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Harvard's sexy H Bomb Magazine drops

New publication draws line between art, pornography

CAMBRIDGE -- The world might be a little shocked that Harvard students have produced a magazine about sex, but the editors' mothers are not.

The first issue of H Bomb Magazine, notorious before it ever existed, is to be delivered to the doorsteps of Harvard College students today. The publication that earned international headlines -- amid questions about whether it would constitute Ivy League pornography -- turns out to be a glossy mix of essays, fiction, and poetry, along with artsy photographs. Some of the pictures show nude men and women; others are provocative but no more revealing than a fashion advertisement.

At a launch party last night at the Harvard Square bar Redline, editors Katharina Cieplak-von Baldegg and Camilla Alexandra Hrdy had just explained how supportive their families have been when Cieplak-von Baldegg's mother swept in bearing bouquets of flowers and a big smile.

"Youngsters today, particularly those who go to Harvard, spend most of their time developing their minds and careers, and are told very little of value about the emotional and the sexual," said Praxedis von Baldegg, a psychotherapist originally from Switzerland. "They are barraged by MTV and popular culture. They are barraged by the medical world whose focus is on death and illness. . . . It seems to me it's a magazine whose time has come."

When H Bomb won approval from Harvard as a student publication, the student newspaper, The Crimson, quoted the editors referring to it as "porn." Cieplak-von Baldegg and Hrdy say they were misquoted, but the media floodgates soon opened. Harvard officials then said H Bomb's official status was contingent on avoiding any pornographic material, and said the school would review their proposal. The editors provided a CD with many of the images to two deans before publication, but were not censored in any way, they said.

"They realized it was an issue of free speech, and they didn't approve any other magazine," Cieplak-von Baldegg said. "They just said we should think a lot about what we do, but they were not going to censor."

Asked to differentiate between art and porn, the students referred to an article in H Bomb on that topic, by Natalia Naish, whose stylized nude photos ran in the magazine. But Naish's conclusion is anything but decisive: "The line between art and pornography is tenuous at best and often indeterminate," she wrote.

Among the articles in the 50-page magazine are a first-person account of one student's sex life, another account of student's efforts to meet graduate students "especially in the humanities" on the Internet, and an admonition to use higher-quality condoms. Some of the authors were identified only by initials or partial names. H Bomb also includes interviews with several professors whose work addresses sexuality.

The public fascination with H Bomb clearly stems from the sense that there's not much of a place for sex at Harvard. "In the popular conscience, smart is not sexy and sexy is not smart," Hrdy and Cieplak-von Baldegg write in their editors' letter.

The students spent about $9,000 on the first issue, a run of 8,000 copies, said business manager Vladimir Djuric. The student government funded $2,000, and advertising made up the rest. It is being sold at the Harvard Coop, Nini's Corner newsstand, and through H Bomb's website. It will be published twice a year.

Cieplak-von Baldegg said she conceived of the idea of a smart, literary sex magazine last year, when she wanted to work for a campus magazine, but wasn't interested in any that existed. "I wanted to start one people would actually read," said the sophomore, a 20-year-old film major.

Last fall, by chance, Cieplak-von Baldegg met Hrdy, a junior, at a dining hall. It turned out Hrdy had the same idea, and wanted the same name. "H Bomb" refers to the moment when someone reveals they go to Harvard. "It's either a pick-up line or there's a really awkward silence," said Cieplak-von Baldegg.

"For me, it's the latter," added Hrdy, 21, a history of science major.

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