Sunday, June 5, 2022

They Still Publish, "Penthouse," in 2022?--An Essay on Print Magazines, the Internet, and the Evolution of Titillation

Before we embark on this big essay I want to clarify I am not a doctor or professional anthropologist/sociologist. I simply have a Master's Degree in Public Health and worked in various positions including one focused on sexual health before I left the workforce to be a stay-at-home parent. I continue to be fascinated by how the media impacts our lives and sexuality, so I created this big article. Now then, here we go...

Playboy magazine quietly stopped existing as a printed publication in the Spring of 2020. It released its last issue with little fanfare and now exists more as a brand of the bunny rabbit logo on merchandise than anything else. I mean, there is an online archive of articles and pictorials people can subscribe to so they can look back on the glory days, but for all intents and purposes, "Playboy," is a shadow of what it once was. The Comics Journal's R.C. Harvey did a retrospective on, "Playboy," and Hugh Hefner himself that wasn't overly critical or fawning of the complex legacy the man and magazine left behind for better or worse. It wasn't just Playboy that existed, however. It had competitors in the form of the much more raunchy and edgy, "Hustler," and the somewhat tamer, "Penthouse." What happened to them, though?

"Hustler," still puts out some magazines (like the niche-style, "Taboo," and, "Barely Legal,") that are pretty much just pictorials of hardcover pornography with DVDs sometimes included because I guess it helps promote their internet sites although the company itself admits that soon its print iterations will be kaput. "Penthouse," must surely be dead or not putting out anything especially, "New," beyond best-of pictorial compilations, right? Nope, much to my surprise when I Googled it, "Penthouse," releases new issues.

I didn't realize, "Playboy," stopped much how R.C. Harvey was surprised to learn it after the fact. Hence, when I wondered about the fate of, "Penthouse," I was utterly shocked it still is putting out issues every other month or so. Back in 2016 it was rumored it would cease releasing a print magazine, but that was denied by the company and here it still is, against all odds. Perhaps it gets enough advertisers that the magazine can be released and offer cheap subscriptions. Maybe the website with more explicit content helps pay for the magazine potentially operating at a loss. I honestly do not know. 

The final issue of, "Playboy."

It is no secret that, "Playboy," had some amazing articles, comics, and short fiction. I honestly would sometimes read the magazine for its great writing, as nerdy as that sounds (I was eventually able to get one of the later issues that featured a Simon Hansenlmann comic I was after when I posted about the struggle that turned out to be). "Penthouse," never was really known for its articles. As for how raunchy it could be, I checked Wikipedia and from 1998 to 2005 it could be pretty, "Hardcore," but then softened itself back up and became a bit tamer like, "Playboy," again. This leads to the question of if, "Penthouse," is any good, still?

I picked up the May/June 2022 issue on eBay (eBay banned most adult material a while ago but allows tame magazines) as I didn't immediately see it at my local Barnes and Noble. It arrived in the mail and I opened it up. There are some little mini-articles with news tidbits, a feature on that Canadian trucker shitshow that happened, an article about billionaire Mark Cuban, and a number of softcore pictorials. The articles are fine but not fantastic like the literature, "Playboy," put out and the images are, well, half-naked to mostly-naked women posing. If you caught your teenage son or daughter reading this in their bedroom you wouldn't be shocked so much as you'd look at them quizzically and say, "You do realize stuff 100X raunchier than this can be found with a quick search on your phone, right?" I mean, unlike with the departed, "Playboy," you aren't reading this for the articles. To answer my question of if, "Penthouse," is any good still, I have to ask if it was ever that great?

Arguably what, "Penthouse," is most known for.

