Savage Love Readers Talk About The Campsite Rule

As some of you no doubt know, I’m a huge fan of Savage Love, the world’s coolest sex, love, and relationships advice column. A few weeks ago, author Dan Savage revisited his “campsite rule,” which can be summarised thusly:

If you’re in a sexual relationship with somebody significantly younger or less-experienced than you, the rule that applies at campsites shall be applicable to you: you must leave them in at least as good a state (physically and emotionally) as you found them in. That means no STDs, no unwanted pregnancy, not overburdening them with your emotional or sexual baggage, and so on. Younger partners and particularly virgins will often take everything given to them by an older, more experienced partner as being “written in stone,” and will carry around everything they learn from them for the rest of their life: so treat them right!

The single biggest complaint about the campsite rule could be said to be that, by omission, it seems to imply that it’s okay to be a dick to your older or similarly-experienced partner, but that’s not the intention, I feel – it’s just less of a concern because the campsite rule is specifically about protecting the vulnerable.

In any case: after it last got mentioned, the column received a spectacular number of letters from readers, talking about their experience with (or without) the campsite rule, and it’s just spectacular. It’s a long read, but you’ll see some beautiful, some inspiring, and some heart-wrenching stories from people about their young relationships (or their relationships with the young). Go read it.


  1. Jimmy Jimmy says:

    I read the first line as “sausage love”. You owe me a coffee, and YHA Wellington a keyboard.

  2. Steve Steve says:

    I value authenticity and intimacy perhaps above all.
    Brought me to poly about 20 years ago.
    The Campfire Rule was an initial poly reference point for me.

    Soon my inner reductionist began asking, ‘What is the essence of poly?’
    I now see poly differently than many of my fellow practitioners.
    And still the Campfire Rule is a reference point.
    However, I now believe it begs six axiomatic sub-rules.

    CampFire Rule 2.0

    1) When seeing a younger person, leave their ‘campfire’ in better condition than we find it.

    a) Remember, we’re a guest at their campfire.
    If we hope to stay longer, don’t seek commitments, just try to earn it.

    b) They’ve the right to ask us to leave, any time, for any reason, without explanation, and regardless of prior commitment(s).
    If they do, thank them for their hospitality and go graciously.
    Besides, we might be invited back :)

    c) They’ve the right to invite any other(s), any time, for any reason, without explanation, and regardless of prior commitment(s).
    If they do, make space or go graciously.
    Besides, we’re likely to like who they like :)

    d) They’ve the right to change the seating order, any time, for any reason, without explanation, and regardless of prior commitment(s).
    If they do, move or go graciously.
    Besides, change, whether we’re ready or not, tends to be vitality :)

    e) We can’t know how long we’ll be there, so don’t put off improvements or repairs.
    Besides, they all come back to us and multiply :)

    f) In every relationship, with people of every age, always try to be the ‘bigger’ person.

    1. Dan Q Dan Q says:


      I can see how that works for you; it’s a ruleset that really feels like it comes from a solo poly/RA place. But it’s not incompatible with more tightly-knit poly strategies either. For example my polycule and I practice a frightfully boring and domestic kind of kitchen table polyamory; we ocassionally date “outside” but as relationships progress we generally expect to end up at the very least meeting new metamours.

      Hypothetically: suppose you and I were in a relationship. So long as you were clear about the way you play the game and our expectations were clear (y’know; good communication!), there’s no reason it wouldn’t “work”. That’s what I mean when I say that your approach might not be like some other people’s, but it’s compatible.

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