- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2003

Marcus Oliver of Northeast says he likes to read men’s magazines to look at beautiful women. He admits the pictures interest him more than the articles. Despite his attraction to the photographs, he says he started reading Maxim and Playboy as a teenager for advice on how to be a man.

“I don’t buy it. I just look through it,” says Mr. Oliver, 23, while paging through Maxim in the magazine row at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Arlington. “When guys are young, we want to become the best, the most powerful, the most popular,” he says. “We will read any magazine that will give us advice on this.”

He says the revealing photographs of women don’t negatively affect his view of the opposite sex.

“I’m smart enough to know not all women are like that,” he says. “If that’s how they want to be portrayed … they are wearing their clothes. It’s not that bad. They are getting paid for it.”

Last week, though, Wal-Mart stores decided some of the men’s magazines really are that bad. As the nation’s largest retailer, the stores have stopped selling Maxim, Stuff and FHM. These magazines, though not labeled as pornography, were considered too racy for the chain’s clientele.

Stuff magazine caters to the 18-to-25 demographic while FHM, Gear and Maxim target men 18-34. Maxim and Stuff are both owned by Dennis Publishing.

Dana Fields, president and publisher of New York City-based FHM, says she has considered creating a teenage version of FHM with more innocent content. Although it’s a nice concept, she says, it’s difficult to accomplish since teenage boys don’t have the large discretionary incomes that attract advertisers.

The main advertisers for men’s magazines — sometimes called “lad mags” because they originated in Britain — include companies selling liquor, beer, tobacco and automobiles. Since teenage boys aren’t a key market for those products, it’s hard to find advertisers.

A magazine for teenage boys might spark interest from companies selling jeans, sneakers and video games, but Ms. Fields doubts their advertisements would provide enough income to keep the magazine afloat. She cites this as the reason for the failure of MH-18, the teen magazine started by Men’s Health.

“I don’t completely buy it that it’s a dead idea … but from a business point of view, it’s very tough,” she says. “Editorially, you could come out with a great mix of content. … What makes magazines complicated is that there are two different revenue streams.”

On the other hand, teenage girls’ magazines, such as Elle Girl, Cosmo Girl and Teen Vogue, receive their main advertising revenue through health and beauty products, such as makeup, which allows the publications to survive.

Even if a male teen magazine could overcome the problems associated with advertising, Jonathan Klein, director of special projects at Gear magazine in New York still has his reservations.

“A teenager doesn’t want to read what’s in a teen magazine,” he says. “They don’t want to be talked down to. They want to be older, even though not all the content may address their interests.”

During his teen years, Mr. Klein says, he would not have read a teen-lifestyle magazine if it was available.

“I probably would have gone to a music magazine like Spin or Rolling Stone,” he says. “If I was more of a sports aficionado, I would have gone to Sports Illustrated.” Gear features celebrity interviews, fashion advice and plenty of barely clad females and was created by Spin magazine founder Bob Guccione Jr., whose father, Bob Guccione, founded Penthouse.

The images in pornographic publications as well as those in men’s magazines like Stuff and Maxim are not particularly beneficial for eyes of any age, says Rob Jackson, executive director for the Institute for Sexual Integrity in Colorado Springs. He is a licensed professional counselor who rehabilitates sex addicts.

“Young boys reading men’s magazines experience a type of sexual abuse,” Mr. Jackson says. “It’s intended to seduce. … If you can entrap someone with this material, you have a lifelong subscriber. You get people addicted so you can make money off of them.”

Over time, Mr. Jackson says, young men can become addicted to the magazines’ soft-core material. In time, they may become bored with the content and want to move on to something more stimulating. In this way, he says, the men’s magazines can serve as a gateway to hard-core pornography.

Victor Cline of Salt Lake City, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist specializing in marital and family counseling and the treatment of sexual compulsions and addictions, says individuals can become desensitized to graphic pictures. To become aroused, the addict seeks more intense material. Mr. Cline says in extreme instances, addicts can even act out their fantasies on people through activities such as rape and sadomasochism.

Instead of publications featuring material that could harm society, Mr. Jackson suggests publishers create magazines that would benefit the culture.

“I would love to see men’s magazines focus on character and what it means to be a man,” Mr. Jackson says. “They could get into the things most men enjoy, like sports or other things, but when the men’s magazines feature photographs of a female for no other purpose than to elicit a sexual response, it’s objectification of a woman and exploitation of a man.”

Many of today’s popular men’s magazines are similar to what pornography looked like in the 1960s, says Gene McConnell, president and founder of Authentic Relationships in Cincinnati. The general acceptance of publications such as Maxim reflects a big cultural swing in what society considers healthy or profane.

Mr. McConnell, 47, knows this from experience, because he was first exposed to Playboy at age 12. He says the content of Playboy from 35 years ago is tame by today’s standards, and it lead him to years of sexual addiction.

“It was like a drug injected in my veins,” he says. “The excitement and arousal was like something I never experienced. … I escalated it to get the same high because it didn’t give me the same high as when I saw the first Playboy. I had to go to more graphic material.”

Eventually, Mr. McConnell’s obsession catapulted out of control. About 23 years ago, he was arrested and spent time in prison for attempted rape. Since then, he has undergone counseling and tried to use his mistakes to help others.

He now speaks on college campuses across the nation about sexual addiction. Although he does not support censorship, he encourages men to take responsibility for what they read.

“When I tried to go out with a girl, I was never present with her,” he says. “I had the magazine pictures running through my mind. When I was in bed with my wife, I was in bed with all the women I was consuming. My wife was never the one I was totally treasuring and cherishing.”

The content in many men’s magazines and other pornographic publications make it easy to have commitment-free relationships, Mr. McConnell says.

“It’s an act of desperation to go to a piece of paper for an embrace,” he says. “It’s an empty embrace, no matter how great the sexual release. … Our greatest need is intimacy, to be known and be loved.”

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