Where monkey glands, oysters, ginseng and vitamin B. injections have failed us, Prince George's County Council is trying legislation to bring back the rich passions of youth.

On Tuesday, it wrote under-the-counter magazines into law - made them mandatory, in fact.

No doubt council members will assure voters that they were actually banning playboy, Penthouse, Hustler et al. from public display, along with forbidding their sale, under or over the counter, to kids under 18.

In any case, the wonderful hopelessness of their gesture can't help but show us what we've lost, nowadays.

Once, being 14 and wanting to look at those magazines meant that you had to go down to the bus station and buy them from the old newsstand guy with he phlegmy eyes and the fingers crippled up so bad that he pushed the change across the counter with his knuckles.

You prayed for him to hurry. What if one of your parent's friends saw you, the kind of blowhard who'd spray your old man with guffaws and say: "Guess that kid of yours has got a lot more than marbles on his mind now."

Or worse yet: girls. The thought of teen-aged girls seeing you sidle home with a skin book under your arm . . . the swapped glances, the giggles . . . Agony! Because weren't they what this stuff was all about? Well, no, in the final analysis.

("Those magazines were so intimidating," says one Washington woman. "It wasn't till I go to college that I learned a woman could be sexy without huge breasts.")

It would an all-male ritual: boys hovering over the latest issue, swappling fantasies about Monica and Michelle and Barbi, who liked modern jazz or backpacking or nude sunbathing, and strong men who knew how to be gentle. (What they want now, according to these magazines, shot technology to fulfill.)

Anyhow, the Prince George's fathers may well remember such glorious rites of passage from their own boyhoods, but a local ordinance can't make it so again.

For one thing, the biggest smut hassle the last couple of years has been kids appearing in pornography, not looking at it. Everything goes, everything shows.

When Playboy first started, a quarter century (yes!) ago, the big excitement was in wondering how they were going to pose Janet Pilgrim each month. Janet was a playboy staffer who apparently was in a constant shuttle between the typewriter and the bubble bath.

The magazine's idea of erotic prose was reprinting Rabelais or Boccaccio. Publisher Hugh Hefner subsequently insisted on redeeming it even further with the endless "playboy philosophy," which was read as far as anyone knows, only by Marine staff sergeants who'd decided to be intellectuals, and Janet Pilgrim.

But this was back when erotic intensity was measured by how many layers of clothing were involved, rather than how many people. Detective novelists in those days could evoke the most heinous reaches of depravity by telling you a character was "a pornography addict."

An addict! The closet most juveniles had come to pornography was a niles had come to pornography was a calendar in back of the grease pit down at the gas station. Rumor had it that in Batista's Cuba, they had live sex show, or better yet, they were said to have full-color big-screen movies, none of this funky black-and-white American Legion smoker stuff with the black socks and the hair jittering in the lens.

These were the fantasies glowing like critical-mass plutonium in the backbrains of teen-aged boys across America. Now, they've come true. The strange thing is that the new smut, for all its inordinacy doesn't buy you any more of a hormone fix than the old, once you get used to it.

No doubt there's a council member or two who could remember, if he thought about it, that after a few issues of playboy, it wasn't that much more exciting than an old hot-weather newspaper picture of a girl in a bathing suit sitting on a cake of ice, with a caption like: "Our eye-lert fotog clicks with this stay-cool cutie as mercuries top the century mark - and if his temperature's risin', it isn't surprisin'!"

Or the photo magazines: They ranged from "glamor pix" with negligees and bathing suits to the arty coach shells or overtip peppers.

Sunshine and Health, a nudist magazine, gave us women who came on about as svelte as the high-top sneakers that they wore playing volleyball. But smut is as smut does, and it did. Underwear ads were another quick, fix, and still are - two years ago men were ready to kill for copies of one Bloomingdale's underwear catalogue. Esquire featured Vargas girls (since souped up by playboy), and every attic had its stash of National Geographics, with the pictures of the naked tribeswomen.

The sad thing is that smut, like the dollar, has inflated to the point where it takes so much of it that it's depressing. Think of it: What one Janet Pilgrim could do with one breast now takes entire city blocks of pornography stores to accomplish - and if you look at the gray, sidling faces of men inside them, you wonder if it does.

The Prince George's County council might as well legislate a nickel cup of coffee, while they're at it. But it's nice to think they're trying. CAPTION: Illustration, "'Adult' means 'dirty'", Drawing by William Hamilton: Copyright (c) 1973. The Yorker Magazine