Liz Hurley on all fours in a PVC bikini. Lingerie spreads that could come straight from the top shelf. Sex has always sold men's magazines, but now they are into a whole new ball game, as David Aaronovitch reports

The corner banquette of a Chinese restaurant in New York seems an odd place for a rectal examination. But that is what the louche young man with the cigarette and glass of whisky seems to be performing on the naked woman with stars on her nipples. And on the opposite page, we are inside a large limousine with leather seats, where a velvet-clad man with sideburns stares soulfully down at the head of a hooker, clearly intent on a Divine act. Both photos show bad boys on a seriously naughty night out. In each case the woman's face is turned away from the camera - her personality is not important in the drama taking place. Oh - and both women are black, while the men are white.

What is going on here? A photomontage depicting the degrading lives of American hookers, as exhibited at the Whitechapel gallery? Or perhaps illustrations for a colour supplement article on the exploitation of black teenagers in American cities? None of these things. The caption reads: "Go Wild. Hang Loose in Satin and Velvet." For this, unbelievably, is a fashion sequence in the December edition of GQ, the market leader in men's magazines. And it is this sequence which may have made up the mind of GQ's new editor, Angus MacKinnon, to tone down the sexual content of his magazine. "This is as far as it goes," his publisher, Peter Stuart, is reported as saying this week. "The magazine has drifted a little too far below the belt." Angus, as befits a former Granta employee, is said to want a more literary tone.

Whenever the sexualisation of men's magazines is discussed, it is the 18-month-old newcomer, Loaded, that gets the blame. Before then, throughout the late Eighties and early Nineties, a proliferation of titles - aimed at the materially aspiring man - dealt with sex and women in a relatively delicate way. These were not, after all, to be confused with the Penthouses and Playboys, which were for older, more frustrated chaps and which inhabited the dreaded top shelves of the newsagents. Esquire, Arena, GQ and their brothers were for men with girlfriends, men with rewarding sex lives, men who were becoming kind, competent fathers, men who didn't need to masturbate. They had pages of well-written and provocative articles, lavish fashion sections, dozens of accessories (all approved by the Design Centre, including that Swiss Army penknife you always wanted as a kid but couldn't afford) and enough after-shave in freebie sachets to last the careful man until the next edition was published.

And it was the waft of cheap scent that first alerted the world to the arrival of Loaded. Somehow James Brown's magazine has even contrived to smell less subtle than its rivals. Which suits him perfectly. Where the existing titles had, in his view, kowtowed to the fashionable political correctness of the post-feminist era (all the New Man stuff, all those feelings!), he would provide for the elemental male - the one who had always been there, the one who "has accepted what he is and has given up trying to improve himself". And what did this man want? Pictures of bosomy women, lots of jokes about farts, drinking and "totty", loads of boisterously partisan sport and - predictably - endless sachets of cheap aftershave. But the boundaries between porn and mainstream culture were already collapsing. Take Madonna's Sex, which borrowed wholesale from the hidden multi-billion-dollar industry that is American porn. Or the forthcoming, much-hyped Showgirls - the adventures of lap dancers in Las Vegas - which features full-frontal nudity.

Loaded became very successful very quickly. It had correctly understood that a large number of younger men were fed up with or uninterested in the era of sexual politics. Like young Germans in the Eighties, they were not prepared to take upon themselves the guilt of their older brothers - losers in the Great Sex War. And this feeling was already finding expression in the football writings of Nick Hornby (how to go to a match without experiencing guilt), Viz, and on TV in the exquisite slobbishness of Gary and Tony from Men Behaving Badly, Reeves and Mortimer, and Fantasy Football.

Sex is, of course, a vital part of this mix. Sex interests men. But they have always found it difficult to discuss in the presence of women. Somehow we feel that our wives and girlfriends could not cope with (or would not tolerate) our sheer nastiness, phallocentrism and mental infidelity. So there is a certain kind of sexuality that is only revealed when men are together. It is a foreshortened, rough, often hilarious and occasionally brutal form of discourse. And Loaded brought it back on to the lower shelves.

The result was that in the first six months of this year Loaded outsold GQ (just) to become the best-selling men's lifestyle magazine. Paula Yates told us why big penises were better. Emma Noble ("from The Price is Right") displays her midriff, upon which is written "Come On Down" in a centrefold that (and is this revealing, or what?) has a picture of a urinal on the reverse, inviting readers to attach it to the office wall and watch drunken colleagues pee over it. As one GQ insider said to me without irony: "This is where it gets a bit sticky."

The lesson has not been lost. Several of the other men's magazines have taken the Loaded example to heart. FHM and GQ itself, as well as another newcomer, Maxim, have lurched downmarket to cater for New Old Man. A monthly foray into increasing the size of your plonker is de rigueur, as is an expose of some aspect of the porn or sex-for-sale industries. Men are advised on how to dump their girlfriends, pick up new ones and how to discover whether they suffer from what the French call les maladies anglaises. Thus, this month's GQ with its brothel fashions and front page picture of a model called (I think) Eva Vestoff.

