This was written by a friend of Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, David Benkof.
--Next month, Playgirl--the skin mag aimed at women--will release the last issue of its 35-year run. The magazine's popularity with gay men points to a little-discussed phenomenon: that at least some of the women's sexual liberation over the last two generations that has aimed to show female desire as a mirror image of that of men has actually been fueled by gay men's arousal and aesthetic.
This unfortunate dynamic stifles women's natural inclinations and superimposes an artificial male-male sexual model on heterosexual relations. Women--and men--deserve better.When Playgirl first began publishing in 1973, it aimed to serve a parallel function to the similarly named (but separately owned and published) Playboy, which had been providing erotic pictures and stories as well as serious interviews and fiction to men since 1953. Early issues featured articles and short stories by noted authors including Maya Angelou and Margaret Atwood. But the most distinctive feature of the magazine was the pictorials, featuring good-looking men in various states of undress.
Playgirl's appeal to gay men has fluctuated over the years, but men have been estimated at between 30 and 75 percent of the magazine's readers. In the early years, the magazine insisted its audience was overwhelmingly female, but in the last 10 years Playgirl's leadership has acknowledged that gay men make up approximately half its readership.
Former Playgirl editor in chief Judy Cole once suggested that Playgirl appeals to gay men precisely because it is supposed to be for women--the same reasons that lead "drag queens to haunt exclusive women's designer boutiques, rather than stores that carry merchandise specifically for them. Ignoring the gay audience may turn out to be the most savvy marketing strategy of all."
Yes, some women enjoy pictures of naked men. But the magazine made it as far as it did only because gay men, too, enjoy pictures of naked men.
Playgirl is not an isolated phenomenon. The male dance revue Chippendales also got its aesthetic from a gay man. Recently, original Chippendales choreographer Nick DeNoia was revealed in the 2008 book "Master of Ceremonies: A True Story of Love, Murder, Roller Skates and Chippendales" to be a closeted homosexual. DeNoia was most responsible for selecting the first dancers and setting the tone of the show.
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