Dropping the "H-Bomb"

It's impossible to turn a corner or a television channel these days without running smack into some blatant example of teen sexuality. And it's not just Britney Spears' midriff, either. It's the dancing girls in music videos and those who emulate them at high school formals. It's the popular burlesque group "The Pussycat Dolls" and their internet counterparts the Suicide Girls and the Burning Angels. It's in the hooting and hollering that accompanies "Girls Gone Wild" and the ratings jump that happens every time Real World cast members get it on.

Even the New York Times wants in on the action. In a recent Sunday magazine cover article called "Friends, Friends With Benefits and the Benefits of the Local Mall" the author spoke to a number of 14-16-year-olds about their online and in-person sexploits. Thanks to the internet and our fast-paced, sex-saturated culture, the article says, young people are now more likely than ever to have exclusively sexual relationships with their friends. "Hooking up is now more common than dating," the article contends, crediting sites like FacetheJury.com (tagline, "where everyone scores.") with a growing skepticism about starting long-term relationships too early.

But does that mean that youth are really more recklessly sexual than ever before, or are they simply embracing smart sexuality more openly? H-Bomb, a brand new magazine, tends to lean toward the latter – smart and open sexuality. The magazine speaks from a particularly unique place as well – Harvard University.

Launched by Sophomore Katharina Cieplak von Baldegg and Junior Camilla Hrdy, H-Bomb was started as a Harvard student club and earned a $2000 grant from the University to produce their first issue. The magazine blends art, erotica, cultural analysis and literature, concentrating not on raw smut, but rather on the emotion behind intelligent sexuality. The magazine looks to please all readers, especially interested in more than nude photos, although those are definitely part of the overall aesthetic. There are articles about condoms, Craiglist hook-ups, and Harvard courses on human sexuality. If this is porn (and it's not, really), it has definitely a new brand.

Wiretap got a hold of Editor Katharina Cieplak von Baldegg to hear about the launch of H-Bomb, her take on the media coverage, and everything else smart and sexy.

Wiretap: Give me some background info about the founders of H-Bomb, as well as the magazine.

Katharina Cieplak-von Baldegg: I'm 20. I'm majoring in film & video. I grew up in Cambridge, MA. We hope the magazine will come out twice a year, at the end of each semester. We have about 8 staff members. I don't know how many subscribers we have as of now. We deliver 4,000 copies to Harvard undergrads for free though, and sell the rest online or to stores in Harvard square and Boston. All the staff members, with the exception of Camilla who is a junior, are sophomores like me, because they're all friends from way before H-Bomb existed. They were all already interested in editing, layout, or business stuff so they hopped on board.

WT: H-Bomb's been all over the media (Village Voice, Washington Post, Newsweek to name a few). What's up with all this press you've gotten? Where do you think it comes from? Are you pleased with the attention?

KCB: Well, the magazine was always meant to be by and for Harvard students. That is to say, it is a place where Harvard students can discuss sex at Harvard and sex in general with other Harvard students. We didn't ask for all the attention and honestly, we didn't want to make a magazine for nation-wide consumption. The media have been acting like a bunch of third graders – giggling at every mention of the word "sex." The magazine gets positive reviews, though – except for those from people who obviously haven't read it yet and still think it's porn. I write them back and tell them to read it.

WT: You also mention in your opening letter that you're interested in re-equating smart and sexy. Why is this so important to you? Do you think that the fact that magazine comes from such a renowned institution like Harvard helps?

KCB: Between the workload at Harvard the stupidity of sex in pop media, you'd be convinced that smart and sexy were mutually exclusive. But we're convinced that there are more intelligent and meaningful ways to address sex than those available in commercial sex magazines, on TV, or online. And we know Harvard students aren't quite the nerds everyone expects us to be.

WT: What was the genesis of the magazine? Did you start a student group or just apply for university funding? How did that come about and was there resistance? Any problems with this magazine actually being associated with Harvard, as the farce letter to the editor in the beginning would seem to indicate?

KCB: We had to apply for University approval from the Committee on College Life, which they granted unanimously, with only three abstentions. This gave us the status of an official Harvard organization and allowed us to apply for funding from the student government, the Undergraduate Council. The administration thought it was a great idea, until people started calling it porn and it became a national media event – before the magazine even existed! When they started receiving complaints from alumni and donors, they decided that they would try to distance themselves from our final product as much as possible. But they didn't censor us – they couldn't. It's a free speech issue.

WT: Why did you see it necessary to start H-Bomb? Was there a model you were working off, as in, a similar magazine coming out of Vassar? Do you want to start a trend, or has it already started?

KCB: Actually, we only showed the Vassar magazine to the Committee to show that there was a precedent of a sex magazine at another school. It was an unfortunate misunderstanding that people thought we might base H-Bomb on it. The Vassar magazine is actually porn – and they tell you so in the opening letter. I think H-Bomb is unique because it encompasses a wider scope of issues than most sex publications. Most focus on porn or the how-to of the actual act of sex. H-Bomb addresses both sex and its context – emotional, political, artistic, scientific, etc.

WT: Re-embracing sexuality has recently become a huge trend in youth media. H-Bomb seems to continue in this genre. Why do you think sexuality is so important, and how does one balance sexuality and morality, if at all?

KCB: I think that no matter what moral code you support, it's important to have a place you can discuss sex in a smart, reliable and safe way. And if that is a magazine that includes all sorts of modes of expression including articles, interviews, stories, poems, and art and if it happens to be a little bit sassy and a little bit sexy, that's great. Other than supporting an atmosphere of openness and open-mindedness, H-Bomb doesn't tell students what to do. We don't have an agenda.

WT: How does one balance sexuality with safety when so many college students go untested for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases?

KCB: The condom article ("Your Lifestyle Sucks") is a perfect example of a piece that combines both sexuality with safety.

WT: From an outsider's point of view, H-Bomb makes Harvard look like a pretty crazy place, i.e. a lot of studying hard and partying hard. Is this the case? In "Menage a Moi," the author notes that Harvard has a much higher depression rate than other universities. Do you think the mental environment plays into the sexual as a release?

KCB: Harvard can be rough. Everyone works very hard and takes themselves very seriously. Well, not everyone, but many people. And now we're the first Ivy with a sex magazine. We hope H-Bomb makes Harvard a little more fun.

WT: What do you hope is the future of the magazine?

KCB: Issue 2: Fall 2004.

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