Rosie Boycott, editor of Esquire, thinks that her rivals are making a big mistake. "Once you've had bare breasts, where do you go after that?" she asks. (One has an uneasy suspicion that Loaded readers would be quite happy to offer a suggestion.) For a start, she says, advertisers like BMW do not want to be associated with tackiness. Sooner or later they will take their business elsewhere. And besides, whatever the temporary fashion, men do not like be tagged as crude and sexist. The ones with girlfriends will not want to buy magazines which they have to hide between copies of What Motor? and Which PC? The logic of Loaded will lead once more to the top shelf - and will mean that men's magazines have described a full circle in a decade.

But while most of her magazine conforms to her high claims for it, Rosie herself is running some very fetching photos this month. She has Liz Hurley, in poses and underwear not usually associated with those who hunger for a more sequestered private life. Ah yes, she says, but these are not laddish - the woman in them is in control - not objectified.

This is difficult territory indeed. Despite the tackiness there is something about the vitality and lack of shame of the new magazines which is attractive. In this month's FHM, for instance, is a piece about pubic lice (crabs). When I was 18 I discovered (to my intense shame) that I was host to a thriving community of these tiny insects. I told no one and scratched in silence. Had FHM existed in 1975 I might have suffered less.

And this confessionalism goes further. For years journalists have been visiting prostitutes, getting au point, then "making their excuses" and leaving. Which means that the most urgent question: "what is it like?" is never answered. But FHM's pseudonymous Grub Smith does answer it, like this: "To come I have to close my eyes and imagine I'm making love to someone else, my fine and lovely ex. Eventually I manage it. I watch Michelle dress, pay her the cash and get ready to leave." This may shock, but is it not journalistically preferable to all those pieces where the act never seems to happen?

As you can tell, I welcome this honesty. Like writers admitting taking ecstasy, or sniffing poppers, it is better, I think, to talk about the things that people really do, rather than wish them away. But there is a dark side. This is a society in which - for all the newfound confidence of young women - sexual assault and rape are still on the increase. In this context, what message is the young GQ reader supposed to derive from the satin-clad men and the faceless black hookers? Confess, by all means. But do not degrade.

How much sex sells how many magazines


Sex index (pictures of women half-undressed or less in current issue): 9

Editor: Peter Howarth, who came from GQ three months ago to replace Kathryn Flett, editor for three years.

Circulation: at its 1986 launch, 50,000. Latest estimates, more than 80,000. Its readers are fashion-conscious.

Line on sex: group editor Dylan Jones says: "I don't think Arena has published anything that's remotely pornographic. Maybe we should ..." The first men's magazine to put a woman on the cover (Greta Scacchi in 1991).

Sex correspondent: Imogen Edwards-Jones is keen to point out that size does matter and in this issue tells us about tweaking her own nipples.


Sex index: 0

Editor: Joe Dolce

Circulation: 484,472 across the United States. No figures for UK circulation, but it has made an impact - American men's magazines have shown the way, particularly when it comes to the confessional sex columnist.

Line on sex: laid back about getting laid. Honestly, you British, you only have to mention the word to get in a tizzy. The Americans have been there and come back.

Sex correspondent: Anka Radakovich, first of the new breed of girls-about- the-boudoir. Radakovich has been seduced by Hollywood and is taking her sexual confessions on to the silver screen.


Sex index: 74

Editor: Hugh Hefner, the founder.

Circulation: launched in the US in 1953, with Marilyn Monroe on the cover. UK circulation is around 50,000. The average reader is male, 34, college- educated, with a large disposable income.

Line on sex: Hefner's spokeswoman says it is "a general interest magazine for men which happens to include sexy pictures". Anyone buying the magazine merely for sexual gratification will be "disappointed", she says.

Sex correspondent: Jim Petersen, otherwise known as the Playboy Adviser, assisted by Chip Rowe. Cynthia Heimel writes about sexual politics.


Sex index: 27

Editor: James Brown

Circulation: 127,677. The lads' magazine credited with forcing its competitors down-market since its launch in May 1994 and mapping out the world of the unashamed new lad.

Line on sex: phwooar! If the VerMeulen GQ was about girls, girls, girls, then Loaded is about babes, babes, babes (and beer). Irreverent, politically incorrect.

Sex correspondent: none as such: that would all be too intimate and sensitive.


Sex index: 23

Editor: Angus MacKinnon

Circulation: 127,276. GQ likes to think he is suave and sexual in a sophisticated way.

Line on sex: cynics say the brash Loaded pulled GQ off course into sex. But this is to ignore how much the late editor Michael VerMeulen was already following American men's titles. The new editor is a happily married man.

Sex correspondent: Kate Spicer. Posed with two balloons in a provocative shot for her first column, "Me and My Pussy". Spicer's column was very much based on the American model.


Sex index: 34

Editor: Gill Hudson

Circulation: after eight issues, just under 80,000. Its readership is older than Loaded - men with mortgages.

Line on sex: if this magazine is for the older man, then, sex-wise at least, men have nothing to worry about post-thirty. This month's Maxim has articles on one man and his penis extension and first-person testimonials from strippers and table dancers.

Sex correspondent: Karen Krizanovich writes up a monthly chat with the girls. This month: men's hygiene problems. Lots of talk about the kind of hygiene issues only men confront.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game