I love that when I Google “sex magazine” I get, in descending order: a post from GalleristNY entitled “Asher Penn’s ‘Sex’ Magazine Is Out”; the real deal (sexmagazine.us); New York mag’s “Sex Diaries” series (“The 22-Year-Old Woman Having Creepy Sex Dreams”); Cosmopolitan dot com; Women’s Health Magazine on “The Best Sex Positions Ever” (my emphasis); two entries for “Sex Magazine” on Facebook; Fox News reporting “Seventeen magazine pushing sex as a drug to 12-year-olds”; and, finally, “No Sex: Asher Penn’s ‘Sex Magazine’,” an interview with Asher on Opening Ceremony’s blog.
All of the afore-linked are worth clicking through.
Sex Magazine is artist/publisher/etc. Asher Penn’s pet project. It’s online-only but publishes like print (as issues, on a quarterly basis, with everything going up at once; they’re on issue #3 now). Sex Magazine contains little sex, except in the way that everything contains some sex. Also, it’s great.
I wanted to speak with Asher about Sex because I read it, like it, and because (you’ll hear this repeated below) proposing to interview someone for your magazine is a great excuse to meet said one. Asher didn’t like my first run of interview questions, so he suggested we talk on the phone instead. I said sure, and then differed that conversation for a day, and then another, until I admitted, via e-mail, that I was kind of terribly phone phobic. We settled on Gchat.
Asher: Hi. So, you don’t like phones?
Well, I’ll like do it, if it’s my mom or Michael Stipe. Or if someone calls me, I’ll answer, most of the time. I don’t know what it is. I get distracted and don’t listen well.
Wow, it’s that bad? I love talking on the phone… What do you do for Bullett?
I have an official title… but basically I just write ‘x’ amount of things for the website that I want to or feel should be written about. Occasionally I’ll get an assignment. Sometimes I do stuff for print.
Is Bullett in print as well?
Yup. Quarterly. Very glossy. If you want a copy, I can send one.
Yeah I love magazines. I can’t really afford them most of the time.
Let’s talk about your’s. When did you launch Sex Magazine?
We launched as a blog called Sex Life in the summer of 2012 and did our first issue in September. Our third issue came out a little over a week ago.
So now I get to go—you have a print issue too?
Haha, yeah. No print. I have no idea how we could even make it print. It would be like making a whole other magazine.
Right. So the term “magazine”—if you look it up, it doesn’t say anything about print, necessarily. But we have that connotation. What does magazine mean to you, as opposed to say a blog?
Well, we have a blog and it functions as blogs should: regular, daily, fast, content as it happens. What goes in the magazine, on the other hand, takes a lot of time to put together and is meant to have more of a permanence of record. Sex keeps the rhythm and pace of a print magazines—something you dig into all at once when it’s released and come back to over the course of a few months. Most online magazines release their stories over the course of a month, which feels more like an advent calendar. My guess as to the reason they do it that way is for more page views, but the experience reads more like a blog.
That’s an interesting idea—about advent calendars and what not— because it’s all about time. Time is something I think about a lot, writing for an online publication; how things flash for a moment and pass away into ether… But at the same time everything is up there forever, if you go looking for it.
When we do a piece in the magazine, we really are trying to unearth some new information for the record. The goal is to make something that is comprehensive, something worth linking from a Wikipedia page. The stuff we put on the blog shouldn’t take that much time to make—lo-fi digital native, zero overhead, and fast—because that is the way it’s gonna be consumed. The magazine is comparably more static.
Let’s step back a little. Who was the “we” of the blog in 2011? And is that the same “we” that’s editing now?
About a year ago, a good friend and I decided to start a magazine. He’s a graphic designer. Once we got past the point of design and structure, he didn’t feel like being involved. I decided to continue it, so when we launched it was just me. Now I work with a lot of people, who do a lot of things but don’t have any partners or anything like that.
Sex doesn’t feel like one author, it feels like a communal voice
That’s nice you say that.
Do you feel like you’re repping a community or part of one?
No, everything is crazy spread out. It’s funny because some of the contributors have learned about each other through the magazine, and are talking now, which I think is really amazing. I’ve met maybe half my contributors in person. I like a lot of different things for different reasons. A lot of people we work with do a lot of different things. It’s really important to show how many different ways people can be creative.
Why start a magazine? My favorite part about working for one is access—I can email someone who I think is doing something interesting and they’re likely to write me back and want to talk to me.
Yeah, I love that. It still blows me away that if you can get a magazine to publish something you can reach out to someone you’ve admired and been paying attention to and ask everything you wanted to know.
Who has been the most exciting person to have on Sex? I was really excited by your Jim Fletcher interview.
Harsh Patel. I’ve known him for 7 years now. We talk a lot and have worked together, but that interview was really eye opening. I learned a lot.
I love that. I want to conduct interviews with all of my friends now. I think it would be so revealing, like therapeutic.
I’ve been considering interviewing my therapist.
Would you say there’s like an overarching theme or approach to the content on Sex? Your media kit says “cool” a lot, somewhat ironically I feel. Actually, I take ironically back. It seems totally earnest.
I love the word cool. Also the word “fun”, “sexy”… these are such great words. Sex is not an academic magazine. We’re not a critical journal. You’re supposed to be able to read the magazine while listening to music.