SEX HAS ALWAYS been one of the best things life has to offer. So it's no wonder that businessmen are constantly evolving novel ways to market that highly enjoyable sensation so that anybody can feel sexy anytime, anyplace.
Men have long taken advantage of these ready opportunities to buy their ideas of sex thereby providing a market for magazines featuring women in a myriad of amusing positions and situations. Until recently, no one seriously thought that women might feel a similar need for graphic sexual stimulation.
Then Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, and Germaine Greer organized the Women's Liberation Movement. They argued that women should re-evaluate their goals, their roles, and their bodies, and fulfill themselves in terms of what gives them the greatest personal satisfaction.
Two shrewd businessmen reasoned that if women were interested in "liberation" then they might like a taste of the same erotic literature men have been savoring for years. The results are Viva and Playgirl.
Both magazines cater to the "new liberated woman of the seventies." Playgirl's editor Marin Scott Milam describes her readers as "intelligent, practical, honest; women who are comfortable with their sexuality who want to know more about everything." Both attempt to market a general interest magazine with erotic overtones. Both have the usual gossip, fashion, fiction, travel, and "how-to" sections. Depending on the magazine, the erotic overtones are either sprinkled lightly in one or two places (Playgirl) or squarely anchored to most articles (Viva).
Playgirl, billed as "The Magazine for Women," takes the much more relaxed, casual view of what the new woman wants. Created by a night-club owner from Southern California, Playgirl features rugged, virile men generally entertained by some healthy sensual young women. Articles like "Should your Doctor be your Lover?", "Playgirl interviews Rock Hudson," "Anatomy of a live Sex Show" and "The Cosmic Orgasm" are heralded on the cover to entice readers.
PLAYGIRL'S eroticism is generally found in the all-enticing Pin-up, in Playgirl's Discovery Man, in the photographic essay (February's entitled "Pillow Talk" featured a naked man and a half-dressed woman sporting on their spacious bed), in the personal horoscope (bordered by a male nude in various peek-a-boo poses) and in the advertising (breast stimulators and Frederick's of Hollywood "sex signals"). The fiction is also arousing if you are a Norah Lofts and Daphne DuMaurier fan.
On the other hand, Viva is for the woman with more sophisticated international tastes. It is a spin-off from Penthouse--both are owned and edited by Bob Guccione. He started Viva because out of the thirty million Penthouse readers--and lookers--eight million are women.
Unlike Playgirl, much of the sexual excitement in Viva is provided by showcasing naked or half-dressed women. The pornographic highlights include seamy fiction (one story describes the year and a half seduction of an Asian girl by her slowmoving (?) husband), photographic love stories (explict spreads of couples unmistakably enjoying foreplay and intercourse), more photographs of either seductive ethereal females or their male counterparts and, last but not least, a smattering of male sex fantasies.
The fundamental formula behind both of these magazines is that pornography is alluring because it stimulates imaginations. Good pornography usually conveys a total atmosphere. Nothing is less arousing than a full frontal picture of a penis, but what is arousing is a person enjoying his or her body, alone or otherwise, against a background that suggests warmth, strength, luxury, and happiness.
In terms of creating an inspired, sensitive statement pornography can be an aesthetic, enlightened art form which does not exploit the body. But the editors of Playgirl and Viva generally tread the beaten path depicting men subduing or taking advantage of brainless sex kittens. One of Viva's photographic essays begins with a disheveled, slutty wench lying on the grass half-naked, touching and enjoying her body. An arrogant, supercilious gentleman approaches her and carries her home after sampling her wares. The following pictures show him in his bedroom nude, coyly fingering a whip, making love to the girl and ends with a shot of the vain quishing hero staring off into the distance with a smile on his face.
VIVA AND Playgirl may be meant to encourage women to enjoy their sexuality, but as long as they are dominated by the masculine concept of pornography, they will not only be repellent but they will also be a fraud. Instead of aiding women's sexual "liberation," Viva and Playgirl take advantage of the "new woman" by feeding her the whole-male-domination fantasy of what sex for a woman should be.
Minim says "In my opinion, the trouble with women's magazines in the past is that they have been relentlessly one-dimensional, recognizing only a women's acceptable lighter side, refusing to acknowledge her sexuality, her anger and her tears. I'll be damned if Playgirl falls into that trap." But in fact Playgirl and Viva editors, writers, and photographers acknowledge a woman sexually only as ogled objects of men's lust rather than active reciprocal partners in sexual relationships.
Occassionally, however, the two magazines publish non-exploitative features. Both Viva's two-month series on venereal disease and Playgirl's January article on prostitution were provocative and informative. The current Viva's "Classic Nudes," a pictorial study of the male body, was a stunning example of what good pornography can be. Viva's love story is occasionally a sensitive exploration of a relationship between two people--as it was in the November issue--rather than a few obscene pictures of naked men and women in emotionless encounters.
SHORTCOMINGS and potential in one slick package, Playgirl has made publishing history by selling over two million copies in only six months. Obviously there are a lot of women out there interested in the soft core sex Viva and Playgirl have to offer.
But do two million women really need Playgirl or Viva to liberate their sexuality? For most people sex is a very private, discreet, personal experience. Not many of them would think of patterning their sex lives on the activities of the men and women in the two magazines. If women do need Viva and Playgirl, it is to bolster their sexual fantasies. Fantasy may heighten sex by making it more than a physical act. In that case, Playgirl and Viva are productive if they heighten a woman's enjoyment of her man's and her own sexual involvement. But most people's enjoyment of each other is created by mutual feelings of love and respect, not by fantasy.
As long as secondary sex characteristics and fantasies are important to a woman's enjoyment of sex, there will be magazines like Viva and Playgirl. But the naked bodies and fantasies created by them can be more than brainless, emotionless, cheesecake. Surely, sexual liberation must mean more than encouraging women to respond to the exploitation of men's bodies as well as their own.
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