For at least two decades, New York magazine has printed advertising in the back of the publication divided into categories like "Travel," "Boats" and "Yachts" and "Entertaining."
And for just as long, sections called "Role Play" and "Massage" have appeared alongside ads for interiors and "Exteriors" and "New York Kids."
A typical ad in the Role Play section might read: "Asian Oriental supermodels. Outcall only." Or "Passionate private nurse." Or "Classic romantic relaxation. In/out. Midtown West." A Web site advertised in the section promoted the charms of Amber, "available for outcalls" at $500 an hour: "I am intellectual and very sensual. Let me do all those delightful, intriguing things your wife or girlfriend won't."
Of course, local magazines must cater to their readers, and the advertisements in mainstream publications have become as accepted as public service announcements in taxicabs.
The Village Voice publishes several pages of ads each week for escort and massage services. The New York Observer prints as much as two broadsheet-size pages each week. Elsewhere, magazines like Philadelphia and Boston publish ads for escort services.
Perhaps it is worth revisiting the issue if only because of the recent pledge by New York magazine's parent company, Primedia, which last week completed a merger with the Web site network About.com, to sell or block sites that contain explicit sexual content.
If those sites are unacceptable, why is it acceptable, at a time of concern over the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted disease, to publish advertisements like this one in New York magazine last week: "Sue & friend: Midtown, expensive, and worth it."
Executives of Primedia and New York magazine did not return phone calls seeking comment. But people who defend publishing the ads could argue that New York is a sophisticated city and that the advertisements do not explicitly mention prostitution.
Thomas S. Rogers, the chief executive of Primedia, who made the decision to evict the sex- oriented sites, was quoted in The New York Post last month as saying that Primedia, because it owns youth magazines like Seventeen and television networks like Channel One, which is shown in about 25 percent of the country's middle schools and high schools, ought to consider ways to avoid directing consumers to pornography. But he did not mention New York magazine.
An About.com spokeswoman, Suzanne Gibbons-Neff, offered this response: "New York is an adult magazine. If you applied these standards to every magazine on the rack, you'd have to keep kids away from all of them."
Other magazine publishers have barred advertisements for massage or escort services, among them Emmis Communications, which owns five regional publications, including Atlanta and Los Angeles magazines, and Texas Monthly.
Kate Healey, a spokeswoman for Emmis, said the company banned the ads two years ago.
But Liz Miller, the publisher of Los Angeles, said she had decided, at about the same time as Emmis executives, to drop the ads on her own.
"It was really at cross purposes," Ms. Miller said, "to have massage ads in the classified section and Chanel and Ferragamo in the front of the magazine." She said that while the magazine did lose some revenue at first, advertisers who had shied away from a section that included sex-related ads eventually filled the void.
Arthur L. Carter, the publisher and owner of The New York Observer, said he had accepted such advertisements because New York and sex go together like pastrami and rye.
"I do not take a moral position one way or another," Mr. Carter said. "These ads are a component of real life in the city. They reflect the city. I hate the idea of sterilizing the paper and removing from it what is really a piece of the city."
David H. Lipson, the publisher of Philadelphia magazine, which is owned by Metrocorp, sounded a little less certain than Mr. Carter. But he accepts the ads anyway.
"It's the kind of thing I like to forget about," Mr. Lipson said. "And then every once in a while I'll look back there and say, `Oh my gosh, why are we running this stuff?' " He said that although the sex ads did not make a significant contribution to the magazine's overall revenue, and despite the fact that he found them distasteful, he still printed them.
"If we dropped them, we would be stormed by the sex advertisers," he said with a laugh. "They depend on us. It works."
The Village Voice devotes 5 percent of the newspaper's total pages to ads for escort, massage, domination and other sex-related services, said its publisher, Judy Miszner. Among those in last week's Voice was an ad for Goddess Veronika ("Specializing in powerful domination. Will you let me punish you?") and another for a Web site that features graphic video footage of aroused, nude men soaping each other in the shower, images accompanied by the phone numbers.
Ms. Miszner said that she saw no reason not to print the ads.
"The Voice does not pass judgment on people's tastes," she said. "And the ads for escort services and massages services are a legitimate part of our classified business."
The International Herald Tribune, which is jointly owned by The Washington Post Company and The New York Times Company, publishes several advertisements for escort services in its classified section. The executive editor, David Ignatius, said that the newspaper accepted the ads for financial reasons.
"In a perfect world, we would rather not run the ads, but they have been an important source of revenue for decades," Mr. Ignatius said. The Tribune has been publishing the ads for at least 20 years.
Members of the public morals division of the New York City Police Department said they frequently read the classified sections in New York magazine, The Village Voice, The Observer and other more purely sex-oriented magazines, using the information for police investigations. The officers said they believed the ads encouraged prostitution.
"We will call the number, have a location set up and see if what they are offering is legal or not," said Lt. Stephen Biegel, a Police Department spokesman. "If it is not, they are arrested."
Lieutenant Biegel said investigators also monitored the Internet for the same purpose.
"It's not our job," he said, to discourage the publications from publishing the ads.
The New York City Department of Health also monitored the ads.
Sandra Mullin, a department spokeswoman, said, "We do respond to complaints and sometimes participate in the sting operations to monitor places where unsafe sex might be occurring, and we do monitor some of the magazines, both gay and straight, that might be advertising sex in public places."
But Ms. Mullin said the department had no opinion on whether or not publications should use the ads.
After announcing its merger with About.com., Primedia was criticized by at least one media watchdog organization. Gary Ruskin, the executive director of Commercial Alert in Washington, questioned whether Primedia should have merged with the Web company, considering About.com's links to sex sites.
Last week, Mr. Ruskin would not comment on Primedia's decision to shut out the sex sites. But he said he considered its continued publication of the ads to conflict with Primedia's larger corporate message.
"I think where the rubber hits the road here is with Channel One especially," he said. "Parents of kids in Channel One schools ought to know that this is a company that takes ads from quote unquote escort services."
But Mr. Ruskin pointed out that the intersection of sex and sales is business as usual for corporations.
"General Motors and AT&T are major distributors of pornography," he said. (General Motors now sells nearly $200 million a year in sexually explicit pay-per-view films through DirecTV, a General Motors unit. AT&T offers a sex channel called the Hot Network to broadband subscribers and owns a company that sells sex videos to hotel patrons.)
"I think this is part of a trend in corporate America, which increasingly has a values problem," Mr. Ruskin said. "This is one of the ways it manifests itself."
Alex Kuczynski, The New York Times. March 12, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.