Porn and Feminism: “How to be a Playgirl” Author Jessanne Collins Gets Down… and Very Dirty

Porn and Feminism: “How to be a Playgirl” Author Jessanne Collins Gets Down… and Very Dirty

Nudie men photos directed at women is perhaps a curious notion to some. I’ve heard stupid things like, aren’t women averse to porn? As if the entire female population were all Tipper Gores and Anita Bryants. Idiots. The answer is hell no they aren’t. Why would they be? Women of the 70s saw Playboy make it’s way in the sun, boobs and buttocks and all. It was a reputable, even high-brow magazine at times (journalistically speaking, of course). Women, and let’s face it, gay men, wanted something for themselves. Playgirl was born.

Perhaps due to its name (though actually having no relation to Playboy at all) or its brazen content, Playgirl quickly gained an immense pop culture presence when it was introduced in 1973. Over time, it lost its way and found it again, and has had a generally tumultuous life throughout. It was disregarded, loved, hated, reviled, and finally the novelty of it all was embraced, and then dismissed. But during its first final years of print,* a small group of women in their 20s (with the occasional assistance of a certain tall man) brought it back to a place where not only people talked about it, but where news outlets legitimately covered its content. People actually wanted to buy it again!

Jessanne Collins

One of those women was writer and managing editor Jessanne Collins. A softer spoken, unassuming person who had no prior magazine experience and no particular interest in porn when she started. But feminism? Ah, yes. So she gave up a cushy job in the boring old world of marketing and fearlessly dove into the weird, naked world of smut. She was greeted on her first day by a blowup doll occupying her chair. It only got more interesting from there.

Amongst the whale penis dildos and the reader submitted nude photo collages, the mountains of lube and sex toys, Jessanne and crew created a rumble. Within the pages of the famous porno rag, they unashamedly advocated women’s sexual health, self-love (downstairs and upstairs), female empowerment, culture and art, and freedom of modern expression. They weren’t fucking around.

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But what was it like? What was having an automated jack-off device or a growing stack of hardcore pornos piled on your work desk actually, truly like? Having chronicled the details and experiences in her head, through emails and IMs, Jessanne had perhaps the best idea of all. And she wrote a book about it called “How to be a Playgirl.” Because not many people can say their daily work conversations included the terms “fisting,” “cock size” or “blow jobs.”

The Ink and Code sat down, fully clothed, with Jessanne to discuss her life as a porn peddler.

Why did you finally decide to write this book? 
It’s something I’ve actually been mulling and working on for some time. I always knew there were great stories from the Playgirl days. I used to send anecdotes in emails to my friends, because the things that happened were just so outlandish, I knew they needed to be out in the world. And people are always really fascinated to hear about it, once I convinced them I’m not just pulling their leg that I actually worked there.

 What was going through your mind when you actually got the job at Playgirl? 
I was super excited and had a ton of trepidation. Like a pit of dread wrapped in a knot of butterflies! It felt like my big break and my worst nightmare, in a way! I was leaving a really comfortable, respectable decent job and I knew it was a huge risk. But I didn’t really think twice. I knew I had to take it and run with it and see what happened!

I know there was a sort of feminist revolution during your time there. Can you tell us how that did and did not happen? 
Yeah, from our perspective we were making a magazine with a relevant fun, feminist perspective, one that was very much in line with the perspective it had always had from it’s early days. As I get into in the book, it wasn’t always super clear, from a corporate publishing perspective, who our audience was or what our emphasis should be. (Um … MORE PENISES, in certain views!) So it was a mixed bag. In many ways we had a ton of creative freedom, especially as young editors. In another, we were kind of boxed in in terms of what we could actually attain, how seriously we could be taken.

Coolest person you met while working there? 
The other Playgirls were incredible ladies, and I feel really lucky to have worked with them. They were exactly the colleagues I was dreaming about finding when I grew up reading Sassy and imagining this wide world of awesome women making awesome magazines. Some of the models I met were fascinating, in terms of their motivations and viewpoints. I met artists and reality TV stars and rising rock stars and all kinds of very creative entrepreneurs. Almost everyone I encountered was really working really hard on making something for themselves — it was a pretty eclectic bunch, really. Very inspiring.

What’s the most salacious thing you experienced or saw at Playgirl?
Some of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes at photo shoots is probably pretty salacious. It’s all very legit, of course! I actually never saw anything so skeezy that I was creeped out. It’s work! Everyone is a professional. There’s a lot of push-ups and bicep pumping and, uh, other pumping. Because it’s not like erections just make themselves happen, you know.

What was something so UN-shocking about working there?
It really was the most dreary, corporate place to work. It made me think that, as absurd an industry as porn is, it really is just a business. There’s a TON of paperwork, because of the legal issues in the adult industry. And we had these Monday morning meetings where we’d just tick the pages off, like giving a status update, and it was like something out of Office Space. Except that there were naked people all over the pages.

Were there things you would absolutely NOT take part in?
Not really. There were things that I took part in that I would have never imagined myself taking part in. Which is what the story is about — how that came about and why. So I was pretty much stretched beyond my limits, as it was!

 Any regrets?
None, whatsoever! I have a firm no regrets policy.

How to be a Playgirl,” is an essay-length ebook, and is part of Barnes & Noble’s new electronic publishing chapter for shorter works called NOOK Snaps. Get in now! 

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