You would think that in time pulp magazines were replaced by “male lifestyle magazines” (what today one would call pornographic magazines). However, the history is more complex than that. In fact, men’s adventure magazines ran along side pornographic magazines for many years and targeted a different demographic. Playboy is one of the most famous of these popular early magazines.
From Playboy’s conception in 1953 to 1970, circulation grew from 70,000 to over a million. Circulation peaked at seven million in 1972. Magazine historian John Tebbel writes that Playboy’s “image was that of the undressed girl-next-door enjoying her sexuality.” Hugh Hefner talks about Playboy’s readers:
Playboy is an entertainment magazine for the indoor man… a pleasure-primer for the sophisticated, city-bred male… We hoped that it would be welcomed by that select group of urbane fellows who were less concerned with hunting, fishing, and climbing mountains than good food, drink, proper dress, and the pleasure of female company.
Playboy was only one of three successful magazines that were serving sex in this time period, along with Penthouse and Hustler. Penthouse was the most explicit, depicting genitalia in scenes of masturbation and lesbian erotica, for example. Hustler was more crude and less sophisticated than its competitors and featured raw sex and outrageous articles.
While Playboy’s women were “healthy, clean, the type of women a man would want to marry,” Penthouse’s women were depicted as the other: “experienced, jaded, perverse, women who could be used and abused. Its models were also older, more often black or of other ethnic groups.”
These sex-focused men’s magazines and their audiences were very different than adventure magazines. Playboy was printed on glossy paper, cost twice as much as most pulps (50 cents as opposed to 25 cents), and targeted “the sophisticated, city-bred male.”
 Marty Jezer, The Dark Ages, Life in the United States, 1945-1960 (Boston: South End Press, 1982) p. 66
 David M. Earle, All man!: Hemingway, 1950s men’s magazines, and the masculine persona (Kent: Kent State University Press, 2009) p. 101