steve ivory (2014)

Steven Ivory

*For me, word that Playboy magazine will soon no longer publish photos of nude women is like hearing about the latest life development of a girl I used to know in a galaxy long ago and far away but haven’t heard from or dealt with in many, many years. Wow…really? I always wondered what happened to her.

Truth is, some of the best sex I ever had came at the hands (no pun intended) of Playboy magazine. “Best,” as in first and “sex” as in my astonishing discovery that I possessed a wonderful superpower called masturbation.

You can’t be taught masturbation. Like salmon swimming upstream, it’s intuitive. But the day I made that proverbial swim was the day I discovered that a dog isn’t man’s best friend, after all. Trust me, man’s best friend is his hand.

Every day after school I’d enter my bedroom with fresh images in my head of certain female classmates and do my thing. I was one horny fifteen year old. Anything could light my fire. Sexy female aliens on the old, original “Star Trek” TV series. A housewifey model showing a little leg in a Montgomery Ward catalogue. I was gone.

Then one day, while perusing a newsstand for Superman and Marvel comics, I spotted a magazine with a scantly clad woman on the cover. Playboy. I didn’t dare touch it then, but returned a couple days later. When I thought the newsstand proprietor wasn’t looking and other customers had left that section, I picked up a copy and leafed through the pages.

Stunned is the word. Who were these women and where were their parents? I was fascinated by the images. Bare breasts, right there on the page. In living color. Amazing.

It was then that, instinctively, I learned how to “read” a sex magazine at a newsstand. Ever seen a guy do this? His purposeful gaze looks as if he’s studying a diagram for assembling a water pump–no outward emotion whatsoever as he takes it all in.

I visited the newsstand twice that week, discreetly studying the photos and remembering what I saw for the festivities when I got back home. At some point, that wasn’t enough. I knew I had to have the real thing. The magazine, I mean.

So I collected pop bottles and turned them in at a grocery store, earning enough money to cover my special purchase. I had a plan: other magazines would serve as my Trojan horse, so to speak. At the newsstand, I waited until there was no one around and strode briskly to the counter with my reading materials.

Unclear on whether fifteen was old enough to buy a “nasty” magazine in Oklahoma City in the ‘70s, I trembled as the man behind the cash register, a graying, salt-of-the-earth kind of fellow wearing suspenders, the left corner of his mouth managing what was left of a cigar, went through my goods. “Let’s see now…ya got Better Homes & Garden, Family Circle, Life, Spiderman…PLAYBOY.”

I paid him; he handed over my bag of magazines. And then he said, straight-faced for emphasis, I’m sure: “I gotta say, I never figured you to be a Better Homes & Garden man. But hey, whatever gets you goin’….”

That evening, I got busy on another level. A Playboy full of naked women in the privacy of my bedroom? How could anything possibly be better? Indeed, it is true that the biggest sex organ is the mind. I played that organ like Jimmy Smith.

For a couple of months, Playboy was my favorite thing to do. Then I began to stray. Penthouse, Playboy’s chief competitor, was visually more erotic, but the models were too skinny for me. Pretty soon I put both on ice for low-budget fare like Gent, Nugget and Swank. Without all the airbrushing and soft lens shots, their women looked real.

Practice, to use a cliché, makes perfect. Accordingly, some impassioned and exhilarating sessions in my room felt damn near like a religious experience–ironic, considering that at fifteen, I’d taken it upon myself to break away from my family’s Baptist tradition to explore Catholicism.

In the confessional booth, I declared the same sin so often—-every Saturday afternoon-—that at some point, through the screen, Father Folken gingerly whispered, “Uh, son, do you like sports?…..”

You’d think all that carrying on in the bedroom would have lead to a momentous experience with a real, live, breathing and willing female participant. While I kissed two or three, I didn’t manage to lose my virginity until the ripe old age of 21.

Instead, what happened to the exploration of my superpower is what often happens when an inquisitive, impressionable teenager discovers a new thing—-they wear it out (again, no pun intended) before moving on to other things.

In my case, that other thing was pop music-—listening to it, reading all about the artists who created it, buying records and attending their concerts. Oh, that other thing was always there, but I wasn’t as fervent about it as when I discovered it.

As for Playboy and the rest, despite some top notch journalism in both Playboy and Penthouse, I’d grow up to see them for what they were/are: blatant, sanctioned entities designed expressly to objectify women.

To think, in these modern times, Playboy isn’t altering its format for noble or enlightened reasons. Hugh Hefner’s publication has simply been outdone in its sexism by the far-reaching and wholly more provocative Internet. And it’s free.

Last week, walking past a newsstand, I was curious to see if there were sex mags. There they were, tucked away on a shelf above the automobile and men’s sports periodicals.

“Do you actually sell any of these?” I asked the middle-aged merchant. “Who in the world buys these now?”

“Older men,” he answered casually. “Guys who either don’t have access to the Internet, or would just rather have it–the magazine–in their hands.”

I walked away thinking of yet another cliché: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]

playboy mag (latoya)