What Playboy knows best about nudity

Story highlights

  • Peggy Drexler: Playboy, sans nudity, hit stands this week
  • Why? Millennial men may have less sexist attitudes, but reality is, nudity is ubiquitous, free online
  • She says Playboy smartly trying compete in a men's market ripe for shaking up. And the strategy is already working

Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)The new Playboy, on stands this week, is different from the old Playboy in one (pretty major) regard: No more nudity.

A return to civility? A coup for feminism?
Hardly.
    When the 60-something-year-old magazine announced the new direction back in October, the move was explained as a means to increasing the magazine's appeal to 20-and 30-something readers. And, sure, millennial men have been described as fairly feminist-minded: Research from Bentley University released last year found that millennial men and women share many of the same attitudes about female career success, while another study found that 73% of millennial men say they'd relocate for their wife's job.
    Peggy Drexler
    This may be why, in recent years, the magazine has dabbled in the fight for female equality, with arguments against catcalling and looking at leaked celebrity nudes. In promoting a redesign, the former editorial director had talked about efforts to attract a greater number of female readers with a "more healthy, naturalistic look."
    But, sadly, feminism can't take credit for helping abolish nudity from the original mainstream nudie magazine. It's not that millennial men, feminist or not, are no longer interested in looking at naked women. It's that, as we all know too well, they have plenty of other places to do so, in greater detail and for free.
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    So while it may seem strange that Playboy is choosing to retreat from its stock in trade amid the flood of nudity online and elsewhere, that's precisely why it's doing it. Playboy has long been a shrewd business enterprise and has lasted as long as it has by making smart business decisions. Men don't need Playboy for their porn anymore, at least not the men the magazine -- and, more poignantly, its advertisers -- are trying to reach. It had become a distraction, rather than a provocation -- and, frankly, sort of tame in comparison.
    In an age of unlimited quantities of X-rated content available in online, a few NC-17 nudes, 12 times a year does not a 60-year-old magazine make. Let's be honest: Was Playboy showing these readers anything they hadn't seen before? Unlikely.
    Which is why the magazine is choosing to compete within a men's market ripe and ready for some shaking up, if the recent axing of longtime Esquire Editor-in-Chief David Granger is any indication. The media landscape is ever evolving, and Playboy is simply moving with the times. People did, and do, read Playboy: They may have come for the nudity, but they stayed for the articles. This is one reason to believe their strategy will work over the long term.
    Another reason: It already has. Just eight months after the magazine launched its new, now safe-for-work website -- replacing exposed nipples with stories like "Real Men Make Their Own Thanksgiving Pie Crust" -- Playboy.com saw an almost 400% increase in unique monthly visitors. The average reader age, meanwhile, went from 47 to 30.
    That said -- and fear not, traditionalists -- Playboy might be doing away with full nudity, but it's certainly not doing away with partial nudity. The new cover features an actress in her underwear. Instead of putting women in nothing, they're just putting them in next to nothing.
    Objectification is not over; feminism has not won. In welcoming a new, cleaner Playboy we've just swapped a magazine that may have been on its last breath for one that may have a little life left in it yet. Hooray?