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Pornographic magazine

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Pornographic magazines on shelves in Japan

Pornographic magazines or erotic magazines, sometimes known as adult magazines or sex magazines,[1] are magazines that contain content of an explicitly sexual nature. Publications of this kind may contain images of attractive naked subjects, as is the case in softcore pornography,[1] and, in the usual case of hardcore pornography, depictions of masturbation, oral, manual, vaginal, or anal sex.[1]

They primarily serve to stimulate sexual arousal and are often used as an aid to masturbation.[1] Some magazines are general in their content, while others may be more specific and focus on a particular pornographic niche, part of the anatomy, or model characteristics.[1] Examples include Asian Babes which focuses on Asian women, or Leg Show which concentrates on women's legs. Well-known adult magazines include Playboy, Penthouse, Playgirl, and Hustler. Magazines may also carry articles on topics including cars, humor, science, computers, culture, and politics. With the continued progression of print media to digital, retailers have also had to adapt. Software such as Apple's discontinued Newsstand enabled the downloading and displaying of digital versions of magazines but did not allow pornographic material. However, there are specific digital newsstands for pornographic magazines.



Pornographic magazines form a part of the history of erotic depictions. It is a form for the display and dissemination of these materials.[2]

In 1880, halftone printing was used to reproduce photographs inexpensively for the first time.[3] The invention of halftone printing took pornography and erotica in new directions at the beginning of the 20th century. The new printing processes allowed photographic images to be reproduced easily in black and white, whereas printers were previously limited to engravings, woodcuts, and line cuts for illustrations.[4] It allowed pornography to become a mass-market phenomenon, it is becoming more affordable and more easily acquired than any previous form.[2]

First appearing in France, the new magazines featured nude and semi-nude photographs on the cover and throughout; often, burlesque actresses were hired as models. While they would now be termed softcore, they were quite shocking for the time. The publications soon either masqueraded as "art magazines" or publications celebrating the new cult of naturism, with titles such as Photo Bits, Body in Art, Figure Photography, Nude Living, and Modern Art for Men.[2] The British magazine Health & Efficiency (now H&E naturist, often known simply as H&E) was first published in 1900, and began to include articles about naturism in the late 1920s.[5] Gradually, this material came to dominate – particularly as other magazines were taken over and absorbed. At times in its post-WWII history, H&E has catered primarily to the soft-porn market.

Another early form of pornography were comic books known as Tijuana bibles that began appearing in the U.S. in the 1920s and lasted until the publishing of glossy colour men's magazines. They were crude hand-drawn scenes often using popular characters from cartoons and culture.[6]

In the 1940s, the word "pinup" was coined to describe pictures torn from men's magazines and calendars and "pinned up" on the wall by U.S. soldiers in World War II. While the 1940s images focused mostly on legs, by the 1950s, the emphasis shifted to breasts. Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe were two of the most popular pinup models. Monroe continued to be a popular model for the men's magazines in the 1950s.

The 1950s saw the rise of the first mass market softcore pornographic magazines: Modern Man in 1952 and Playboy in 1953.[7] Hugh Hefner's Playboy started a new style of the men's glossy magazine (or girlie magazine).[8] Hefner coined the term centerfold,[9] and in the first edition of his Playboy used a photograph of a nude Monroe,[10] despite her objections. Another term that became popular with Playboy readers was the "Playboy Playmate". These new-style magazines featured nude or semi-nude women, sometimes simulating masturbation, although their genitals or pubic hair were not actually displayed.

In 1963, Lui started in France to compete against Playboy, while Bob Guccione did the same in the United Kingdom in 1965 with Penthouse.[11] Penthouse's style was different from other magazines, with women looking indirectly at the camera, as if they were going about their private idylls. This change of emphasis influenced erotic depictions of women. Penthouse was also the first magazine to publish pictures that included pubic hair and full frontal nudity, both of which were considered beyond the bounds of the erotic and in the realm of pornography at the time. In 1965, Mayfair was launched in the UK in competition to Playboy and Penthouse. In September 1969 Penthouse was launched in the U.S., bringing new competition to Playboy.[11] In order to retain its market share Playboy followed Penthouse in the display of pubic hair, risking obscenity charges, and launching the "Pubic Wars".[11] As competition between the two magazines escalated, their photos became increasingly more explicit.[11] In the late 1960s, some magazines began to move into more explicit displays often focusing on the buttocks as standards of what could be legally depicted and what readers wanted to see.

By the 1970s magazines containing images of the pubic area became increasingly common. In the UK, Paul Raymond acquired and then relaunched Men Only in 1971 as a pornographic magazine, and then launched Club International in 1972.[12] Playboy was the first to clearly show visible pubic hair in January 1971. The first full frontal nude centerfold was Playboy's Miss January 1972. In 1974, Larry Flynt first published Hustler in the US, which contained more explicit material. Some researchers have detected increasingly violent images in magazines like Playboy and Penthouse over the course of the 1970s, with them then returning to their more upscale style by the end of the decade.[13] Paul Raymond Publications relaunched Escort in 1980 in the UK, Razzle in 1983, and Men's World in 1988.

