I have a confession. I don’t actually subscribe to Variations. But I read every single issue. Why don’t I subscribe? Because one of my biggest turn-ons is buying Variations. I have been a regular reader for (muffled comment) years, and I adore stalking into the very back of Max’s Smoke Shop, and nuzzling my way to the rack. I make sure every customer in the place knows what I’m buying. “Oooh, the latest Variations is out,” I coo.
Hmmm. Maybe I ought to write a letter about that. If I did, I’d send it to Barbara Pizio, who is the Executive Editor. She’s here with us today to talk about tickling, toys, and finding your dream domme. Ms. Pizio has worked at Variations for 16 years, and has been the Executive Editor for the past seven.
Alison Tyler: How many times do you publish a year?
Barbara Pizio: Penthouse Variations is published 12 times a year, and the Best of Variations, an all-letters compilation, is published three times a year. Each magazine is available in print and digital editions.
Alison Tyler: What are the most popular themes?
Barbara Pizio: In addition to female domination and threesomes, wife-watching has grown tremendously in popularity during the past ten years. Men who like to watch their wives have sex with other men have a number of driving factors. For some, if the wife is a dominant, there is the cuckolding aspect. But for most, it seems to be a sense of pride that comes from others praising the wife’s beauty and sexual prowess—and it’s a unique chance to enjoy all of the real-life details of a private sex show. Even the most fortuitous voyeuristic opportunities don’t often offer such an unimpeded, close-up view of the action.
Variations also has a unique audience of heterosexual cross-dressers. Some merely express a fetishistic interest in women’s clothing, but for others, their desire is tied into female domination scenarios with forced feminization or sissy-maid training.
Alison Tyler: Do you ever get requests for fringier themes, like tickling or shrimping or sploshing?
Barbara Pizio: Shrimping isn’t really a fringe interest for Variations readers—feet are popular! Feet and legs are at the top of the list of body fetishes. Possibly because they tend to be the most socially acceptable. When a man compliments a woman on her legs or her pedicure, it doesn’t raise too many eyebrows. It’s a little different for someone who is into sploshing. It’s easier to convince a woman to paint her toenails, as opposed to asking her to roll around in mud. As for sploshing, those letters are rare, although we often get letters about food play. It seems to be a favorite, especially where oral sex is concerned.
Tickling requests do come in from time to time. For a true fetishist, though, tickling is more involved than the unfamiliar might think. Not any type of tickling will do. For example, many fetishists want bondage involved in a scene, while other are enamored of foot tickling only. Director Kelly Holland shot a great tickling scene for the Variations DVD Bad 2 the Bone. It features some light bondage and stars Penny Flame, who is just adorable. She really is ticklish and her laughter is genuine—it’s a classic tickling scenario.
Alison Tyler: What other fetishes are represented in the Variations DVDs?
Barbara Pizio: The DVDs are based on letters from the magazine, something for which we’ve always gotten requests. So the movies have a little bit of everything: spanking, female domination, foot fetishism, role-playing, latex, leather, etc. The movies have been well received. In fact, PMGI’s first Variations DVD, Stiletto, won Best Foot Fetish Release at the 2008 AVN awards.
Alison Tyler: To me, one of the best parts of Variations is the lack of value judgment. At first I read the spanking letters with more than lust, but with relief as well: Oh, other people like this, too! Do you get fan letters for your letters?
Barbara Pizio: Absolutely! I’ve opened up countless letters over the years in which people have written about how picking up Variations was a revelation to them. They’d had certain desires for years and discovering that they weren’t alone validated their interests—and encouraged them to seek out their own kinky fun.
Alison Tyler: Variations now boasts a luscious line of sex toys. Are you personally involved in the design and choices of the line?
Barbara Pizio: When Penthouse was initially discussing a Variations toy line with Topco, our licensee, I had a number of conversations with Penthouse’s licensing staff and Topco’s brand development team. I’ve recommended certain types of toys for the line, based on the interests of Variations’ readers. We’re looking to create products that go hand-in-hand with the erotic scenarios that appear in the magazine.
As far as the actual creation of the toys, Topco has a great research and development team that has done an amazing job of actualizing the toys that our readers have been longing for. There are now more than two dozen Variations products, which can be found—along with lots of other fun stuff—over at PenthouseStore.com.
Alison Tyler: What are the best-selling Variations items?
Barbara Pizio: Right now, the best-selling items at the Penthouse Store are the wireless vibrating nipple clamps and the furry handcuffs. They’re excellent starter items for people who are beginning to explore their kinky side.
Alison Tyler: If you could create any new toy, what would it be?
Barbara Pizio: So many wonderful toys are already on the market, I can’t really think of something truly new. There have been many improvements in the adult novelty industry during the past few years, including advances in technology and product components, and the creation of more aesthetically pleasing designs.
Rather than creating something new, I’d like people—especially women—who were turned off or scared away by bad toy experiences to take a look at what’s out there. I think they’d be pleasantly surprised. Toy companies and retailers have realized that women are their primary consumers, and there are now many more products and retail locations that are female friendly.
Alison Tyler: What is the oddest letter you received? (Ooops—I just said my favorite part of Variations was lack of judgment. But still, I’m nosy!)
Barbara Pizio: Hmm, odd really is in the eye of the beholder. What’s odd to one person is another person’s joy, so I don’t feel I can really tag any specific letter that way. We do occasionally get unusual requests. Sometimes men write in looking for advice on how to find their dream domme or a partner for their fantasy threesome. However, we don’t dole out hook-up advice. For that, readers are on their own.
In general, though, the letters are interesting and entertaining—the readers are so passionate about their interests. And in addition to sex confessions, the letters also reveal a lot about popular culture and people’s attitudes about sexuality. They’re actually very telling in more ways than the prurient.
Alison Tyler: What’s up for the future of Variations?
Barbara Pizio: This year, Variations is celebrating its 30th anniversary. The older fetish and leather world is already familiar with the magazine, so we’re reaching out to introduce the brand to a younger crowd. In October 2007, Variations was one of the sponsors of the Fetish Factory’s Halloween Ball down in Fort Lauderdale, which was a huge event with thousands of fetish fans in attendance. Penthouse Pet Justine Joli—looking gorgeous in a black and green latex dress—was there to promote her appearance on Variations’ November 2007 cover.
And more recently, Variations has begun sponsoring the monthly Cat O’ Nine fetish gala at Lit Lounge in the NYC’s East Village (http://www.myspace.com/catoninenyc). The first event was held on January 16, and Penthouse’s sex columnist Dr. Victoria Zdrok was on hand to dispense sex toy advice and there were some outrageous performances down in the dungeon. If you’re ever in New York, you should stop by and join the party!
Happy Birthday, Variations!
Thank you, Barbara, for stopping by The Trollop Salon. A commenter today will win one of Penthouse’s lovely necklaces and a copy of the Penthouse Variations collection: Sexy Stories from the Edge.
Photo credit: Justine Joli by Cheryl Gomez