Hugh Hefner, founder and editor-in-chief of Playboy magazine, recently died at the age of 91.
In the brief time since his passing, dozens of articles that portray and celebrate his legacy as a businessman and advocate for sexual freedom have been written. I personally struggle with my feelings about Hugh Hefner’s life work and legacy.
A man, a human being has died, and because of this, I struggle with ambivalence as I write this piece. I struggle because I have compassion for his departed soul and I have empathy for those who loved and cherished him as family or friend, and it is to them that I offer my condolences.
While I will not bash Mr. Hefner, the human being, I will be open about my questioning of the deservedness of his celebrated legacy. I, for the life of me, am unable to take part in the memorialization of someone who’s greatest influence, in my mind, was among the most destructive phenomena of our modern-day culture: The sexual revolution ignited by Playboy Magazine.
Mr. Hefner was praised, touted as an icon, a revolutionary, someone to be compared as an equal to Walt Disney or Citizen Kane. And the truth is, he was extremely successful as a business entrepreneur, but at what cost?
His successes were built on a foundation of sexual exploiting countless women and children, all in the name of sexual revolution and expression.
Since Mr. Hefner’s passing, all I have seen is commentators, news outlets and journalists giving him nothing but praise and high esteem for his accomplishments. What these same outlets are failing to do is to bring to light the dark side of what Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine brought to our culture.
In a nutshell, the Playboy philosophy is, as was written by William F. Buckley, a former Playboy Magazine contributor, “A man’s morality, like his religion, is a personal affair best left to his own conscience.”
This philosophy basically permits sex with anyone, anything, or anytime with no consequences. So, if someone has a sexual obsession, no matter how deviant it may be, their conscience is literally their only guide to what is right. If someone seeks sexual gratification with children or someone desires a corpse or animal as the object of their passion, according to the Playboy philosophy, it is okay.
I personally hate this philosophy and the profoundly negative impact that his success has had on me, for the negative consequences his philosophy has had on our culture, and especially for the pain and damage his sexual revolution has brought to so many lives.
Some may be in shock or outraged that I would even suggest that there is a dark side to Hugh’s success. My dad always said, “the proof is in the pudding,” so I decided to take a closer look at what ideals Hugh Hefner promoted in his Playboy magazine.
Judith Reisman, an international expert witness and author on human sexuality wrote, “In our study of 373 Playboy issues, there were 3,045 child images (children under age 18), an average of 8.2 images per issue, 158 (5 percent) linked to drugs or alcohol; 52 percent of these were drug and 48 percent alcohol related.”
Other than to suggest and/or promote pedophilia, incest, and sexual abuse, what place does a child’s image have anywhere in or near an adult pornography magazine?
Let me give you a quick contextual sketch of Playboy’s recent “hate rape” movement as based on a systematic use of cartoons to condition the viewer to see the mirth in sexualized or raped children as displayed in its photographs.
Playboy falsely states that they never portrayed children in sex scenes with adults, however, 415 (14 percent) of our 3,045 Playboy child images showed children in a happy or neutral sex scene with adults. For example, an officer lethargically observes Dorothy’s three friends skipping off after apparently having raped her, “That’s them officer!” reads the caption in the March 1978 issue, page 231.
This was typical of 21 percent (646) images linking children with nudity and 14 percent (424) with genital acts.
In Playboy’s, March 1972 issue, page 163, a comic strip depicts a young girl sitting on her bed with the bottom portion of her body under her bed covers and the top half of her body unclothed. There is a man standing a few feet from her bed partially clothed and the caption reads, “But first of all we will need to ask teddy’s permission and that costs $40.”
This comic is clearly promoting child prostitution, and because children don’t have the intellectual ability or legal right to consent, this would be better characterized as child rape.
Another comic found in the May 1974 issue, page 205, depicts a child lying side-by-side in bed with her uncle. She is on the phone with her mom and the caption reads, “Everything’s fine, Momma, Uncle William and I are playing a game called consequences.”
This is not only encouraging incest, but it is showing the little girl unharmed and smiling. In fact, no Playboy child-sex scene depicts the child as appearing harmed, frightened, or non-consensual. I can personally attest to the fact that child sexual abuse is both harmful and frightening and can promise you that my consent was nowhere to be found.
Yet another issue from November 1971, page 120, a young girl is seen lying unclothed, face down, holding her teddy bear while the caption reads, “Come on strong, big daddy.”
Another boxed checked for incest.
In the November 1976 issue, page 147, shows a man standing and holding the spread legs of a young girl while having sex. This caption reads, “Retarded Nymphette.” The suggestion that this child has uncontrollable sexual urges and is mentally impaired is nothing short of vial and disgusting.
