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Student-Run Sex Magazines Surface Across U.S.

Posted by tothewire on December 6, 2008

picture206_58Student Publications Designed to Bust Open Discussion About Sexuality

Once a semester, Rice University students in Houston gather for “sex-trivia pub night” at Willy’s Pub to test one another’s knowledge of all things sexual. The students divide themselves into teams and, after a few rounds of erotically charged questions, the members of the most sexually knowledgeable team win $20 tabs at the on-campus, student-run hangout.

Hosted by Open magazine, whose pages include nude photos of Rice students, the goal of trivia night is to help students talk comfortably about their sexuality. “Our generation is growing up in a time with moral codes that are preached by Christianity,” said Rachel Solnick, Open editor in chief and Rice sophomore. “But if you’re not religious, you have to have your own moral compass.”

Open magazine has plenty of company, as other publications that focus on various forms of sexual expression — some more explicit than others — have emerged at more than a dozen U.S. colleges in recent years, even amid concerns about the exploitation of women.


‘Someone Might Regret That Later’

Some publications include erotic fiction and nude or semi-nude photographs of their students, which creates an uncomfortable balance for school administrators as students increasingly come under the influence of sexual material on TV and the Internet, experts said.

“Students are becoming more openly questioning of authority and what’s acceptable,” said Robert Gaines, an adolescent psychologist in New York.

And society’s loosening moral standards “intrigues students and makes them want to copy that,” he said. “Making sexual matters part of campus conversation is probably a good thing. But putting nude pictures of students in these magazines is probably more risky. Someone might regret that later.”

At Rice, 1,500 copies of the first issue of Open magazine were distributed free of charge last spring to students on campus. The magazine was funded by a $3,300 grant from the Dr. Bill Wilson Student Initiative Grant, which, named for an alumnus, is awarded to innovative student projects that enhance student life at Rice.

The university recognizes Open magazine, which must pass muster with an editorial board of Rice faculty and staff to ensure that its content isn’t offensively explicit. But the board neither prescribes content nor censors the students’ suggestively nude images.

Such leeway contributes to a healthy discussion of the best ways to approach sex and sexuality, editor Solnick said.

Open aims to “emulate the late-night conversations your have with your friends,” Solnick said, adding that the publication, despite its frank discussions and nude photos, is appropriate for a college campus.

“We just want to be able to approach sexuality in a smart manner,” Solnick said. “We’re less interested in the erotica side of it as we are in the personal side of it.”

C-Spot, a publication at Columbia University in New York, is aimed at promoting intelligent conversation about sexual behaviors and norms.

(Courtesy C-Spot )

The content of the 68-page magazine included articles, poems and short fiction with titles such as “Abstinence-Only Education Is Anything But,” “Health and Body” and “Exploring Health Benefits of Sex.”

The publication debuted on Rice’s campus and in nearby businesses last spring to a mostly positive, albeit shocked, student reaction, Solnick said.


Mixed Reviews for C-Spot


At Columbia University in New York, C-Spot is another publication aimed at promoting intelligent conversation about sexual behaviors and norms. It operates independently of the school.

“C-Spot is a means for students to combine the intellectual, academic and creative with the erotic,” said Jessica Tang, a Columbia College senior who’s the creator and editor in chief of C-Spot. “We are handling our content with care, sophistication and responsibility, and rendering them through the unique view of bright, young Columbia students.”

C-Spot, which was first distributed on Columbia’s campus in mid-October, differs from other college sex magazines in its artistic and creative focus. For Tang, the aesthetic element of the magazine, displayed in full-page spreads of black-and-white semi-nude photos of Columbia students, is especially important.

Unlike school administrators at Rice who acknowledge Open magazine, Columbia has refused to support publications of a sexual nature.

The university turned down requests to support a now-defunct erotic online magazine produced by Columbia students a few years ago.

So Tang funds the printing of C-Spot herself, which cost $2,000 for the 1,000 copies of the magazine that she distributed for free.

For now, Tang is aiming to break even on the cost of the magazine by appealing to advertisers to buy space. In the future, however, she hopes that C-Spot will be a profitable business venture.

Tang joked that advertisers will be eager to advertise in C-Spot because “Who wouldn’t want a sexy Columbia student modeling their sneakers?”

Tang also plans to host events like “burlesque” and “drag” shows as well as “speed-dating” opportunities next semester that will be open to the entire Columbia University community. Tang wants to host such events to make C-Spot “more than just a publication” and hopes that these events will “incite the campus’s sexual culture that is currently stifled.”

Columbia sophomore NIck Velazquez said, “The subject matter is something I appreciate because I wish our school was open about things like this and wasn’t so uptight.”

Although Velazquez acknowledged that some of the photographs may be inappropriate for distribution on a college campus, he said, “I think it should be welcomed on campus.”

