A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Savage U features candid, graphic discussions about sex, from the physical workings of how it's done to the psychological side of how it makes you feel when it's good -- and when it isn't. Very little about the subject matter is off-limits here, so unless you're ready to give your teens open access to someone else's opinion of the acceptability of one-night stands or the valuable role that a vibrator might play in helping a woman achieve a better orgasm, this isn't something you want them watching without guidance. The specific subject matter changes with each new location and pool of participants, so it's difficult to predict what will come up in conversation. The show edits a fair amount of the slang sexual references ("blow job," "dick") as well as strong language like "s--t" and "f--k," but the nature of the dialogue makes it easy to fill in the blanks. There are positive themes about self-respect and practicing safe sex, but the series also gives host Dan Savage -- who is an openly gay man in a long-term relationship with his partner, with whom he's raising a son -- a venue in which to impart his own opinions about controversial sexual topics and practices (homosexuality, bisexuality, casual sex, sex with simultaneous multiple partners, etc.).
What's the story?
In SAVAGE U, relationship advice columnist Dan Savage travels to college campuses across the country to talk with students about relationships, love, and sex. In lecture hall forums and one-on-on conversations, Savage fields questions about anatomy, sexual desires, fetishes, taboos, and sexual identity. At the same time, he and his producer, Lauren Hutchinson, who conducts many of the interviews with him, ask their own questions to learn about the sex culture specific to each college campus.
Is it any good?
It's not news that sex is a big issue on teens' mind. Messages about it are everywhere they turn, from the shows they watch to the songs they hear on the radio to what their friends say and do. Savage U takes a no-holds-barred approach to talking about the topics that weigh on college students' (and, to some degree, teens') minds, and Savage -- who's known for his frankness, humor, and easygoing nature -- is the right man for the job. Some might find the show's honesty refreshing, and it certainly does raise a lot of timely issues that parents can discuss with their teens, not to mention that it promotes safe sexual health through condom use and frequent STD testing.
The problem is that the show presents Savage as the authority not just on the physical aspects of sex, but also on the emotional, personal, and moral ones. When a guy tells him he wants to try a threesome, Savage doesn't bat an eye before advising him to wait for the opportunity to arise and leap at it. On hearing of some buddies' competition for sexual conquests, Savage jovially asks about their current point totals. Besides the fact that it can be shocking to hear young people talk in lighthearted tones about such topics, the fact that more conservative viewpoints are often overlooked gives the impression that Savage condones any and all expressions of sexuality. For example, never is there mention of abstinence as an option for birth control or the suggestion that monogamy might be a foundation for a satisfying relationship. What's more, the content implies that nearly every college student is having sex, and a lot of it. It's this aspect of Savage U that will justifiably rankle parents, since it sensationalizes issues with repercussions for many families' belief systems. Bottom line? This isn't a great choice for solo teen viewing, but adults will find it a revealing glimpse into the sexual psyche of today's teens, which can help prepare parents for their own kids' questions on the subject matter.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about their own views and values regarding sex. When is it appropriate to enter into a physical relationship? What are some important factors to weigh in determining your readiness? How can sex change your relationship? What happens if the experience isn't a positive one?
Teens: What potential dangers exist in exploring your sexuality? What steps can you take to keep yourself safe from unwanted pregnancy or STDs? Are any of these foolproof? What would you do if you found yourself in a predicament because of sex? Who would you turn to for help?
Talk about how your own belief system influences your thoughts on sexuality. Is sex a truly personal subject? Do we have the right to judge others because of their sexual identities or persuasions? When, if at all, does sex cross a moral line?