"Penthouse," lacked the insightful journalism, short stories, comics, and so forth of, "Playboy." It didn't have the lowbrow rabble-rouser vibe of mischief that Larry Flynt brought with, "Hustler," along with some really edgy content. "Penthouse," just always kind of existed and if it was known for anything it was perhaps the supposedly real letters they received full of outrageously impossible sexual encounters, Still, somehow in 2022 it still exists. It maybe wasn't better than, "Playboy," but it's still here, so I guess it wins by default when compared to its closest competitor in terms of content. There are plenty of other adult magazines, but they are just pictorials full of explicit sex--with, "Hustler," being the most well-known. The vibe (no pun intended) of, "Penthouse," is one of, "We're naked and will talk about sex, but we also want to be classy." That's perfectly fine, even if when I ask who this magazine could be for I can only reason it appeals to folks who want to see naked women without using a computer or buying anything too raunchy. As I doubt, "Penthouse," will provide me their exact circulation numbers I am unsure how many people like that exist, but enough for it to give us six-or-so issues a year.

The concept of titillation has evolved. You can watch everything from moderately tame sex to really extreme and over-the-top pornography for free now with the stroke of a keyboard (that time I intended the pun). We as a society like to act like we have modesty, but the sex genie is out of the bottle, and few people beyond the most extremely religious/prudish/etc. would find much offense to a printed magazine with some breasts and a little bit of vulva compared to the hot trending video of the day on a popular adult streaming site. "Playboy," used to shock and arouse people, bringing with it the concept of a lifestyle of someone who reads insightful articles, short fiction, and likes sex. Now it isn't a lifestyle so much as selling a crazy erotic fantasy for a few minutes at a time on a website--with some fantasies being quite far out there. This leads us to the biggest thing that has changed our idea of arousal and sex in recent history--in my opinion. Yes, I'm talking about Onlyfans and other sites of its ilk.

If you're an adult and have a decent internet connection you can now be a small-time or big-time porn star. You don't need to fly out to a big city and pose for some pictures or film an adult movie for a studio. You can just create an account, film yourself doing whatever you're comfortable with, and potentially make money. With a good enough, "Hook," and some social media savvy you can get a solid following and make money. Are sites like Onlyfans at this point basically saturated with men and women who probably only get enough followers to afford some weekly groceries compared to a small percentage who make a ton of money? I say, "Probably?" Still, if you can appeal to the right kink or niche, you can do pretty well, as plenty of articles about these sites discuss. People don't really want to buy a generic adult magazine if they have something really specific they are into. If you're a furry, want to watch people stomp on food, or anything else that is out-there but legal, I'm sure an Onlyfans/Clips4Sale/whatever exists to turn you on.

 Titillation has evolved thanks to the internet and society becoming more open about sex in general (not all parts of society, but enough for there to be a seismic change). Many of us shrug at the idea that our friend is showing their genitals online to get some extra cash whereas even just 20 years ago learning someone you knew had created adult content would most certainly register a reaction. We get horny for something specific and the internet supplies it, "Why would we read a magazine to get turned on now?" people say. Yes, "Penthouse," exists, somehow, but it is more of an exception standing against a relentless tide trying to knock it over than anything else. This metaphorical tide is bringing in all the camgirls and camguys the World could ever handle, and it is changing the landscape of how we view arousal and get aroused for the foreseeable future. Again, the sex genie is out of the bottle, and they are clearly sticking around.

I'm an extremely progressive and open-minded person. As long as what turns you on doesn't hurt anyone and is purely consensual between adults I support your kink. I have zero problems with people making an Onlyfans as a job or working as a server in a restaurant if they'd rather do that, they're both work. I merely am astounded at how the way we view sex and sexuality has changed some much in the past couple of decades. Titillation has evolved, and what the future holds for our views on sex and arousal is bound to be quite interesting.


  1. Given that porn is so readily available on the web, it is rather fun anticipating the arrival of the magazine.

    On a side note, given the rivalry between Playboy and Penthouse over the decades, it was interesting when a subscription to Penthouse was offered by Playboy after shutting down publication. My wife and I enjoy reading/viewing Penthouse now.

  2. To be fair, it's a lot easier to flip through a print magazine with one hand!