NEW YORK — Perhaps the most well-known adult newsstand magazine ever published outside of Playboy — Penthouse magazine — has been an icon since its debut in 1969 managing to remain relevant to the ever-changing adult landscape by surviving the onslaught of Internet porn and the slow decline of print publications.
But for the last 45 years, the slick glossy’s smaller and less celebrated little sister, Penthouse Forum has for the most part kept up its original editorial charter of providing sex advice and titillating letters in its ever-recognizable digest format successfully dodging pitfalls and avoiding the wholesale changes Penthouse proper was forced to overcome.
Forum debuted in March 1970 as an insert in Penthouse and subtitled “The International Journal of Human Relations." Its staying power is a testament to its simple, yet brilliant publishing model that resonates to this very day.
Since 2003, journalist and editor Eric Danville, widely known for his controversial book, “The Complete Linda Lovelace” and stints at other top adult magazines including Screw, High Times and Hawk from the publishers of High Society, among others, has helmed Forum for the Penthouse family of publications.
One of Danville's most notable journalistic coups was being the first journalist to interview Lovelace in 25 years. He even managed to have her pose one last time in a fetish spread for Leg Show magazine shortly before she died.
For seven years while at Screw, Danville honed his editorial skills, eventually becoming a senior managing editor before making the move to Penthouse in 1998 where he worked on Penthouse Letters and Girls of Penthouse. Today he is the managing editor of Penthouse Forum and The Girls of Penthouse and attributes the mag’s resilience to it being a “rare title” that combines erotic letters and fiction meant to arouse readers with more practical advice on medical, social, and cultural topics that other adult magazines generally shy away from.
“Playboy, for instance, will dedicate a few pages to advice and then offer more material on cars or fashion or music, but we’re not as concerned with how you look wearing the latest designer suit as with what happens when you take it off at the end of the day,” Danville says.
The editor explained that in the early ’70's Forum was, as the title implies, a forum for people to discuss sex and sexuality, so the letters section was more advice-based. People would write in and ask other readers what they thought about certain topics or would offer their own tips that others might find helpful. The letters evolved into the reader experiences and fantasies that people know today, and the magazine started to add more personal topics addressed by commissioned writers in columns and features.
In fact, the publication has gained so much notoriety it recently added Bunny Ranch owner Dennis Hof to its long long line of adult luminaries it's published, including sex educators like Lonne Barbach and Tuppy Owens as contributors, porn stars like Annie Sprinkle, Veronica Vera and Candida Royalle back in the day, and some notable mainstream fiction writers, that Danville says write for him anonymously to see what it’s like in the adult field.
“I like publishing people you wouldn’t normally expect to see in an adult magazine. I have two pieces in the works by adult stars who I can’t name just yet because the contracts aren’t signed, and our July issue will be a LGBTQ Pride issue with a lead feature written by an out lesbian heavy metal singer named Otep Shamaya. Of course, if there are any players in adult who’d like to pitch me a story, I’d love to hear it.”
It’s that kind of adaptation — a hallmark of most adult endeavors — that is keeping the magazine alive. Despite the naysaysers that decry print is dying, Danville, like many stalwart old school editors believes that print’s not going away anytime soon, but rather magazines have to adjust to a digital age.
“We’ll have to adapt like everyone else in mainstream and adult publishing. We’ve been doing e-books for the past few years and some exclusive-to-digital theme magazines for all our imprints. I think getting into areas that are accessible but can’t be pirated is important, too. Forum ran a feature last year by Jo Weldon, one of the big players in the burlesque scene who runs the New York School of Burlesque, about how women — and men — can strip for their lovers in the bedroom. We did an issue-release party here at a great space called the Slipper Room with five burlesque performers and we had Penthouse Pets Allie Haze and Tasha Reign read Forum letters between acts. The show was a sell-out and the crowd loved it. I really think live performance is an area that can be successfully exploited,” Danville says.
Events and special features aside, it’s the sex that will still help Forum remain relevant. Danville says that girl-girl stuff does really well, and over the past years there’s been a big jump in letters about swinging and partner swapping — what he likes to call “consensual adultery.” Interracial sex is also a big topic. Lots of readers like writing and reading about their wives and girlfriends banging big-dicked black dudes, Danville explains.
And although the magazine’s core readership trends towards men as well as couples in long-term, committed (although not always monogamous) relationships, Danville says there’s also a healthy female readership. “I always hear about couples who read the letters to each other to help start their night off. A few lesbian friends of mine have said they enjoy our lesbian letters and our girl-girl DVDs.”
Other sex magazines may come and go but Forum is determined to stick around. Keeping ahead of the curve always helped it to stay afloat and that’s not changing anytime soon. Danville reveals that there’s great discussion about body image issues lately, and right on topic, Forum did a feature on BBW porn star Kelly Shibari, being the first major adult magazine to present a BBW cover. “That got us great coverage on Huffington Post and The Daily Beast and other mainstreams sites,” Danville says. “If any adult magazine is going to advance discussions like that, it’s gonna be Penthouse Forum.”