Despite editors assuming that the women of America didn't want penises in their porn magazines, twice in the history of Playgirl, readers demanded more full frontal nudity, showing the power of the invisible hand even in the making of sex mags. The first ever issue had no full dicks, at all, which (surprisingly!) disappointed readers, Jessanne Collins, who wrote How to Be a Playgirl and worked at the magazine from 2007 through 2008, when it shut down, told Atlantic Wire contributor Jen Doll for The Hairpin. "So many people wrote in so angry there wasn’t actual penis," she said. "The thinking was that women didn’t want to see too much, and all these readers were like, we want to see actual penis." In 1973, deep into the sexual revolution, women (or men) buying a magazine for the explicit reason that it was full of hot dudes (to get off to), indeed wanted to see totally naked men.
Since selling magazines to this exact demographic was crucial to Playgirl's survival, it adapted. Eventually, the "formula applied to Playgirl" involved "more erections." Though, at another point in the evolution, in 1986—at a time when you'd think ideas of female sexual desire weren't so dated—the magazine, under new management, again made the same mistake about its readers' desires. "When they first bought it the new publisher was like, 'We’re not going to have any penis because women don’t want to look at penises,' and again, it nearly put them out of business," explains Collins. "There was all this backlash. People were asking for, literally, pictures of penises." The demands also might have had something to do with the magazine's "unmentionable" gay readership. Regardless, outraged readers got what they wanted: By 1989 the cover featured a shirltess man grasping a neon leotard. In a 2008 issue there was a penis per page, says Collins. The market doesn't lie.
Head on over the The Hairpin to read more about the evolution and history of the bygone porn magazine, or at least to click over for the pictures.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.