a half of dating, he started calling 20 times a day. He would tell me that I didn't need to go to college or start a career because he was going to be an attorney and I could stay at home and take care of our children.

After a while, I decided to break up with him. I called him and explained that I thought we were looking for different things and that we should look for them in other people. He went off the deep end, yelled and screamed and cursed at me, called me everything under the sun, and then had his best friend continue the tirade.

The day after the breakup, I started getting e-mails from friends wondering why someone had posted comments about me on their LiveJournals. Turns out my ex-boyfriend's best friend went to every person I had listed as a friend and copy/pasted a paragraph using my full name and saying how horrible I was, that I had cheated on him, everything except alleging that I had killed his puppy. Everyone I actually knew deleted the comments, but one comment, left on the journal of an online webcomic, stayed up. I tried contacting the owner, but it hadn't been updated in years and no one responded.

This meant that when I applied for colleges and when I applied for jobs, this comment was fully visible to anyone who knew how to Google. I would have to explain the situation to anyone I knew that happened to randomly Google me, including potential mates.

Lesson Learned

I wanted to share my campsite rule story. I was 19 and had a 31-year-old boyfriend. He made me feel safe at first and took on the role of teacher with me, sexually and otherwise. I came to care about him a lot.

He could tell how I felt, and he told me he was uncomfortable with it. I thought he was breaking things off, but he said it was just a "talk" about boundaries. I didn't understand exactly what he was getting at (although I figured it out later). He began taking me to parties a lot where we'd drink heavily and do lots of drugs. We'd go back to his place and almost always ended up in bed. At some point he stopped wearing condoms, claiming they "freaked him out."

Being a healthy 19-year-old, it took less than a month before I ended up pregnant. When I told him, he said, "I won't have a kid." The only way he would be involved, he said, was in planning an abortion. I was in no position to raise a kid on my own. He drove me to my appointments, paid for half of the procedure and bought me lunch after. That was the grand finale of our relationship—a cheap-ass lunch.

I found out later that he had been sleeping with other girls at the same time, all of them about my age. I was lucky, I suppose, in that I came out of this without an STD. But he broke my heart and definitely didn't follow the campground rule in the relationship. I was young and vulnerable, and he took advantage.

Younger And Wish I'd Been Wiser

I pretty much credit my ex-older-boyfriend for making me feel like I'm a catch. We had lots of hot sex all the time, and he always told me how hot he thought I was, he always wanted to hang out, and he always came to pick me up, either on time or 10 minutes early. He didn't care if I had my period, if I hadn't shaved my legs, whatever—he still made me feel like I was the hottest thing he'd ever seen. Eventually we broke up because I was completely immature in other key ways, but it's been four years and I still feel like I'm so hot that I shouldn't settle for just any old jerk-off. He essentially left me more sexually experienced, with higher expectations about how a guy should treat me, and with solid self-esteem. Before I dated him, I would have thought that my current awesome and totally hot boyfriend was out of my league, but here I am, in a great relationship with the hottest guy I'VE ever seen.

Better Off Now

A few years ago I dated someone 22 years older than me. She was smart, sexy, and I thought we had great chemistry, but the age difference (not to mention the difference between our professional statuses) contributed to a severe imbalance of power in the relationship. In other words, she insisted on holding all the cards, and I had none. It probably didn't help that she was also a psychologist. When it came to sex and physical intimacy, she had to be the one to initiate all contact, refusing to let me even so much as initiate a kiss. She thought she was giving me what I wanted, but it was cold and detached, without foreplay or even looking at me naked, then ordering me to relax and enjoy it. Afterward, we had to sit down and have a serious discussion about why I couldn't "achieve an orgasm." I don't know if she thought she was doing me a favor, but it's safe to say the campsite was NOT left in better condition than when she found it.

Disappointed Young Dyke

When I was 40, a very young woman in my office, age 20 (my God, she could have been my daughter!!!), made it abundantly clear she wanted to jump my middle-aged bones. I was happily married at the time (still am) and she was about to be married. For her, it was a prewedding wild-oats-to-be-sowed thing. For me, it was an opportunity to fuck an amazingly hot 20-year-old who thought I was still hot. So, WTF...