Other Columbia students, however, aren’t convinced. “It’s a little too much,” junior Michael Paranac said. “It’s deliberately edgy to the detriment of the reader.”

The content of C-Spot ranges from articles like “The Origins of the Vibrator” and reviews of Manhattan’s best strip clubs.

While Tang, like Open editor Solnick, insists that her publication strives to reach beyond pornography or trivia, and is nothing like the mainstream Playboy magazine, for instance, other college sex magazines promote a more salacious nature.

The online publication Diamond, for example, is less concerned with the cerebral and intellectual aspects of sexuality in favor of exposing the “sexy” side of Harvard University’s student body, according to its editor, a school senior.

Harvard’s online publication Diamond isn’t concerned with the cerebral and intellectual aspects of sexuality. The editor says they wish to expose the “sexy” side of Harvard’s student body.

(Courtesy Diamond )

Matt Di Pasquale, the editor-in-chief, cited Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner as an inspiration and conceived of Diamond as a combination of the magazines Cosmopolitan and Maxim, with nude photos.


Editor Poses in the Nude


Indeed, Di Pasquale himself posed nude for the debut issue, which was published online this fall. But Di Pasquale said he feels no squeamishness at either his nude photos or the overt sexual nature of the publication.

“The pictures are meant to look sexy,” Di Pasquale said. “When the readers see the pictures, they’re meant to be like, ‘Damn, that girl or guy is hot.’ But at the same time, there are a lot of really interesting people here [at Harvard]. It’s amazing the things that they’ve accomplished, their personalities, and I wanted to capture that, too.”

To that end, Di Pasquale provides extensive interviews of the student models alongside their photographs. The magazine also features nonsexual content such as movie reviews and political articles.

Like Tang’s C-Spot publication, Diamond gets no funding from Harvard.

Di Pasquale attributes the appeal of sex magazines on campuses to evolving attitudes about sex on the part of young people who can use the Internet to explore erotica.

“The Internet is changing the world,” Di Pasquale said. “People can go online and read about sex, and parents can’t really shield their children from that.”

But some Harvard students are uncomfortable with the idea of women being portrayed as sex objects in such a magazine on their own college campus.

Many were also offended by the way that Di Pasquale solicited Harvard student models for his publication: He sent out a mass e-mail to students calling for “all hot Harvard girls.”

“Residential houses should not be places where undergraduates feel objectified,” declared an editorial in The Harvard Crimson, the school’s daily student newspaper. “The magazine’s Web site does not try to obscure the pornographic nature of the magazine’s aims.”


X Magazine: Some Just Don’t ‘Get It’

Such debate comes as no surprise to students and faculty at Washington University in St. Louis, where the university-supported Student Forum on Sexuality has published X Magazine once a semester since 2003.

Dedicated to the “exploration of sexual culture,” X Magazine aims to provide students with a forum to communicate about “the developmental task of becoming sexually mature.”

“Sexuality is gendered,” said X Magazine faculty adviser Susan Stiritz, warning against the tendency to objectify women in a sexual context.

She said she has found that to be the case with sexually oriented magazines at other college campuses, specifically when they are run by men.

Stiritz, who teaches courses on women, gender and sexuality studies, also said she sees a conflict in the way that young people are being taught about sexuality. College students are exposed to a combination of “abstinence education,” which attempts to curb their sexual appetites, and “MTV education,” which she believes encourages students to indulge in their desires. The upshot is confusion about how to approach sexuality, which Stiritz believes X Magazine helps to address. X Magazine’s content is comprised entirely of submissions from students at the university. They include sexually themed original artwork and photography, poems, articles (such as “Feigning Pleasure: The Art of the Female Orgasm”) and short stories (like “Sex in France,” which details a student’s sexual experiences while studying abroad).

Although Stiritz said that X Magazine is often complimented by students and staff at Washington University, she said that some people just don’t “get it.”

In general, many of the sexually themed magazines emerging on college campuses aim to help students express their thoughts and feelings about sexuality. And editors and their staffs say they are confident that publications will grow in tandem with demand.

“Nationally, our whole culture is talking about sexuality,” Stiritz said.

Harvard’s Di Pasquale said, “As time goes on, people are becoming more liberal and free to do things. I feel like in terms of sexuality, people are more tolerant. Sex is a big part of life, and I don’t think people want to hold that back. That’s why I think students feel the need to talk about this stuff.”



4 Responses to “Student-Run Sex Magazines Surface Across U.S.”

  1. so basically you just cut and pasted this whole article without any comment or discussion of your own? or giving the author credit until the end?

    I understand it is “good form” to discuss, quote and link, encouraging readers to go to the credited source, while giving them your perspective on the topic. Unless perhaps you’re Alexa and this is a secondary blog?


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