NEW YORK - Playboy, Penthouse and other sex-themed magazines will no longer be sold at Army and Air Force exchanges - a move described by the stores' operators as a business decision based on falling sales, and not a result of recent pressure from anti-pornography activists.
The 48 "adult sophisticate" magazines being dropped are among a total of 891 periodicals that will no longer be offered by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service at its stores on U.S. military bases worldwide. Other titles getting the ax include English Garden, SpongeBob Comics, the New York Review of Books and the Saturday Evening Post.
Morality in Media, a Washington-based anti-pornography group, called the decision "a great victory" in its campaign against sexual exploitation in the military, and said it would continue to urge operators of Navy and Marine Corps exchanges to follow suit.
Chris Ward, a spokesman for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, said the cutbacks - which took effect Wednesday -would reduce the space allotted to magazines by 33 percent and free up room at the exchanges for more popular products.
He noted that newsstand sales of most consumer magazines were falling steadily as online alternatives proliferated. Sales of the "adult sophisticate" category of magazines at the exchanges had declined 86 percent since 1998, he said.
Hundreds of magazines will continue to be sold at the exchanges. The current top-sellers are People, Men's Health and Cosmopolitan.
Though many types of magazines are among the 891 being dropped, the adult magazines posed particular difficulties, Ward said. Under federal regulations, they required special handling and placement in order to ensure they were properly displayed out of reach of children.
In some respects, the exchange service's decision will have limited impact. Military personnel will still be able to bring explicit magazines onto their bases that they purchased elsewhere, and will have access to online pornography.
However, Morality in Media spokesman Iris Somberg said it nonetheless was a significant move.
"We had military families calling us after seeing porn on the shelves," Somberg said Thursday. "The exchanges are supposed to be a safe place for families to go do their shopping."
Somberg said the presence of sex magazines on military bases was a "contributing factor" to the broader problem of sexual exploitation and sexual assault that has become a high-profile challenge for the military leadership.
"The joint chiefs of staff said we need to change the culture," she said. "One way to do that is to not have this material sold on base."
Coincidentally, the exchange service announcement that it would drop the adult magazines came shortly after the release of a Department of Defense letter stating that Penthouse, Playboy and certain other sex-themed magazines were allowed to be sold on bases because they were not considered "sexually explicit."
There is a federal law - the 1996 Military Honor and Decency Act - which prohibits the on-base display or sale of hard-core pornographic magazines. A military review determined that the "adult sophisticate" magazines sold at the exchanges did not meet this threshold.
The Army and Air Force Exchange Service has annual revenue of $9.2 billion and a workforce of about 40,000 civilian and military personnel. It operates 1,155 retail stores worldwide, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with hundreds of fast-food outlets.