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[posted 02.19.2002]


You might call it a dirty job, but Chip Rowe is glad to do it. As Playboy Advisor, he has penned a monthly column of sex truths, tips and etiquette — with occasional forays into everything from cigars to VCRs — for more than seven years. But there’s more to Mr. Rowe than meets the Playboy-perusing eye: A zine fiend and author (he began Chip’s Closet Cleaner in 1989 and now updates it online), he edited The Book of Zines: Readings From the Fringe and maintains a supplementary zine resource guide online.

We talked about those achievements and more when Mr. Rowe logged on for our email Q&A.


Subject: Chip Rowe, 35, Pisces
Occupation: Playboy Advisor/associate editor
Interviewed by: Samantha Bornemann
[Email exchange conducted 02.18.02]

1.) Tell us about your early days as a journalist. When you set your sights on a career in this field, did you hope to end up at Playboy or otherwise immersed in writing about sex? Or did you just get lucky?

I got lucky. I attended journalism school and freelanced for a bit after graduating. I then worked for three years at a trade magazine for journalists, American Journalism Review. I knew a few editors at Playboy and freelanced for the magazine at the same time, including responding to letters written to the Advisor. When the job opened up, I applied and BAM! I was handing out advice full-time.

2.) You’ve penned the copy accompanying Playmate centerfolds. What three traits are most valuable in a Playmate interviewer?

The ability to pay attention is the first. You need to look her in the eyes to show you’re listening without losing your focus because you keep thinking, My God, she’s totally hot. You also have to be able to take notes subtly. The Playmates I interviewed, almost without exception, said they were more nervous being interviewed than when they posed. The difficulty for me, of course, was that every Playmate I met wanted me sexually. They didn’t specifically say that, or indicate in any way that was the case, but I could sense it.

3.) Do you have a favorite Playmate?

My favorite is probably Gillian Bonner, who I interviewed before she appeared in April 1996, although every other Playmate I interviewed is welcome to call or visit anytime. At the time Gillian owned her own computer software design company, and she was the same age as me (30). We talked about computers most of the night. I also got her a little drunk, and she talked about her oral fixations. I was a total gentleman the entire night, which sucked.

4.) Why have there been so many blonde Playmates in recent years? Is Hef on a mission to prove once and for all that they have more fun?

You’d have to ask Hef that one. But it’s no secret he prefers blondes, and he has final say on who becomes a Playmate.

5.) Do you have any good stories for us about going to the Mansion?

I wish I had better stories. I’ve only been to the Mansion during the daytime, when it’s so quiet and peaceful you could take a nap on the lawn. The zoo is cool. The time to go to the Mansion is after dark. But if I were to do that, I would have to take the place of a woman or a movie star. That’s not going to happen.

6.) You’ve shown student groups around the Playboy offices in Chicago. Are they more prone to giggling, asking a million questions, stunned silence or all of the above?

Most of the students are surprised to find that in many ways it’s a typical office environment, with cubicles and hallways and art on the walls. Like most people, I think the students I’ve invited to visit don’t have any clear idea of what Playboy is. They just expect it will be titillating. That’s why I remove my clothes before speaking with them.

7.) As the Playboy Advisor, you field hundreds of sex questions a month. Does writing about sex ever get old? Does being asked about writing about sex ever get old?

Writing about sex doesn’t get old, but like any job, there are times when I’d rather be sitting on a beach in the Caribbean. We receive 500 letters and emails a month from readers, and I still manage to find 15 that I haven’t answered yet. I spend a lot of time doing research on the more obscure topics.

8.) You receive many questions from men and women worried that their sexual tastes are wrong or abnormal. In your experience, what common proclivities are most often mistaken for twisted and unhealthy?

Probably anal sex. Some people get creeped out about it, but the nerves are all connected, so the body’s not going — Ooh, that’s one from the butt. The common mistake is to start with something that’s too big, instead of using lots of lube and working up from small to larger. If there’s pain, you can’t blame someone for not wanting to try it again. Guys also write because they think that if they enjoy having anal stimulation, they must be gay, which is kooky.

9.) What’s the best music for getting it on? The worst?

I like a chorus of moans, myself. The worst is probably the White Album.

10.) Hef’s a big supporter of Viagra, and vice versa. Has the Playboy Advisor tested the product as well?

