DoubleTap is an interview series highlighting creatives whose work explores sex, body and identity. All photos courtesy of Math Magazine.
In 2015, MacKenzie Peck decided to start a pornography magazine, and rather than elevating the industry’s usual subjects, the 31-year-old and her team turned the camera to bodies of all identities. Every shape, size, and age can be found in an issue of Math Magazine. Their commitment to showcasing the diversity of human sexuality has made them one of the most radically inclusive porn magazines on the market. She sat down with her fiancé, Dan Allegrucci, to discuss the challenges and importance of re-imagining what erotic content looks like.
Do you want to give a general history of Math Magazine?
I first had the idea for Math Magazine when I was having a sort of summer of sexual self-discovery. I was being introduced to a lot of amazing people and ideas that I didn’t know existed but I was very excited to discover. During this time, I wasn’t seeing media that reflected this quickly expanding world of sexual freedom, exploration, and community. Leading up to this time, I was looking for the opportunity to start my own business. These two paths of sexual exploration and entrepreneurial-ism converged on Math Magazine.
The first seed of the idea was planted when I was at a house party in Baltimore and I was kind of doing my own thing, hanging out — didn’t really know any one, when I saw this group of women walk past me and go upstairs. Naturally I followed to see what was going on. The whole group started to play dress up in a way that was really sexy, playful, and exciting. It felt like a very special moment that I wanted to experience as much as possible in my life. I had visions of Hugh Hefner, Playboy Mansion — a fun and sexy environment like that. That’s when I decided I wanted to start a porn magazine. I told everyone who’d listen about it but it took a few years for things to really get started.
That’s how it started, why do you continue to do it today since it has evolved?
With the first photo shoot and the first issue, I was really relying on people to trust me and to believe in this idea, this vision for what the magazine is meant to be and what it could be — the potential it had. I knew it was a lot to ask of someone. Because, why? Why would someone bare all, quite literally, for something that didn’t exist yet. It really came down to trust. Ever since that realization, I had this commitment to basically be beholden to the people who work with me. I like the idea of honoring the contributions and perspectives that people are bringing to Math Magazine. I think that pushes me forward. This idea that I have this commitment, this promise to everybody who works with me on the magazine [and the readers who are] interested in reading the magazine. That’s what keeps me going and working on it year after year.
Do you have any cool projects, issue releases, events, or anything else exciting coming up?
We just launched a crowd-funding campaign for an adult coloring book. This is a big set of firsts for us. We’ve never done a crowd-funding campaign and we’ve never published a title beyond Math Magazine. And we certainly have never done a coloring book before! It’s really ambitious because it pulls from content from all of our past issues with a redesigned, re-imagined look for the optimal coloring experience.
You gave some of the origin story, aside from that, what would you say inspired you to start Math Magazine?
My ex-husband, when I was in college in Baltimore, introduced me to these ideas of being able to [own] your own business. I think I understood a little bit of it because I was being trained as an artist, and I think there is a lot of entrepreneurial-ism in that. Nevertheless, to me the idea of starting my own company from nothing was pretty foreign. He taught me about the power of design. With great skill and finesse, I would see him typeset something and completely transform the page. That had a major impact on me and I learned a lot from that. When I was starting the magazine I was also thinking about maybe starting a design firm or a creative agency and kind of trying to get a sense of these different business landscapes. How do you get started? What do you need to really break into these industries? I found the most empowering thing about starting a magazine was that the only thing I needed, really, was the money to print. For Math Magazine Issue Zero, I started with just 50 copies because that’s all the money I had. From there it has grown steadily. That was my only kind of gatekeeper and since then it’s been astounding to discover that I’m more free, in my experience, in print than I am in any other medium. I’m really in control of all of it and that has been really empowering.
Was there anything growing up that steered you into publishing, which a lot of people think of as a dying field? What is it that drew you to that?
I grew up with magazines and newspapers around. I grew up with a real respect for Vogue and the New York Times. I think it makes sense to me that the role of Editor in Chief is something that where I see a lot of mystique. It’s a position of creative power, freedom, and glory. I think having the artistic mentality draws you to the physicality of print or the physicality of the object. For me, seeing my ideas realized in physical form feels more substantial … well that’s changing a little for me. We just started a YouTube channel and it feels pretty good to upload a video, I’ve got to say.
Radically inclusive porn, that’s what Math Magazine brands itself as, how has your personal relationship with porn evolved throughout your life?
My earliest experiences of porn felt yucky. I feel like all conversations around it were kind of grossed out, cringe-y [with a] “don’t look at it” mentality. I must have searched stuff on the Internet but I don’t remember anything specifically. A big thing for me growing up was maybe less porn and more talking to people in chat rooms. Anonymous chatting was my flirtation with sexual expression or learning, even. I remember finding my parent’s copy of Joy of Sex. In high school, I was obsessed with being a figure painter. I would look at sexually charged figure painters like Balthus. Maybe I didn’t even understand my attraction to it but I was really into these ambiguous sexual narratives. I would create these in my paintings. I had a painting on this giant piece of plywood and it was called some sort of mysterious Sapphic thing. I don’t know who gave me that word. When I think about these different nodes on the timeline I see this attraction to and flirtation with these different types of sexual expression or communicating around sexuality. It’s kind of neat to see it in retrospect.
It sounds like you didn’t grow up with a significant engagement with porn, per se, [rather] you encountered sexual media of various kinds. But it sounds almost like you reached a point in life where you seized upon porn and claimed it for your own and decided to plant your flag in that and make it something to this point it hasn’t been.
