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Bundle of Insecurities. Who reads Playboy? Since 85% of its circulation comes from newsstand sales, readership surveys are difficult. But certain clues can be found in a sampling of questions asked of the feature, "Playboy Advisor." Mostly, they deal with insecurities about clothes, food and sex. A Fayetteville, Ark., reader wants to know whether the gas from his CO2 cork extractor will harm the wine (no). A Bahamas-bound Louisville bachelor wants to know what clothes to take along; a fellow in Elgin, Ill., wonders whether blue or striped shirts are all right after dark (no).
A San Francisco playboy seems to have become involved with a lesbian; the "Advisor" tells him: "Next time she calls, tell her you've lots of authentically male friends for those evenings you wish to spend going out with the guys." An Akron gentleman of 57 pronounces himself "hopelessly in love" with a lovely 49-year-old neighbor. Trouble is, she won't go out with him Saturday nights; she's got a standing date with some other fellow. "Your Saturday nights must indeed be hell," agrees Playboy, "but if you insist on your so-called 'rights,' you may force the lady to make a decision that will cause all your evenings to be hell."
Despite the occasional appearance in the "Playboy Advisor" of such senior citizens, the magazine is in large measure addressed to the young who worry about the right socks as well as the right line with girls and the right pleasures. In short, it appeals to the undergraduate who wants to act like a sophisticate —or, for that matter, to the high school graduate who wants to act like a college sophomore. And why not? After all, half the magazine's title plainly emphasizes boy. Yet this does not do full justice to the range of Playboy's readers. Playboy estimates that half have attended college, 70% are between the ages of 18 and 34. Women make up about 25% of its audience, and their reactions are mixed. Says Social Commentator Marya Mannes: There is "the implicit premise that woman is an Object. She has no other function than to be lusted after and lurched at." Other female readers, who apparently don't mind being lurched at, enjoy Playboy for its inside view of a man's world and its notion of the latest styles in feminine sex appeal.
The Last Frontier. One of the more surprising facts is that Playboy's readers include quite a number of ministers. Hefner offered the clergy a 25% subscription discount, found that seminarians demanded similar privileges. In some quarters, it is considered the mark of the cool, contemporary minister to mention Playboy casually in conversation, quote it in sermons, or even to write for it. In one issue, William Hamilton expounded on God-is-dead theology; shortly after, Bishop James Pike wrote in to argue with him. Harvey Cox of the Harvard Divinity School did an article in praise of the clergy's new grass-roots involvement with social ills and maladjustments; a group of ministers debated the pros and cons of liberalized abortion. "The last frontier is the sexual one," says Allen Moore of the Claremont School of Theology. "Because of Hefner, many in the church have begun to confront this barrier for the first time. Discussion is more open."