Sales of pornographic magazines in the U.S. have declined significantly since 1979,[14] with a nearly 50% reduction in circulation between 1980 and 1989.[15] The fact that the U.S. incidence of rape had increased over the same period has cast doubt on any correlation between magazine sales and sex crimes.[16] Studies from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s nearly all confirmed that pornographic magazines contained significantly less violent imagery than pornographic films.[13]

In the 1990s, magazines such as Hustler began to feature more hardcore material such as sexual penetration, lesbianism and homosexuality, group sex, masturbation, and fetishes.[1][2][8] In the late 1990s and 2000s the pornographic magazines market declined, as they were challenged by new "lad mags" such as FHM and Loaded, which featured softcore photos.[1] The availability of pornographic DVDs and internet pornography also led to a decline in magazine sales.[1][17] Many magazines developed their own websites which also show pornographic films.[1] Despite falling sales, the top-selling U.S. adult magazines still maintain high circulations compared to most mainstream magazines, and are amongst the top-selling magazines of any type.[15]

Paul Raymond Publications dominates the British adult magazine market today,[17] distributing eight of the ten top selling adult magazines in the UK.[17] There were about 100 adult magazine titles in the UK in 2001.[17]

Common features


Several magazines feature photos of "ordinary" women submitted by readers, for example the Readers Wives sections of several British magazines, and Beaver Hunt in the US.[1] Many magazines also feature supposed stories of their reader's sexual exploits, many of which are actually written by the magazines' writers.[1] Many magazines contain a high number of advertisements for phone sex lines, which provide them with an important source of revenue.[1]

Gay magazines


An early example of borderline gay pornography was the physique magazine, a genre which had wide circulation in the 1950s and 1960s. Physique magazines mostly consisted of photographs of attractive, scantily-clad young men, and occasionally homoerotic illustrations by gay artists like George Quaintance and Tom of Finland. The magazines contained no overt mentions or depictions of homosexuality and used the pretense of demonstrating bodybuilding techniques or providing photos as visual references for artists, but it was widely understood that they were purchased almost exclusively by gay men. Major examples of the genre include Physique Pictorial (the first of its kind, debuting in 1951), Tomorrow's Man, and Grecian Guild Pictorial.

Shifts in the judicial interpretation of obscenity in the US and elsewhere led to physique magazines being supplanted in the mid-to-late 1960s by new publications which openly acknowledged a gay audience and featured nudity, and later hardcore sex.

Production, distribution, and retail


A successful magazine requires significant investment in production facilities and a distribution network.[7] They require large printing presses and numerous specialized employees, such as graphic designers and typesetters.[7] Today a new magazine start-up can cost as much as $20 million, and magazines are significantly more expensive to produce than pornographic films, and more expensive than internet pornography.[7]

Like all magazines, pornographic magazines are dependent on advertising revenue, which may force a magazine to tone down its content.[7]

Depending on the laws in each jurisdiction, pornographic magazines may be sold in convenience stores, newsagents and petrol stations.[1] They may need to be sold on the top shelf[18] of a retail display to prevent children reaching them, hence their euphemistic name top shelf magazines.[19] Alternatively it may be necessary to sell them under the counter or in plastic wrappers. Some retail chains and many independent retail outlets do not stock pornographic magazines. They may also be sold in sex shops or by mail order.

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Peter Childs, Mike Storry (1999). Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture. Taylor & Francis. p. 537. ISBN 978-0-415-14726-2.
  2. ^ a b c d Marilyn Chambers, John Leslie (2005). Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization (DVD). Koch Vision. ISBN 1-4172-2885-7. Archived from the original on 22 August 2010.
  3. ^ Cross, J.M. (4 February 2001). "Nineteenth-Century Photography: A Timeline". the Victorian Web. Retrieved 23 August 2006.
  4. ^ St. John, Kristen; Linda Zimmerman (June 1997). "Guided Tour of Print Processes: Black and White Reproduction". Stanford library. Archived from the original on 17 January 2007. Retrieved 24 August 2006.
  5. ^ "About H&E Naturist". Health and Efficiency Naturist. Archived from the original on 27 September 2006.
  6. ^ Adelman, Bob; Richard Merkin (1 September 1997). Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America's Forbidden Funnies, 1930s-1950s. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-684-83461-0.
  7. ^ a b c d e Kimmel, p.105
  8. ^ a b Gabor, Mark (27 February 1984). The Illustrated History of Girlie Magazines. New York: Random House Value Publishing. ISBN 978-0-517-54997-1.
  9. ^ "Hugh Hefner Profile". People in the News. CNN. Retrieved 21 July 2008.
  10. ^ "The Playboy FAQ: The First Issue". World of Playboy. Playboy. Archived from the original on 7 June 2011.
  11. ^ a b c d Gene N. Landrum (2004). Entrepreneurial Genius: The Power of Passion. Brendan Kelly Publishing. pp. 156, 157. ISBN 978-1-895997-23-1.
  12. ^ "UK | Porn baron Raymond dies aged 82". BBC News. 3 March 2008. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
  13. ^ a b Kimmel, p.98
  14. ^ Kimmel, p.116
  15. ^ a b Kimmel, p.123
  16. ^ Kimmel, p.122
  17. ^ a b c d "Observer – Top shelf gathers dust". London: Observer.guardian.co.uk. 14 May 2001. Archived from the original on 22 February 2009. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
  18. ^ Iqani, Mehita (January 2015). "The top shelf and its failures: the semiotics of softcore porn magazines at the newsstand". Porn Studies. 2 (1): 35–48. doi:10.1080/23268743.2014.988037.
  19. ^ Fuller, Graham (July–August 2013). "The Look of Love: Review". Film Comment. 49 (4). New York: Film Society of Lincoln Center: 65–66. ProQuest 1428042109 – via ProQuest.