I like the idea of it becoming something that isn’t embarrassing and for there to be this wide range of experiences and expressions. That summer of sexual awakening I was realizing what an amazing range of sexual experiences exist and what an amazing range bodies [also exist]. I was in love with it all, hungry to see and experience as much as I could. With the Internet I’ve definitely appreciated being exposed to different peoples’ perspectives, like, the experience of bodies that don’t look like mine or feel some way that I don’t feel. Being able to encompass all of that in the medium of porn, as well as every other, is a beautiful thing — something to be celebrated.
Why do you think creating inclusive porn is important?
As a young adult, in my 20s, I consumed porn in a pretty limited way. I think of it, even today, as pretty utilitarian. Like, I’m trying to do a thing: I’m trying to have an orgasm. I’ve got this much time I want to put into it. I think that has been the vast majority of my experience with it but I think the applications are wide and the interpretations of it are vast. It seems the media that is the most common in porn is such a narrow sliver of that experience and it seems like a damn shame to me that that’s the case. That’s my main mission: why not have the medium of porn reflect the amazing diversity of bodies and sexual interests out there? It’s outrageous to me that it’s so monopolized by a couple of viewpoints.
Do you feel like by making it inclusive that it gives permission or emboldens people who wouldn’t be interested or wouldn’t allow themselves to consume porn — that it kind of opens the door for them?
Absolutely. If all the content is made by and for a very particular perspective and experience… if you’re not seeing people that look like you or seeing people you are attracted to, why would you even explore it — never mind get excited about it?
It’s almost like the inclusivity is more important than the porn-ness. You know what I mean?
The porn-ness is a part of the inclusivity, though, because kink-shaming or the idea of tender masculinity not being accepted or the idea that certain sexual expressions are only valid for certain types of people… I think upending all of that is a part of the inclusivity.
What have been some of the obstacles in creating and running an independent magazine?
Being kicked off of very popular and powerful platforms has been a problem. We used to have a Facebook and we don’t any more. Living with this insecurity that you are building these followings, you are building these communities on these platforms and at any given time the rug can be pulled out from under you. There are some trust issues there. Not being able to harness the power of these advertising tools, honestly, sucks. I glimpsed, briefly, what it’s like to use Facebook ads for Instagram and Facebook and it’s pretty amazing. To use that kind of tool for the positive work that we are doing could be really powerful and it’s a shame that we can’t.
I wish I could hire people to work for me. I wish I could pay everyone more. Those are hurdles that I face. I wish I could reach people who aren’t specifically seeking out progressive porn. I wish there were more entry points to reach the people for whom maybe it could have a significant impact on their lives.
How do you maintain Math’s political agenda while keeping the sex appeal intact?
I think I have to say no a lot in order to amplify voices that don’t get the platform or the printed page enough. There is a lot of media that is sexy, but isn’t always in line with our values. It would make my job a lot easier if I just said yes to all that stuff, but if it’s not really pushing the narrative forward, socially, I don’t use it. In some ways I have to say no to a limited viewpoint in order to give an enthusiastic yes to everyone else. For each issue I’m trying to find high caliber content that hits certain notes in terms of representing certain types of people or scenarios.
I guess this might be a challenge, too, that I’m always looking to amplify voices that aren’t given the mic enough. There’s this funny chicken or the egg situation where if you don’t see yourself in porn then you’re not super willing to put yourself out there like that because the world isn’t really supporting you. So I definitely put in the extra legwork to find the bodies and voices and photographers that don’t get seen in mainstream media enough. It’s harder but it’s essential to what we do.
It’s about saying yes to people and helping them see the possibilities. That’s the true power of it; it’s like a shining light.
I fight the status quo with love, sex, and beauty in a way that is very subversive. I use the metaphor of the pill that you wrap in the cheese to give a dog. So the pill is the political mission of the magazine and then the cheese is the beautiful images, the fun stories. No matter what we do, the top line item is that we want to turn people on and we want to expose people to sexy ideas, within that is our agenda of sexual liberation, diversity in media, and intersectional feminism … to name a few.
Do you have an all time favorite feature or spread from Math Magazine?
That’s a cool question. I don’t know, here is the first thing that came to mind: I was blown away by the shoot where we had bubbles. I really like experimentation in my personal sex life so maybe that has something to do with it. I met this bubble artist while co-working in the city. I think he goes by Bubble Daddy. So I’m working in this stuffy co-working space, one day I got up to this guy practicing his bubbles in this carpeted office, which is weird in itself. And I was like, “Hey man, what do you think of encasing a hot woman in a bubble?” And he’s like, “Uhhhh, ok!”
Cut to being in the studio and we’ve got this bubble guy and he’s got all this gear and we’ve got this amazing model, photographer, an assistant, and me. It was a big team, for me at least. Being able to learn from this bubble guy and watch him experiment and make all these off-the-cuff decisions in support of our vision was amazing. We were all trouble shooting together. It was really hard work and we made a mess. The photos are incredible. The experience of making the image was really special. I remember we were cutting it really close on our time slot in the studio and we needed to clean up. I swear the five or ten minutes after you say you’re done, that’s when you get the good shots. We’re trying to clean up this bubble soap stuff and I kind of notice that the model, photographer, and bubble guy are still going and it looks like it’s really good and I’m going to shut up and just keep cleaning and let them do their thing. I think sometimes giving people permission to be done allows them let go or suggest something they wouldn’t otherwise. It’s really magical.
The theme through that seems like playfulness. The terms “play party” or “butt play,” and using the word play in a sexual way is really cool. I think maybe once the shoot is over, and everyone drops their guard the play can happen. If you could magically change one thing about the mainstream porn industry what would it be?
One thing? I would want it to become normal for it to pay for porn again. Full stop.
You can pre-order Math Magazine’s adult coloring book here. You can stay up to date with the publication through Instagram and their website, www.math-mag.com.
Pre-order Issue 7 here.