Let’s just say that day has not arrived. It seems to work well for Hef, however.

11.) Are there any drawbacks to being married to the Playboy Advisor?

I like to say my wife is the most satisfied woman in America. However, I’ve never asked her if that’s true — I just like to say it. She does have to deal with a guy who reads sex books all day. I have a lot of energy when I get home.

12.) Both Nerve and Maxim have described themselves — or been described by others — as the modern-day hip alternatives to Playboy. Is it fair to compare these publications to Playboy, or are we talking apples and oranges? And do you think there’s truth to the idea that young guys don’t want to read their father’s sex magazine?

Nerve and Maxim have their moments, but Playboy has been around for nearly 50 years, so we must be doing something right. I don’t see a lot of fraternity brothers saying, “Has the new Nerve arrived?” My reading of Maxim is that you’re going to grow out of it about the age of 25.Playboy belongs in the category of Nerve and Maxim more than it belongs with Penthouse or Hustler.

13.) You’re a dedicated user of the Internet. How much time do you spend online outside of Playboy? When did you get your first email account? How many do you have now?

I spend every waking moment outside of Playboy online. My first email account was at American Journalism Review, in 1992. And then came my Playboy email — coolest email address on the planet. You think you get a lot of “make your penis larger” spam? You ain’t seen nothing.

14.) You edited The Book of Zines and publish a zine of your own. List your five favorite zines and tell us why they are or were great.

I haven’t seen many print zines lately, but I do keep my site at updated with resources and links. A few of my perennial favorites are Hitch, Murder Can Be Fun, Rollerderby, Pathetic Life (defunct) and The Realist. Every zine I included in BOZ is a favorite, too.

15.) What makes a bad zine?

That’s a tough question. If you’re doing a zine for passion rather than profit, i.e. for yourself, you don’t care what others think, so it’s pointless for anyone else to judge it “bad.” It was good to its creator, which is exactly the point. On the other hand, if you make a zine that’s hard to read, wordy, badly designed and poorly reproduced, you’re just making it harder to capture anyone’s attention or imagination. I do wish that zine editors would stop apologizing in their introductions for being “late.” What zine has a publication schedule that makes it late?

16.) Tell us about Chip’s Closet Cleaner. When, why and how often?

Not very often anymore. I put it all online, where I get many more readers and I can fix typos and update it regularly. The print version took a lot of production work and cost money to print.

17.) You also published This is the Spinal Tap Zine. Can there ever be too much written about that fine film? Tell us about the first time you saw it.

I first saw it in high school. Then I saw it again, and I went online to to read the messages when I first got online. Some joker said, “Remember that great line, ‘This one goes to 12.’” [instead of 11] and I thought, Doh! This group needs an FAQ. So I started writing a one-page FAQ that grew to a 40,000-word, 500-entry A to Zed guide that I now have posted at There can, in fact, be too much written about the film. We haven’t reached that point.

18.) Where does the Playboy Advisor go from here? Give us five items from your career list of things to do.

I’d like to see the day when everyone in North America gets comprehensive sex education as teenagers, including social skills training, so that they wouldn’t have to write a magazine advice column for help. I’d also like to star in a porn movie — waiting for a good time to bring that up with my wife. I’m always working on new articles or ideas for the magazine — the latest is one by Lisa Carver of Rollerderby. I gave her money to go to New York and buy panties and she wrote a funny article about her adventures.

19.) Layoffs are more common than first dates these days. How many people do you know who’ve been let go in the last 18 months? More than 10? More than 20?

Probably more than 10 and less than 20. I’m confident most of the people I know will land on their feet. The one good thing about being a journalist is that you have a skill you can take anywhere.

20.) What do you worry about?

At the moment I’m worried about a mattress. I bought a mattress for our guest room and it’s about three feet thick, which means it’s about five feet off the ground. So that’s not going to work. I also worry because I’m in the middle of writing the next month’s column and I’m a little behind, as usual.

21.) What do you dream about?

Sex, of course. My brain has to work out all the fantasies I develop from reading reader mail and erotica all day. And I get paid to do it! Wonderful times.

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samantha bornemann is a chicago-based author and editor. you can read more of her tv and film criticism at and in the book neptune noir.