If you’re a gay man over the age of 25 chances are good that your first taste of pornography was not on the internet. Indeed for most of us the first photos of naked men we saw were in a good old-fashioned magazine.
And if your sexual coming of age came in the suburbs, as mine did, chances are also good that the first wankmag you laid your preteen eyes on was not Honcho, Inches or any other by-gays, for-gays publication. If you’re like me, and you might be, the first “gay” porn you ever saw was Playgirl Magazine.
My first glimpse of the famed mag came at the tender age of 10. Mike Milton, a sketchy latchkey kid in my Grade six class had invited me over to his house after school. He was two years older than I was on account of the fact that he had failed a grade and I had skipped one, and was definitely what the principal of our Catholic school would have called a roughneck. By age 12 he’d already developed a taste for Players Lights and Budweiser and despite his smallish stature he was the undisputed champion of the after-school fight circuit. The only son of a divorced single mother he was tough, ballsy, spat like a trucker and told everyone he had fingered pussy before most of us even knew what that meant.
Mike’s original intention in inviting me over was to give me my first taste of beer. “Whaddya mean you’ve never had beer before?” he asked me one day at recess. “Are you some kind of a faggot?”
Determined not to be a faggot I decided to take him up on his offer, even if it came along with the requisite brain damage that my mother had assured me would come from drinking before the age of 19. After we were halfway though our first beer I was already woozy and Mike stood up. “I gotta show you what I found under my mom’s bed,” he said. He returned moments later, dropping a copy of the magazine on the particle-board coffee table.
Up until this point in my life I’d never seen a pornographic magazine, other than catching furtive glimpses of the top rack at 7-Eleven when we went in to buy Slurpees. Now there was one sitting in front of me. Not only that, but there was a man on the cover. We flipped through it looking at pics of a few different husky guys lounging languidly on antique-looking couches and bear-skin rugs. My mind was racing trying to process exactly what I was feeling — what I later understood as a combination of sexual arousal and disgust at my own arousal. Talk about patterning for future sexual explorations.
“Wow!” I said.
“I know,” said Mike. “Isn’t it gross?”
Gross, oh yeah, right.
“Yeah, gross,” I said. “You should put it away.”
Launched in 1973 during the height of the feminist movement Playgirl Magazine was intended as a response of sorts to men’s magazines of the era; something for a strong, independent woman who wanted advice on sex, fashion, careers, along with some photos of dicks.
In a 2003 interview in The Advocate’s then-editor-in-chief Michele Zipp admitted that the magazine’s gay readership was “about 100 percent” and although it always featured articles geared toward women, the ads in the back often promoted gay porn and phone sex lines.
January 2009 saw the end of Playgirl Magazine. Unable to compete in a world chock-full of online porn and gay magazines that actually cater to gay men, the publication folded its print division, though it still operates the website Playgirl.com and PlaygirlTV.
Over its 35 year run Playgirl featured a myriad of models including celebrities like actors Brad Pitt and Scott Bakula, musicians Peter Steele and Keith Urban, wrestler Shawn Michaels and the notoriously homophobic rapper Big Daddy Kane.
During its time on the magazine stands it provided much-needed eye candy to hordes of gay men, many who did not have access to conventional gay porn, as well as asserting, perhaps solely through its existence, that women are sexual too.
Its pages upon pages of oiled manflesh gave a bunch of suburban gay boys a chance to see into their future desires, even if it was a few years before they’d fully understand them. Though its time has come to an end its importance as a cultural institution and its impact on the sexuality of countless men and women will live on.
Thank you Playgirl for going where no girl (or gay boy) had gone before. Web incarnations aside, you will be missed.