IN THE BY-NOW ALMOST moot dispute between the Rev. Jerry Falwell, head of the Moral Majority, and Bob Guccione, publisher of Penthouse Magazine, I found myself uncharacteristically unable to take sides. This is the sort of thing that happens to me only occasionally -- the Iran-Iraq war, was one example -- and then only when the two sides are so much alike as to be indistinguishable. Mr. Guccione, meet the Rev. Mr. Falwell. You two have so much in common.

At first glance, this would not seem to be the case. The Rev. Mr. Falwell is a man of iron morality, of stern views of right and wrong and the proper place for all things, including, of course, women. Mr. Guccione, on the other hand, is the publisher of a magazine that extolls pleasure above all things and whose sole contribution to journalism is the popularization of a style of photography heretofore limited to medical journals.

It is no wonder, then, that the Rev. Mr. Falwell reacted with shock and dismay when he found that he was to appear in Penthouse magazine. He said that he submitted to an interview with two free-lance writers with the understanding that it not be published in a magazine like Penthouse. It was. uFalwell went to court, lost and appears in this month's Penthouse, sandwiched, as it were, between the sort of gynecological journalism that he finds so objectionable. Oh, what ignominy!

It is on this point that the Rev. Mr. Falwell gains my sympathy. Common sense says that he would not have wanted to appear in Penthouse, and I applaud him for that although not, I think, for reasons that he would approve. The real issue when it comes to Penthouse and Playboy and similar magazines is not old-fashioned morality. It is rather the way and the manner in which they portray women.

This is a rather late-blooming objection to Penthouse and similar magazines. Where once they were opposed on moral grounds because they dealt with sex and where once the avant garde and the civl libertarians rushed to their defense because they were "daring,; they are now beginning to be seen as throwbacks to an era of unabashed male chauvinist pigism -- barbershop journalism. It is not only the prudes of the world who are after them. It is feminists, too. After all, women in these magazines are either naked or nonexistent -- true sex objects.

But feminism is not the real reason Falwell objects to Penthouse. He does not denounce it because it insults and trivalizes women, makes objects of them. No sireee. He's agin it because it's concerned (obsessed?) with sex -- premarital, postmarital, extramartial and God knows what else. It is, in short, dirty, and an affront to family and religion.

That Penthouse is. But in a way, Falwell shares its view of women and sex. He, too, see women as having a very definite role and place. He, too, sees them as subservient to men. He, too, sees woman first place and person second -- if at all. And he, too, shares, along with Hugh Hefner and most of us, not to mention the Moral Majority, a view of most sex as somewhat dirty -- taboo. tFalwell would repress it while Guccione would exploit it, but the truth is that you could not have one without the other.

It is the Moral Majority, after all, that would like men to decide when women will have abortions (almost never) and when women can get information about birth control and when and what they can do with such things as property. They are the ones in favor of the traditional family -- not as an option and not in all its variations -- but as a norm, a standard, a way of imprisoning women within their homes by virtue of nothing more than their sex. It is the Moral Majority that would very much like to return to the days when women -- and men, for that matter -- knew their place. Guccione would only staple them there.

It is the Falwellian view of women and sex that makes a Guccione almost inevitable. They both have the same view of the subjects and differ only in the way they deal with them. You could not adhere to Falwell beliefs if you did not think that women had their place and most sex was dirty and you would not buy Penthouse if you did not think the same thing. It's a shame Falwell and Guccione never met in court.

They have so much in common.