Often, as in an episode about pornography featuring a man using the pseudonym Daniel, who reported intrusive, upsetting thoughts during sex, Sale’s forthright questioning — in a finely tuned, feather-soft voice — elicits equally forthright answers.
SALE Is it possible for you to have sex with your girlfriend that doesn’t feel hard?
DANIEL Sometimes, yeah. Is there ever a time when we have sex that I don’t have to talk to my brain? Where I don’t have to use the conscious part to talk to the unconscious part? No. But it doesn’t mean it’s not good.
SALE So what’s a sentence that you have to tell yourself?
DANIEL I’ll be like, “That’s not real, that doesn’t mean anything, that’s not what you really want, think about what you really want.”
“She’s a master of the craft,” said Stella Bugbee, editor in chief of The Cut and a longtime fan of the show. “You can hear the generosity in her voice, and it’s very genuine. But she doesn’t beat around the bush and she doesn’t back away from pain.”
Sale, who said her experience covering politicians taught her to embrace tough questions, doesn’t work from a script during interviews. “I’m listening and editing at the same time that I’m interviewing,” she said. “If someone is opening up to me about something, I keep chasing the thread until I can picture it and it feels real to me. Where were you? Who was there? What was that like?”
Over the show’s six years, listeners have come to trust it as a vessel for their most vulnerable selves. That has placed a particular burden on Sale and her team of producers.
When I asked Sale if she ever felt that the emotional toll was too much to bear, she brought up the episode about the woman whose child had been stillborn. “It was the kind of loss that our society is so paralyzed about and unable to figure out how to acknowledge,” Sale said.
After conducting the interview, in which Sale, who had recently given birth to her second daughter, asked the woman about deciding to hold the child and what she planned to do with her milk, she took the rest of the day off, called a close friend and went home to her family. Once the episode had aired, she began to hear from listeners.
“There was a woman who donated 50 trees to be planted in the child’s name, a man in our building who said he’d never thought about this subject before, and a woman who said that it had happened to her 25 years ago and it’s still the most painful thing she’s ever gone through,” she said. “I was moved that we had been a place where people could encounter that kind of experience and think about how it exists in the world that they live in. It made me proud that we hadn’t looked away.”