Not only was it totally hot (for both of us), it didn't break up my marriage, it didn't break up her impending marriage (she's happily married with kids!), and it was totally sexually instructive for her. She improved her blowjob skills with me, we tried things like anal and toys, and had many other fun learning experiences. I could go on but I'm getting a little turned on reliving this.

Ultimately, we ended the affair after two months, and I left her emotionally healthy, not pregnant, not diseased, and I think a very happy girl. We agreed to end the sex, no more teasing or flirting at the office, and we kept our word. We're still in touch—an occasional catch-up e-mail exchange—so it can be done.

A Devoted Fan

I grew up in a small town, in a devout Catholic home, and I had no clue there was more than one kind of sexuality. I had thoughts and feelings I didn't know what to do with, but I don't think I'd ever heard the word "gay," much less knew what it meant.

I'd had sex with girls, but I didn't have my first experience with another guy until I was 18. I was at an ex-girlfriend's party, and it wasn't pretty; everyone was bombed or high. Except for this older guy: late-20s, maybe 30, somebody's brother. I knew he was looking at me in a way that men weren't supposed to look at other men. We got talking, realized we both hated the party, and agreed to go for a walk in what by then had to be the wee hours. We were in a big deserted park, grass, bushes, streetlights, when he turned to me and I thought, "He's going to kiss me and I'm going to throw up." He did; I didn't.

I was so awkward. I had no idea how to do the things my feelings were prompting me to do. I knew I wanted to top him, but didn't know that word or how exactly to get there. He was so patient and gentle and understanding. This is not a story of a teenage kid being preyed on. I took the lead; he guided. He never pushed anything. He helped introduce me to myself.

He lived halfway down the East Coast, but he kept in regular touch with calls and long affectionate letters, checking in on me, listening to me, reassuring me that whatever I felt was okay.

Not everyone felt that way. This was almost 40 years ago. When I got comfortable enough to tell my parents I thought I was gay, they had me committed to a mental hospital. That's another story, and not a very nice one. I was there till I was 21 and could legally insist on being released. Shock treatments, megadoses of Thorazine. I don't know why I didn't go truly nuts. I think a big part of it was the memory of that kindness and that closeness, and the rightness of it, for me. I lost a lot during those years locked up. I lost track of that wonderful guy who'd been just what I needed when nobody else understood.

I never had a chance to thank him, so I'd like to do that now, and maybe imagine he's reading this and remembering too.


When I was 20, I was involved with a man in his mid-30s. He left me better off by making me feel smart, sexy, self-confident, and by never letting me believe that I needed him. Being together was always a choice, never a necessity. This was after a string of teenage and early-20s boys who were possessive, manipulative, and needy (as I'm sure I was). My advice to OLD: accept her, be crazy about her, fuck each other's brains out, and DO NOT let her move in. And don't do anything to distance her from her peers.

Ultimately, my older man didn't introduce me to any sex act or practice that wasn't already in my repertoire, but 15 years later, I still look back on it as some of the best sex of my life. He showed me that sex doesn't need to be part of an emotional stranglehold. He showed me that sex is fun and that safe sex is hot. He showed me how to care about someone without being obsessive. And when it was time, he let me go.

Gone But Not Forgotten

When I was a young, curious, somewhat well-informed teenager, I met and got involved with a man 10 years my senior. I was smart enough to know about Planned Parenthood and be on the pill before I became sexually active. This man had a bisexual female roommate. I became great friends with them both and, predictably, all three of us had sex together. They were both careful, understanding people, particularly the woman, and I recall fondly dates that began with the three of us cruising around Seattle, talking and laughing, and ending with all of us cuddled up after lovemaking. After a few months, I moved away to work for the summer.

They taught me technique, patience, how to give and receive, both in bed and out. I'm still glad I found them at such a formative point in my life.

Right Bi Me

I am a 22-year-old lesbian woman. I was recently in a relationship with a 31-year-old very experienced lesbian woman. We ended the relationship for various reasons, mainly bad timing. She was incredibly careful to leave me better, emotionally and sexually. Having been out for a couple years prior to meeting her, I had multiple sexual encounters with more experienced lesbian women, young and old. Rather than being respectful of my "performance anxiety" and lack of experience, these women took it upon themselves to make me into a challenge they needed to conquer. They didn't give me time to become comfortable or explore. There was no equality or partnership with these earlier woman, and I was left confused and numb equating all of my gay sexual experiences with my earlier straight encounters feeling as if I had no place or orientation.

