Sexual awakenings are usually reserved for the young. The nubile. The uninitiated and inexperienced. Back before the internet became an instant one-stop shop for all the fetishes mankind could think of, you had to find the fix to your carnal cravings elsewhere. And as a young boy growing up in the ‘90s, Playboy, for me (and I’m sure for a lot of hot-blooded adolescents), served as an introduction to the artful beauty of the female form.
It was a portal of pleasure, an end-to-end experience that provided an escape from the banalities of reality. It was the fountain of youth in magazine form, tactile and titillating and torrid if you needed it to be. And the man behind it all, Hugh Hefner, who lived to be 91 years old, represented that coveted lifestyle that men secretly worshipped.
Clad in his velvet robe, pipe in one hand and a statuesque model in the other, Hefner became a deity for those who worshipped the ground he walked on, mostly Hollywood A-listers hoping to be invited to his notorious Playboy Mansion parties. He was a figure that helped usher in the sexual revolution of the sixties, liberal in his ways and always unapologetic. Sex positive before it was fashionable.
He was a rogue. A rebel. An icon of an empire built on the elusive promise of fantasy.
May he rest in peace.
The genius behind Playboy, however, was that it wasn’t just about seeing the bunnies posing in all their naked glory (the symbol of the rabbit is forever etched into the annals of pop culture as the brand’s signifier). It was, in fact, overflowing with pieces from some of the literary world’s finest authors—decorated poets and playwrights who were in proper command of the written word, and esteemed journalists known for cultivating cult-like followings.
“I only buy it for the articles” was a tongue in cheek excuse to purchase the magazine, but should extensive reading have been your sincere intention for diving into its pages, you wouldn’t have been disappointed. Playboy also provided an aspirational approach to lifestyle, one that elucidated on the benefits of style and grooming, delved into entertainment and politics, and dissected each milieu with razor sharp precision.
It was man’s clandestine best friend.
But then again, who are we kidding? Most, if not all of its fans, were mostly there for the ladies. I remember where my own father used to keep his stash: under a wooden chair that doubled as a storage crate in his bedroom. When you lifted the cushion, there was a secret latch that opened up into a treasure trove of lad mags—a veritable pool of supple breasts, parted lips, and come-hither stares beckoning to be discovered.
He had his fair share of Hustler and Penthouse, the former popular for its all-out raunchiness (think vaginas blown up so big they assaulted your eyes) and the latter known for its kinky Penthouse Letters (akin to FHM’s own Ladies’ Confessions). But, despite his eclectic selection, it was always Playboy that evoked the most allure, a tinge of class and sophistication permeating the brashness of its provocative exterior.
My father, who I hope is now getting sloshed with Hugh somewhere in the afterlife, had Madonna’s infamous September 1985 cover, an issue he insisted my older brother lent to a friend, only for it to disappear into the horny abyss of schoolyard camaraderie. There were a lot of the American bombshells as well: the Pamela Andersons and Anna Nicole Smiths, living embodiments of the idea that blondes have more fun. With these cover girls, there was always the idea of excess. Bigger boobs. Fuller butts. Figures so hot and curvy that they’d make your face melt. The most important achievement of Playboy—aside from aiding in the self-inflicted ejaculation of guys the world over—was that it captured the zeitgeist. Each edition is a veritable time capsule, its contents mapping the era and its people.
I kind of blame Playboy for subconsciously manipulating my career path—I did end up working for this country’s most popular men’s magazine. The ideals that Hugh Hefner and Playboy stood for resonate in my own life, albeit not as magnified. The liberalism. Learning the importance of activating one’s hedonistic desires. The constant perusal of the exquisite. Although Hefner has finally made his bed, tucking his Egyptian cotton sheets for his eternal slumber, his legacy will know no rest.
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Spoilers ahead—read at your own risk