A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
Savage's messages about being confident in the person you are and finding peace in your identity are positive, and he never misses a chance to push the "safe sex" mantra. But his in-your-face approach borders on glamorizing sexuality and glossing over the personal belief issues it raises. For example, Savage U doesn't address abstinence as a viable option, and in at least one instance, Savage refers to pregnancy as "the ultimate sexually transmitted infection."
Positive Role Models
Savage's self-confidence and willingness to take a stand for his beliefs are laudable. In his one-on-one conversations with young adults, he listens compassionately and offers advice that helps build their confidence and potentially raise their self-esteem. That said, his acceptance of sexuality in every form may not sit well with all parents (or teens), and while he tones down political elements here to focus on sexuality, he has been outspoken in his disdain for socially conservative politicians.
Violence & Scariness
There's the potential for discussion about sexual violence, but that's not a big part of the series.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Frank talk about intercourse (including some brief how-tos on topics like masturbation, vibrator use, and clitoral stimulation), oral sex (words like "blow job" and "suck" are bleeped), overcoming sexual anxieties, one-night stands, orgasm, and STDs. Teens and young adults talk about the frequency and nature of their sexual encounters, including homosexuality, bisexuality, sex with multiple partners, and sex competitions in which participants accumulate points for making out, oral sex, and "getting laid." Savage works in reminders about practicing safe sex to protect yourself and your partner from disease and pregnancy. Some kissing is shown.
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"Ass" is audible. "S--t," "d--k," "blow job," and "f--k" are bleeped. Also edited are phrases that graphically describe certain sexual acts; for example, "You've brought them to orgasm" followed by muted "with your mouth." Both anatomically correct and slang references to all the important sexual organs: penis, vagina, vulva, breasts, etc.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
College students (some of whom are presumably underage) are shown drinking in bars or in their apartments while they discuss how alcohol plays a role in hooking up and sexual conquests. In one scene, for instance, two guys say they drink at home before heading out to parties to scout for girls who might be up for one-night stands.
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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.).
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.