I wrote the advice column for Playboy magazine from 1994 to 2013, during which I responded to more than 3,400 letters in print. Here is the introduction to Dear Playboy Advisor: Questions from Men and Women to the Advice Column of Playboy Magazine, published in 2006:
In 1997 the New York Times asked me to share the most memorable question I had received in my role as the Playboy Advisor. Here it is:
Each summer, I drag a recliner into the woods near my house. When I feel horny, I sit in the chair in the nude and spray insect repellent everywhere on my body except my genitals. Is this normal?—G.B., Fort Lauderdale, Florida
My response was simple. I asked G.B., “Have you seen any other chairs out there?” If only every letter were so offbeat. Instead, I feel a tinge of anxiety each month as I read through the new batch of reader mail. Will we receive enough questions that we haven’t already answered? There’s reason to feel insecure. Since the Advisor debuted in September 1960, Playboy has published more than 6,500 questions, of nearly 400,000 received. And yet, month after month, the magazine’s readers surprise me. This book contains the most interesting, enlightening and entertaining letters of the past decade. I hope my responses can be described the same way, although when I am too flippant, or cross that line between being honest and brutal, I am sure to hear about it. The readers keep me honest, and informed.
To prepare the first column, the editors solicited questions from friends, including whether to wear a tie with tweed, whether the salad is served before or after the entrée and whether one should answer the phone during sex. Sixty-three readers wrote in before the next issue—a rousing response. (The number of letters has been carefully tallied ever since. Today we receive 100 letters and 500 e-mails each month, nearly all of which receive a personal reply.) The wide range of subjects covered in the column—we have promised for 45 years to answer “all reasonable questions, from fashion, food and drink, stereo and sports cars to dating dilemmas, taste and etiquette” — reflects the magazine’s belief that a person interested only in sex isn’t very interesting. But that policy also leads to ribbing. Jay Leno, for example, once asked on The Tonight Show, “Did you ever notice the Playboy Advisor tells you about your love life and your car problems? Do you generally go the garage and say, ‘Clem, I’m bothered by sexual dysfunction’? “
The most interesting part of writing the column is the dialogue that some topics provoke, such as whether masturbation is cheating on your spouse with your hand. About 30 percent of the letters we receive are from women, many of whom pick up their husband’s or boyfriend’s issues but many of whom subscribe on their own. Their contributions are invaluable. The most common question, without a doubt, is a simple one: Am I normal? Inevitably the answer is yes. Or, at least, you’re as normal as you need to be.
Some readers wonder what makes me qualified to be the Playboy Advisor. When I appeared as a guest on Politically Incorrect a few years ago, comedian Paul Rodriquez asked this question directly, saying, “Who died and made you sex god?” No one had to die. Because I am a journalist and not a doctor or academic, I don’t presume to know anything. Instead, my skill is that of a perverted reference librarian. I can find someone qualified to answer even the most offbeat question, and I’m not shy about asking. That is what Playboy makes me say, anyway. The reality is that I know everything, and I am the world’s greatest lover.
Thank you to the thousands of readers who have shared their knowledge, experiences and questions over the past four decades, including Barry Manilow, who wrote in 1965 to ask if he should leave his day job to pursue his musical wild oats. (We told him to go for it.) Keep the letters coming. Another batch of mail has arrived, so it’s time to sit in my chair in the woods. You pick up some strange habits at this job.