Culture

What's smart about Playboy's new, nudity-free approach to sexy

Commentary: After six decades of showing women in their birthday suits, Playboy is trying on clothes. CNET's Bonnie Burton, a longtime fan, explains why she's excited about the magazine's new direction.

Playboy hopes to impress a new generation of readers with less nudity and more quality content. Playboy

When I was growing up, stealing a peek at Dad's collection of Playboys was a rite of passage for curious kids. For both boys and girls, Playboy was the mysterious magazine that seemed to hold all secrets to adulthood.

It won't anymore.

After 62 years of featuring gorgeous nude models including the likes of Bettie Page, Marilyn Monroe and Madonna, Playboy announced Tuesday that it will cease publishing photographs of naked women starting with its March 2016 issue. The newly redesigned magazine will still show off women in provocative poses, but with a lot less skin on display.

As the CEO of Playboy Enterprises pointed out, and as anyone who lives on the Internet knows all too well, nude women aren't exactly hard to find these days. "You're now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free," Scott Flanders told the New York Times.

While many longtime fans of Playboy might be dismayed by this week's announcement, I get why the magazine decided to adapt. The switch from nude centerfolds to more Instagram-friendly-but-sexy clothed models was an easier decision to make when Playboy looked at the jump in readership on its website since Playboy.com stopped posting all nudity last year to be more safe-for-work. The site went from 4 million to 16 million unique visitors per month.

It worked online

That's right, if the offline magazine follows Playboy.com, Playboy can get more readers by showing less.

The choice seems obvious, but print magazines have a sad history of dying out because they refuse to change with the times. That's why I always find it exciting when a well-known magazine decides to drastically shake up its design, content and readership approach.

This is where I need to jump in and fess up that I write for Playboy.com. Granted, I don't compare myself with Playboy's previous published writers such as Margaret Atwood, Ian Fleming, Ray Bradbury or Norman Mailer. Instead of interviewing the likes of Stanley Kubrick, I mostly write about "Doctor Who" and famous sexy lady robots for the site, but I am proud to be part of a legacy of journalists who write entertaining content for a magazine I used to have to read under the covers with a flashlight.

But Playboy has always been about more than the racy stuff. Many of us were serious when we used the excuse "I read it for the articles" when caught flipping through its glossy pages.

All these years later, Playboy is also focusing more on attracting millennials and those up to 30 for its core audience. And for critics who continue to assert that Playboy objectifies women, the magazine hopes to win over feminists by hiring a "sex-positive female" as a sex columnist, Playboy Chief Content Officer Cory Jones told the New York Times.

As a sex-positive female myself (I hope you're reading this, Jones), I'm pretty excited by the changes to Playboy. I have nothing against pretty pictures of naked ladies in magazines, but if you don't embrace the next generation of readers, and what they really want, you're not going to survive. That's true for both print and online publications.

Ray Bradbury is one of the many legendary writers whose work could be found in the pages of Playboy magazine. Alan Light

The influx of talented bloggers, YouTube stars and Instagram photographers has given professional journalists and photographers a run for their money. When you're competing for eyeballs, you have to set yourself apart from everyone else online and on the newsstand.

Luckily for Playboy, it already has the brand recognition. The magazine has been breaking new ground in publishing -- and in the sexual revolution -- since 1953, when Playboy debuted with Marilyn Monroe (fully clothed, I might add) on its cover.

Its publisher, Hugh Hefner, seemed like a debonair mix of Cary Grant and James Bond. Hef was the kind of man who could make a mean martini and always got the girl (or one or two or three) at the end of the day.

Far from 1953

"The political and sexual climate of 1953, the year Hugh Hefner introduced Playboy to the world, bears almost no resemblance to today," Flanders said in a statement. "We are more free to express ourselves politically, sexually and culturally today, and that's in large part thanks to Hef's heroic mission to expand those freedoms."

Watching Playboy decide to no longer show the goods on its female models is refreshing. We're reminded that there's more to being sexy than just being stark naked. It's about being smart, entertaining, edgy and informed.

Playboy's new approach to sexy actually harkens back to Hefner's first editor's letter in the debut magazine, "We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d'oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph, and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex."

That's my kind of magazine.