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Saturday 24 September 2016

Top shelf: the day Playboy went legit

Published 20/09/2015 | 02:30

Shelf life: Playboy has been on the Irish top shelves for 20 years, but Playgirl is still banned.
Shelf life: Playboy has been on the Irish top shelves for 20 years, but Playgirl is still banned.

One of Ireland's top sex shop owners has called for the ban on Playgirl magazine to be lifted. Twenty years after Playboy first hit top shelves here, sale of the feminist answer to the title is still prohibited.

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Speaking to Review, SexSiopa.ie founder Shawna Scott this week urged censors to 'Play' fair over soft porn in 2015.

"I'm shocked that Playgirl is still banned in Ireland," she says. "But I think it's a perfect example of the double standard in our culture that celebrates straight men's sexuality, whilst viewing that of women and gay men as shameful.

"Perhaps now on the 20th anniversary of the unbanning of Playboy in Ireland, it's time to make Playgirl legal too."

Two decades are about to pass since the ban on the iconic American lad's mag was lifted by Ireland's Censorship of Publications Board. Meanwhile, Playgirl - founded in response to Hugh Hefner's girlie magazine - remains blacklisted for being "indecent or obscene".

Looking back on the moment the 34-year ban was overturned on appeal, Convenience Stores & Newsagents Association chief executive Vincent Jennings recalls being scandalised - not at the sight of a near-naked Pamela Anderson on the cover, but at the £4.90 price tag.

"I remember when the ban on Playboy was lifted," tells the former newsagent. "There was an enormous hoo-ha about it.

"I had two stores at the time and, to be perfectly honest with you, all I remember thinking is that it was extraordinarily overpriced. But people bought it, and they bought the next number of issues, and it became the norm."

Sure enough, by the turn of the millennium, Playboy was shifting nearly 10,000 copies per month this side of the Atlantic - making it the most popular import after Time and Newsweek. With free online porn fast outstripping old-fashioned nudie mags however, even the publishing powerhouse is struggling to keep its numbers up.

When it comes to X-rated reading material, today's Irish men are more likely to stretch for their smartphone than the top shelf, according to the country's leading magazine publisher.

"News stands can be intimidating places for men," reckons Ciaran Casey, chief executive of Harmonia - which publishes Ireland's only men's magazine, Irish Tatler Man. "They're happy to bend down and pick up a newspaper, but if they hover around the magazines too long, they get paranoid that people think they're going to make a dive for the top shelf.

"Digital is going to wipe out the soft porn magazine market," he predicts. "It doesn't matter how high-end some adult mags become, they're still going to be seen as being a bit seedy.

"Before the ban was lifted, men would smuggle Playboy back from England when they went to a football game; nowadays, even though it's legal, it would be considered uncool to walk down Grafton Street with a copy in your back pocket.

"Certainly our male readers are looking for something a bit more sophisticated."

As worldwide circulation plummeted from 3.5 million in 2006 to around 1.5 million today, a 3-D centrefold in 2010 is just one of the ploys Playboy has tried to attract a younger audience. Other lads' mags including Nuts, Maxim UK and Loaded, meanwhile, have simply folded.

"Playboy is probably a rite of passage that every young fella goes through," says Vincent Jennings of the CSNA. "Overall though, Irish men are dreadfully poor at purchasing magazines.

"Of the top 36 titles, 34 are women's magazines, one is a children's magazine and the other is Men's Health, and I can guarantee you that a third of the people who buy Men's Health are women."

In the afterglow of Fifty Shades of Grey then, perhaps unleashing Playgirl on Ireland isn't such an indecent proposal.

A spokesperson for the Censorship of Publications Board - a five-person State body - told Review: "Playgirl was first prohibited in 1974. [After] this prohibition order expired, a second prohibition order, which made it permanent, was granted. Prohibition orders can be revoked on appeal, as can second or subsequent orders which, when made, are permanent unless revoked on appeal."

Razzle, Mayfair and Men Only are among the titles back on Irish shelves after publishers mounted one such appeal back in 2011. Bad news for anyone hoping to get their hands on Big Ones International though: it's one of 266 magazines still outlawed. Despite the dawn of the digital age, Irish consumers still splash up to €200m on 40 million magazines each year, according to Magazines Ireland, the trade association of magazine publishers here.

"The magazine market is a very healthy market," continues Vincent Jennings. "It's still bringing an enormous amount of money into journalists, printers, retailers and the State."

"I know people laugh when men claim to buy Playboy for the articles, but I think there's probably some truth in it. I see a distinction between Playboy and the stuff that is just reams and reams of photographs of naked women."

With Rihanna peeling off for her latest music video and Pornhub star Mia Khalifa becoming a household name though, is there still room for Hef's cheesy American fantasy - which celebrates its 62nd birthday this year - on top shelves here?

"The only way people will pay a premium for a skin mag is if it offers something more than just skin," believes Shawna Scott of SexSiopa.ie. "There is still a niche out there for beautifully-produced magazines for people who feel nostalgic for nudie mags. As people's first preference for pornography though? No - that era is long gone."

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