'Playboy' magazine comes to Washington to lay bare the prudish capital's insistence on using politics to protect us from all things sexual.

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

January 08, 1998|By MICHAEL OLLOVE | MICHAEL OLLOVE,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Expect to see no Playboy Bunnies this weekend during Playboy magazine's Sex Tour of Washington. The only nudity you might glimpse is the occasional naked statue outside the tour bus windows. Even at that, you'll have veered off the itinerary.

Frankly, this is a tour for the people who read Playboy for the articles. Flesh is out. Edifice is in.

Sex tour? Anti-sex tour is more like it. Playboy is coming to Washington not to celebrate the libido of the place, but to vilify it as an eternal barrier to the nation's unfettered enjoyment of sex.

In what Playboy considers our century-long sexual revolution, Washington's recurrent role has been to tell us to eat cake. In other words, our nation's capital, through vessels such as Anthony Comstock, J. Edgar Hoover and Ronald Reagan, has stood four-square against everything Playboy cherishes.

"The hypocrisy of Washington," says tour leader Jim Petersen, "is to pretend that men and women are not sexual creatures and then to intrude upon people's private lives."

The tour, to be offered Saturday and Sunday, is supposed to be serious history, and it is, actually. Dour even. Above all, though, it is an unabashed promotion for Playboy, specifically of its continuing two-year-long series of articles, "The History of the Sexual Revolution."

Petersen, a facile, bristly haired man, is the writer of the series. As such, he led a similar, though more admiring, tour of New

York City last September. He's planning future trips to San Francisco and possibly Los Angeles. Sexually speaking, Baltimore isn't on Playboy's map.

Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner asked Petersen to embark on the history project two years ago. Up until then, his primary qualifications as a sex historian were his two decades as "The Playboy Adviser," the magazine's blue Dear Abby.

"I thought, 'Anything to keep from answering another letter on premature ejaculation,' " Petersen says.

To prepare for the public tours this weekend, Playboy and Petersen invited the press along for a dry run. Tuesday morning, he greeted the media in front of Union Station. C-Span started rolling film, apparently for "C-Span After Hours."

Right away, Petersen points out two Roman gladiators standing guard above the station's massive entryway. They were intended to be nude, he says, but prudishness required the placement of shields over their genitals. It is an apt metaphor, Petersen remarks.

"Washington is obsessed with sex," he says. "Its repression."

The agencies

Once aboard the bus, he leads us to one federal agency after another; each one, it becomes clear, created primarily to choke off a nation's sexual gratification:

The FBI: "The FBI was the nation's first federal sex cop."

Customs: "They had this idea that sex was a foreign idea."

Congress: "Nothing of benefit has come from Congress."

The White House: Ditto.

The Post Office: "They launched a reign of terror that was breathtaking."

The FCC: "The FCC came into existence to get Mae West off the radio."

After a little while of this, you feel like shouting warnings to couples on the street: "What're you, crazy? Stop holding hands!" With a federal government like this, you wonder how we've managed to propagate for 200 years.

The arch-villain of this tour is the FBI, particularly its megalomaniacal first director, J. Edgar Hoover. "He knew the power of sexual information," Petersen says ominously.

Sex was the soft underbelly Hoover used to attack those he considered enemies of the country, Petersen says: communists, civil rights leaders, anti-war protesters, intellectuals. He taped Martin Luther King Jr.'s trysts for use against him. After JFK became president, Hoover revealed that he had bugged him as well.

During the Fifties, Hoover warned Congress of 406 "sex deviates in government service." He charged Charlie Chaplin and Chuck Berry under the Mann Act, which the FBI had earlier used against Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, and architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Hoover doesn't stand alone in infamy in Petersen's Washington. Also prominently denounced is Anthony Comstock, a powerful New York postal agent who instigated passage of the federal Comstock Act of 1873, prohibiting transport through the mails of virtually any information pertaining to sex.

Standing in front of the Old Post Office, Petersen tells the tragic tale of Ida Craddock, a turn-of-the-century author who wrote "touching" pamphlets for brides and bridegrooms about what to expect in the bedroom after marriage. Comstock twice had her arrested. After the second time, she stuck her head in an oven.

"She left a suicide note blaming Comstock," Petersen says. Comstock probably didn't mind. According to Petersen, he bragged about the number of pornographers he drove to suicide.

Not all is villainy on the Playboy tour. Petersen hailed the Supreme Court of the Fifties and the Sixties for its privacy and anti-censorship rulings, which finally allowed "Lady Chatterley's Lover" and "Fanny Hill" into the country.

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