I logged on to my vanilla Facebook earlier this week and two words peppered my newsfeed: “No Nudes!” I thought for a second I was logged on to my kinky social network, but I was not. I knew something was up if a story in the field of sexuality breaks first on my vanilla network rather than my sex positive one. And oh boy, Playboy. No more nudes?!
I am a kinky disabled femme woman and the first pornography I set eyes on were some purloined Playboys from beneath the bathroom sink. In high school there was a Playboy from the 80’s kept in one of the theatre lofts as a running joke and somewhat of a thespian tradition.
I cannot comment on this move from the point of the pornography industry or even comment on the decision’s impact on large scale media trends. I’m a sex blogger and consumer of a variety of porn, and these are my thoughts.
While the new “PG-13” veneer of Playboy will certainly spark a comment on the current climate in the field of sexuality, I was initially more interested in the media aspect. One of my favorite authors Ursula Le Guin had a sci-fi short published in Playboy in 1969 and the magazine was responsible for the launching of many science fiction and speculative fiction authors into the public back in the day. It’s interesting that the publication projects it will make more money targeting an audience that READS and will be focusing more on written content. Perhaps it’s ironic that everyone decries porn in today’s world but a pioneering publication of the genre is now focusing on article content in a world that allegedly doesn’t read anymore. There’s hope for us writers yet.
But, back to the nudes.
I’ve always thought it was interesting that Playboy has been a universal experience for nearly four generations. In sexuality, the same experience your grandparents had in the 50’s parents in the 70’s and 80’s and my generation in the late 90s and early 2000's has been Playboy. Some people may ask “So what?” regarding "Where did you see your first porn?” but no one can deny the sociological impacts of the publication.
While many may levy arguments against Playboy as a sex-positive publication, living and working in a conservative and rural place has led me to begin many conversations about sex with Playboy. Like it or not, pretty much everyone is familiar with it, and the stereotypical centerfold starlet is still a more tame springboard than hardcore spreads like Hustler. I dare say I’ve even used “Playboy” in lieu of “porn” to help people talk about looking at porn. Because of the magazine’s visibility, I have found some middle ground when talking with people about sex and pornography. Because a lot of people have looked at Playboy and everyone knows what it is. In light of this change, my conversations about porn are inevitably going to change. The way people relate to porn has been changing, but I feel this move will have an impact in how people find and consume porn.
Something interesting though, is how many people I personally know who say they will consider reading Playboy now that it does not have full nudity in it. I have a few problems with this.
Firstly, I do believe people have been shamed for looking at porn and the desire to read Playboy now that it “won’t be a porn magazine” stems from this shame. Yes, we need more widely available variety in porn and we need change in how we consume, relate to, and talk about porn. For people to support Playboy now simply because they “stopped” doing porn isn’t sex-positive to me. It continues to stigmatize porn and the role porn plays in sexuality.
Secondly, just because the women are not naked does not mean they aren’t being objectified. Playboy has said it will still feature sexy photos of women. But just because they will be wearing more clothes doesn’t mean they won’t be pornographic, won’t be there to entice the reader. The only thing going away is the label “porn.” This sends the message that objectification is not bad, but porn is. And this mindset is a huge barrier to feminist, queer, and alternative porn. Because many of these projects are edgy, sexy, and pornographic but do not adhere to the strict mores of traditional, societal beauty and give expression to a multitude of body types and sexual identities. But because it’s porn, it is bad and pushed into the murky underground of consumption and dialogue while publications that feature objectified women like Maxim, or GQ, or even the women’s magazine Allure continue to be mainstream.
Honestly, I don’t really care about objectification in mainstream magazines. I think efforts are best placed in creating sex and body positive work than raging against the latest Maxim cover. That is not my point personally. I just think it’s sad that objectification is ok but porn is not ok. Porn is ok. The only way we will see positive change and more choices in porn is to acknowledge that porn is ok. That is my point.
Yeah, most of the porn I consume is kinky – fetish or BDSM based with feminist or queer ideals. Not Playboy. Still, this announcement is, to me, a fairly tough blow for pro-porn sex geeks like me. It muddies the conversation surrounding porn, sexual expression, and what is socially acceptable to openly consume.
Now, back to the writing. I’m not saying that Playboy’s articles aren’t important – they are, and I hope in the upcoming years they bring important issues to more consumers. A few years ago my husband gifted me several 70’s era editions of Playboy and I still reread the articles because they are great – informative, sex positive, and a snapshot of the social climate surrounding sex at the time. Those magazines are very important to me as I do my sex positive blogging and research.
Overall, I’m kind of sad that the publication has made such waves with two words. No nudes. And while I feel this is a cultural sign that porn continues to be deemed “less than” mainstream media, I have hope that the sex positive work of innovative porn writers, directors, and performers will make even bigger waves in the years to come.
Some of of my favorite articles on this subject are below, please check them out.