Two naked figures stand against a white backdrop, their backs to the camera. The left one holds an apple in one hand, the other covering her partner’s rear. At the top, in all caps, reads “H BOMB.”
“It isn’t porn, that’s for sure,” declares the editor’s letter.
In 2004, some Harvard students started publishing H Bomb, a student-run magazine about sex that included writings, art, and nude pictures of Harvard undergraduates.
In February 2004, the Harvard Committee on College Life approved H Bomb as an official Harvard publication with a 14-0 vote and two abstentions. To avoid liability issues, administrators prohibited students from taking nude pictures inside of Harvard buildings and declared that the magazine would not be awarded funding from Harvard College, although it could still apply for grants.
The CCL also stated that the magazine was approved with the understanding that it would not include material that would be considered pornographic — a statement ambiguous enough to produce more questions than answers. From its start, H Bomb excited discussions on what counted as pornography. Otherwise, Harvard did not censor or set requirements for the magazine’s material.
Nevertheless, H Bomb received significant public attention, with newspapers across the world jumping to cover the magazine, publishing headlines like “Naked Ambition” and “Mag Will Turn ’Em Crimson.” Ultimately, the public attention on H Bomb climaxed with the University changing its policy for establishing student organizations altogether, extending the timeline so that the faculty could spend a longer time reviewing applications.
H Bomb was born in a period when colleges across the nation were embracing sex magazines; CCL reviewed Vassar College’s Squirm magazine during the approval process for H Bomb. Other magazines like the University of Chicago’s Vita Excolatur and Yale’s Sex Week at Yale: The Magazine cropped up at peer institutions.
In the years leading up to H Bomb’s founding, college newspapers also began to feature sex columnists. According to The New York Times, these publications were “the inevitable outgrowth of a sex-crazed media culture in which many feminists are adopting a ‘sex-positive’ approach that views pornography as expression, not exploitation.”
Psychology professor Marc D. Hauser, then the faculty advisor for H Bomb, told the Washington Post that these trends fluctuate with each generation. H Bomb burst forth when its surrounding cultural context helped light the fuse.
The co-creators of H Bomb, Katharina C. Baldegg ’06 and Camilla A. Hrdy ’05, wanted the magazine to reignite the conversation on sex without exploiting women. They sought to avoid this by including a diverse representation of gender, sexual orientation, and body type. For them, the magazine provided an opportunity to “promote intelligent discussion about sexuality, relationships and love — not found in current magazines or on the Web,” according to the Washington Post. In that article, Baldegg states that “there is something to be said for a positive appreciation of sexuality,” which she believes her generation had not seen much of.
According to its editors, H Bomb’s philosophy is that “somewhere beyond porn and beyond esoteric scholarly inquiry there is a happy medium where intellectual is sexy and hot is genius.” Along with nudity, the first issue promised art and text galore. The editors also had a vision for the future of the magazine: “longer, smarter, and definitely hotter.”
But this projection for H Bomb’s future did not survive the test of time. In April of 2007 — three years after its founding — the magazine “lost official student group status after failing to meet the requirements for student group recognition,” a Crimson article reported. According to the article, an assistant dean of the College at the time attributed its closure simply to a failure to comply with registration requirements, including a minimum of two officers. Losing student group status meant that H Bomb could print issues, but they could no longer publicize the magazine on campus.
H Bomb had already been struggling for some time by then, with a floundering leadership group and financial issues that halted their spring 2006 issue. But they persisted, and in 2009, they published a spring edition that included “lots of text and some artsy/strange pictures,” according to The Crimson.
H Bomb was not alone in its mission to showcase sex on Harvard’s campus. In 2008, Matthew M. Di Pasquale ’09 founded Diamond Magazine. The pilot issue “featured articles on the hottest new summer kicks, The Dark Knight, and college football, in addition to a veritable bevy of garish fonts and clip art,” The Crimson wrote in 2009. There were also photos of two models, only one of whom — Di Pasquale — was naked. This magazine, despite its initial buzz, died out soon thereafter.
As for H Bomb, the once-illustrious magazine similarly vanished into thin air. A Twitter profile with the handle @HBOMBMagazine suggests it was active at least until 2012, with a then-total of six volumes and an online website. Since then, the magazine has left no trace; at Harvard, it no longer exists.
“I would like to see it make a comeback, but I don’t know if it will,” H Bomb’s former business manager Vladimir P. Djuric ’06 told The Crimson in 2007. “The problem is no one ever built an institution where it would continue well beyond the founders.”