Playboys and the Cosmo Girls: Models of Femininity in Italian Men’s and Women’s Magazines and the Popularization of Feminist Knowledge*


  • Dalila Missero Oxford Brookes University



This article offers a historical and textual reading of soft-core pornography in Italy by analyzing a group of men and women’s magazines, including the Italian editions of Playboy and Cosmopolitan, and the soft-core magazine for women, Libera, which was published from 1972 to 1978. As part of the ‘sexualization of western culture’ (Attwood 2009), porn produced new discourses regarding femininity, which openly challenged second-wave feminism and, at the same time, assimilated some of its aspects. Sexiness, self-care, monogamy and compulsory heterosexuality became foundational values for a new, modern, emancipated woman, one who was able to enjoy the benefits of the ‘sexual revolution’. Soft-core images also contributed to the spread of new knowledge about female sexuality, both in visual and narrative terms, and was also able to absorb some key aspects of the second-wave feminist political discourse on sexuality. In particular, the introduction of soft-core images in women’s magazines was presented as a ‘feminist move’ towards women’s empowerment. By illustrating the complex cultural function of soft-core pornography for women, this article aims to investigate the historical impact of porn in women’s lives and their relationship with popular culture.

Keywords: soft-core pornography, women’s magazines, feminism, self-help, mass culture.