What this older woman gave me was priceless. She gave me time, space, guidance, trust, and respect. Instead of viewing my inexperience as comedic, or enticing, she viewed it consciously, taking note the responsibility she had to me. I walked away with a newfound confidence, and a new beautiful view of sex.

Better For It

When I was 20, I fell in love with a man twice my age. He was handsome, strong, well put together. Sexually, he used the campsite rule to perfection. I was a virgin when we met and he let everything be on my terms. It was wonderful. He let me explore my sexuality without ever pushing me. I came out of that relationship more sexually confident and happy with my body.

Unfortunately, he messed up the emotional side. He told me he loved me, but kept me a secret from his friends, explaining that he had a "public life" and a "private life." When he left me for someone else after a year of secretly dating, he explained that he could never have stayed with me for the long haul, due to our age difference, but had been afraid of hurting me. I was heartbroken and it took me a good three years to get over him.

I think that one of the most important things an older partner can do in a relationship is make sure that both parties are on the same page with where the relationship is going, because I was so swept up and in love that I was completely blindsided and bewildered when our relationship came to a close.

Over Him Now

A few years ago, I met a beautiful and brilliant bipolar ex-stripper 18 years my senior in rehab. I was 22, she was 40. After having several forbidden, thrilling sexual encounters on campus, we both agreed the wisest thing to do was move in together and fuck the days away. It was my first long-term sexual relationship, whereas she'd had dozens of partners in her time. We parted a year later—I was afraid she'd stab me in my sleep—but she left me with a lifelong confidence in my ability to please a woman. In particular, she discovered a position that takes advantage of my, um, curvature, that I have since used to spectacular effect on women my own age. It cost me psychologically, but I've never regretted taking that chance.

Happy About My One Older Woman

When I was 20 I met a man from London who was 33 years old and in my city on an extended business trip. We ended up spending about a month getting busy regularly (in the back seat of a car... whatever was hot at the time), and it still remains in my memory one of my best sexual experiences ever. Why? Because he followed the campsite rules: He didn't screw with my mind, there were no false promises of a long-distance relationship, he was kind and mature, sexy as all hell, and he taught me how to suck a dick so well that every man that has followed him should thank him profusely. The campsite rule works people—obey it!


I lost my virginity to a man who was 12 years older than me. I was 18. He was married, in an open relationship with his wife, and I was a recovering Catholic. His wife came to me first and told me her husband liked me. I was weirded out, but I knew both of them through mutual friends and I saw them fairly often at parties. It was made clear to me that I had a standing invite but there was no pressure, and nothing more was said about it. I thought about it for about three weeks. I wanted to lose my virginity—I was at college, and it made me feel like a child to not know what everyone around me already knew.

I made my decision clear after checking again with his wife that it was absolutely, definitely okay. Once he knew about my inexperience, he was fantastically gentle with me. I can honestly say I couldn't have picked a better guy to be my first. I was so uptight about sex, about looking stupid, about my own body. He asked me my permission for everything, even down to changing positions during sex, and it made me feel much more secure, like he was reminding me that I could stop at any point. He let me feel in control. He was completely up-front about his wife and their relationship, and did everything in his power to make me feel comfortable. He opened my eyes about how people can be very different, and can live by very different rules, yet still be wonderful inside. I got the benefit of his experience. I can't imagine what my poor, guilt-laden, self-conscious libido would have done without him. I would never have loosened up enough to have any fun, and I probably never would have met my husband.

Older Men Rock

When I was 22 years old I was the boyfriend of two men who were already in a relationship. Jack was 31 and Roscoe was 34. Just as Jack and Roscoe had an open relationship before they met me, the three of us maintained this openness while we were together. Most people hear this story and think, "Recipe for disaster!" On the contrary, our relationship was emotionally solid, healthy, and based on the core values of honesty and mutual respect. I was not only an equal member of our threesome, but I also became an intimate witness to how they interacted with each other, in their own relationship. Through them I learned: Love is best served without judgment; boyfriends should always be given the benefit of the doubt; and communication is key. In bed, they were more than loving and caring. They never commented on how I was less experienced in bed (even though, in retrospect, I'm sure it was only obvious) and instead taught me, through example, how to be a better lover. Most importantly, they taught me that what matters most is not your sex or your sexuality, not if your relationship is monogamous or open, not if you're the same age or not, but rather how you treat each other and the actions you decide to take, or not take, every day you're together. Every relationship choice I've made since I was with them has been at least somewhat based on my experience with them. They still represent my gold standard.

