When sex columnist and activist Dan Savage started his advice column, "Savage Love," he had no idea that his open, straight-talk approach -- enough to probably make Abigail van Buren of "Dear Abby" blush -- would gain such enormous popularity.
"The column started as a joke," he said. "I was going to treat straight people and straight sex with the same contempt and derision that heterosexual advice columnists had always treated gay people and gay sex."
Launched two decades ago, "Savage Love" is an internationally-syndicated column that appears in Seattle's alternative newspaper, "The Stranger." Its success has spun off a podcast, an iPhone app and an iPad app.
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When "The Stranger's" founder, Tim Keck (also the co-founder of "The Onion") suggested Savage be its advice columnist, Savage said he had never written anything before in his life.
"I wanted to write an advice column where I was like, 'Ew, straight sex is icky, and straight people are sick,'" he said. "And I did that for about six months, but then straight people liked the abuse so much they started sending me real questions."
Savage receives thousands of inquiries every week from readers, so to say that he practices "tough love" is an understatement.
"The dirty secret of the advice column business is you're not trying to help anybody," he said. "Because if you were really trying to help someone, you wouldn't publish their problem and you would always answer the letters from the people in the most extreme pain every week, and you don't."
The columnist joked he often uses an acronym he created, "DTMFA," which stands for "Dump The M----r F---er Already," when responding to his fans' questions.
"Half the mail is DTMFA," Savage said.
Despite his no-nonsense, raw approach, Savage said he is very much inspired by the Chicago Sun-Times' iconic advice column, "Ask Ann Landers." He even writes his column from her former desk with her typewriter sitting nearby. Although Savage's views on monogamy couldn't be more opposite, like Landers, he said he wants to save relationships.
"Everyone thinks I'm some sort of crazy sex radical," he said. "Everything I'm talking about I want to see happen, because I want to prevent divorce."
"I tell people, 'Yes, under these circumstances, you should cheat,' and it's almost invariably because if you cheat you can stay married and there's a greater good," Savage added. "Because I think that would be better for your sick and ailing spouse, better for him, for you to get your sexual needs met discreetly and considerately elsewhere, if that's what you must do to stay by his side through this crisis stage."
The hardest questions to answer, Savage said, were the ones where people ask him about finding their soul mates.
"The 'one'? Oh God, that's an idea that has to be combated," he said. "There's somebody out there for rent for everybody. There is no 'one.' There's a .64, and maybe if you're lucky a .67 [chance] that you round up to one."
Even though Savage has been in a 16-year relationship with his partner, Terry Miller, the co-parent of the teenage son they adopted at birth together, the columnist insisted he doesn't describe Miller as "the one."