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Playboy’s El Paso Shoot Draws Fire

El Paso, Tex- Playboy magazine’s plans to be in El Paso this week to photograph women from UTEP for an upcoming issue has college students and advocates questioning whether nude pictorials harm societal norms or break down archaic sexual taboos.

Stefan Prelog, a public relations representative for Playboy, asked “are we too uptight about our sexual mores?”

It’s a question students at the University of Texas at El Paso have been vetting since Playboy announced that it planned to visit the city. The magazine advertised in The Prospector student newspaper with a depiction of a past cover of a college-oriented issue and a quote from a former Playmate, who said appearing in the magazine was one of the best experiences of her life.

Alexa Seibel, a 19-year-old on-and-off student at UTEP, said that while Playboy’s depictions of women create unreal expectations among men, she doesn’t believe much is wrong with posing nude.

“Morally and ethically, I feel that if it’s something that you want to do and it’ll make you feel better, then by all means,” she said.

“But it’s not something I would do, because I wouldn’t want to put myself up to personal criticism like that.”

Meanwhile, as UTEP is striving for prominence in athletics, academics and research, university officials are quick to point out that they have not sought notoriety in the form of nude pictorials of their students.

University officials have been careful to stay above the fray as the UTEP community is abuzz about Playboy’s visit. According to UTEP officials, the magazine has not made known any intention to go on campus or involve the university in any way, except to photograph students. What students do off campus, on their own accord, is their own business, university officials said.

“Free speech is a very important ingredient on a university campus, and it’s important for an education to allow students the opportunity for free speech. It’s also their right,” said Maggy Smith, vice provost for undergraduate studies at UTEP. “This is not something we encouraged and we’re not going to have a position on it.”

Playboy will be in El Paso today and Tuesday looking for “all-American” UTEP women to appear in the Girls of the Conference USA pictorial, scheduled to run May 2007. A crew of photographers and producers will set up a studio at a local hotel, where they plan to take applications and conduct a photo shoot of potential models, at least one of whom will be selected to appear in the magazine’s May issue.

Prelog said UTEP women, who will be paid an undisclosed amount of money if selected, can audition wearing whatever they feel most comfortable in — a bikini, lingerie, or even their own skin if they want.

The magazine’s visit to El Paso should cause concern among El Pasoans, according to Roger O’Dell, executive director of Model Cities-El Paso, an organization that raises community awareness about the dangers of pornography and is fighting the proliferation of explicit material that has the potential to taint children’s perceptions of sex.

While Playboy representatives object to the characterization of their magazine as pornography, O’Dell said it’s just that — photographs and content intended to arouse men. During the past seven years or so, especially because of the Internet, American society has witnessed “an explosion of pornography,” he said.

That’s changed our mores and attitudes about sex to make it about predatory self-gratification and casual recreation instead of intimacy, procreation and marriage, he said.

“Pornography is by its nature a toxin,” O’Dell said. “The only pure and healthy way to have a sexual relationship is within the bond of marriage.”

O’Dell became active several years ago in his anti-pornography efforts, he said, after two women saw two young boys viewing a sadistic, homoerotic photo at a popular El Paso bookstore.

The women, appalled that young boys were looking at nude pictures, then sought O’Dell’s help, who ever since has been involved in the anti-porn crusade.

“Certainly I appreciate the female form also, but not to the detriment of the women,” he said. “I’m all for recreation, but I think we have to be very, very careful about who are the objects in this situation.”

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