My advice to anyone wondering how to follow the campsite rule: Remember that the younger person is still in a formative stage and everything that happens between you will be etched into his or her memory, never to be forgotten. It is your responsibility to make decisions that originate from your most mature and caring side.


This is for OLD's girlfriend: Run girl, run! Let my experience inform yours. At 20 I became involved with a man of 38. He was smart, funny, and (I felt) mature. I felt that I was growing up sexually with him and spent years with him turning down other men in my age range. I have since learned that he was not only a lousy lover, but a sad controlling asshole. I could have had a great time in my early 20s and instead I spent it with a man who didn't appreciate my cute young body enough to make half an effort to keep me happy.

The vast majority of men who want to date girls 15 years younger are not worth the trouble. They want the control over someone less experienced. Sure, maybe one in a hundred is different, but those odds stink. Go find someone closer to your own age who is looking for a partner, not a campsite.

Older, Wiser, And Happier Now.

I'm a 27-year-old GWM. When I was 17 and first started realizing I liked the guys on my lacrosse team a little too much, I turned to internet chat rooms for answers. Long story short, I met this gorgeous, blond, huge muscle stud on AOL named John, who claimed to be 25 and lived not too far away. So I decided to dip my toes and see if I really was gay...

When I finally met up with John he admitted that he was 35, not 25. One would think this would be a huge deal-breaker for a scared, closeted high-school student, huh? A nightmare in the making? It was a dream. John was caring, attentive, talked to me about my fears as a newbie gay, and related some of his own experiences back when he himself was a newbie. He insisted on meeting up in a public setting, and while he disclosed his full name to me (even showing me his driver's license), he never asked for anything more than my first name. There was absolutely no pressure for sex, but when I inevitably lost control of my budding young hormones and initiated physical contact, John immediately reached for the condoms and explained to me the purpose of lube and of going slowwwwww. After cleaning up afterward, he fed me dinner and drove me back to our original meeting place, managing to get me home by my curfew.

Even though John was an A+ sexual instructor, he knew deep down that our age gap, plus my being a newbie gay, precluded us from ever being more than a one-time fling. And this is what made John such a great First Time Experience for me—days later, when I started getting upset that he wasn't dating me (like I had wanted), he calmly put up with my temper tantrum and explained all the perfectly sound reasons why it was a bad idea for us to be more than just one-timers.

I hated John for months afterward and never talked to him again—but in retrospect, he was 100 percent right. And when I did finally meet a gay boy my own age, who would go on to become my first boyfriend, I recalled all of John's tutoring—how to kiss, how to fuck safely, how to treat other gay men with respect—and I was able to go into that relationship with some knowledge under my belt.

My story ends on a sad note. A few months ago I finally looked John up with intentions of reinitiating contact, of at last saying, "Thank you for helping me become the gay man I am today." I found out that John had passed away just a year ago in a car accident. I cried for days at the thought of my wonderful tutor being taken away like that before I could say thanks, or even goodbye.

Eventually I reconciled my feelings by realizing that, corny as it sounds, the legacy John passed down to me 10 years ago will never be lost as long as I keep practicing it with my own current and future sex partners. And maybe when I'm 35, I'll meet some lonely, scared young gay lacrosse player, and be able to leave him in as good shape afterward as John left me.

One Very Happy Camper

Your "campsite rule" about older people dating younger people seems pretty universally applicable. I mean, shouldn't you "be honest, caring, open, and GGG" to everyone you date? As well as "do all you can to make sure this young woman [or man] emerges from this relationship with no STIs, no fertilized eggs, no restraining orders, no emotional trauma, and with improved sexual skills"?

I thought it was frowned upon in general to be dishonest and disease-spreading, right? A scumbag is a scumbag at any age, and any old person who heeds your rule is probably already disposed to being a decent person. Anyone who doesn't is a jackass, and probably won't change. Though he might sink into denial and lame justifications.

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