One last example, in the January 1977 issue, page 221, you’ll find a comic Santa Claus sitting in a chair, with a full set of children clothes lying next to him and an elf watching as Santa Claus is wiping his bloodied mouth. This scene is captioned with, “Bring in another.”
I’ll let your imagination consider what kind of filth this piece was promoting.
These examples are not formed by my opposition or opinion, although I certainly have both. In fact, these examples are Mr. Hefner’s opinion.
So, is Hefner’s life work still worth celebrating? Is his legacy still as admirable and brilliant as so many have suggested?
As a victim of child sex abuse, I can personally say that there is nothing funny or ok with a child being sexually abused. It is immoral, it is illegal, and it has an endless list of devastating consequences for the victim.
Do we really need a magazine that touts itself as “men’s entertainment” on the cover of each issue to be promoting child sex abuse, child rape, and/or child prostitution? Is this funny? Should the idea of sexually abusing a minor be amusing, entertaining, or memorialized? Should we all be laughing now? I’m not.
There is a sea of similar themed comics scattered throughout Playboy magazine’s history. Those highlighted here are just a small sampling of the sick mores that Hugh Hefner was promoting. I don’t have to argue with anyone about this. The proof is in the magazines. They speak for themselves. No sane, healthy individual can respectfully defend this. Why then, isn’t this information being highlighted or discussed when touting Hefner’s “legacy?”
Another issue I have with this so-called “legacy” is how Playboy glamorized the objectification of women.
The images of this magazine are high resolution, filtered, airbrushed, and captured under special lighting. In fact, most of these images are now photoshopped and/or computer generated. And not a single one of these images represent reality.
The average age of the women portrayed in Playboy magazine’s ranges from 18 into their late 20’s, and all of them are shown to be of a certain, similar shape and size. Playboy systematically reset the bar as to what qualifies as sexy and what does not.
The reality is only 2 percent of women ever come close to looking anything like the women in the centerfold. The average woman weighs approximately 144 pounds and wears a size 12-14. But what is displayed over and over again are young women who all fit the Playboy measuring stick as to what is beautiful.
The majority of all women are not only censored from Playboy magazine, but are never considered beautiful or sexy. Conversely, the terms “hogs,” “whales,” and “dogs” are often the words attached to women who are on the heavier side of Playboy’s measuring stick. This has created a huge struggle for young women and girls who long to be considered beautiful and/or sexy, but find that their body type will never be like the centerfold.
The reality is, the centerfold’s body isn’t even like the centerfold (thank you filters and photoshop). But the young girl struggling with body image doesn’t believe that, and neither do the men, and often women, who consume the material. Bottom line … all viewers get seduced by a lie.
My consumption of pornography (yes, I once was part of the problem) had a hugely painful impact on my ex-wife.
She wondered why I would want to use porn? Why did I look at all those women? Why did I want them instead? Wasn’t she enough?
Because of this, she struggled with her own body image. I now look back on those years and grieve the harm I caused her as a result of my consumption. I share this because body shame is one of the biggest challenges that women and children, young and old, face today.
Studies have shown that the biggest concern for many young girls is their looks. Not their education, not their dreams, and not their character. How broken is that?
The pornographic culture born out of Hefner’s sexual revolution, has created a pervasive environment of body shame. Shame that says that they don’t measure up, they’re not good enough, and they fall devastatingly short of what it means to be beautiful, desirable, or sexy.
Objectification, is one of the most damaging things we can do to another human being. We dehumanize someone when we reduce a person to mere body parts. The value of a woman is not based on the size and shape of her body, but on who she is on the inside. Her dreams, skills, intelligence, and character are all contributing pieces of her value, but her body, is not. Each of the Playboy images have served to strip the woman or the child of their dignity and their true value.
And yet we continue to consume.
One of my biggest concerns is that young boys and girls are growing up consuming porn and thinking that this is normal adult behavior.
Studies show that boys between the ages of 12 and 17 are amongst the largest consumers of porn. Shortly after my own world crumbled due to child sexual abuse, I stumbled upon a shed filled with stacks upon stacks of hidden pornography, and yes, Playboy was among them. Consuming these images was like a drug injected into my veins and I was hooked. My sexual abuse story caused a deep ache in my heart and a longing to be truly known and loved unconditionally.
These images that I was consuming falsely promised such; they couldn’t reject me, they couldn’t abuse me, and they couldn’t hurt me. But as the years went by, I realized they also couldn’t love me and they couldn’t satisfy the desire of my heart to be in meaningful and authentic relationship with others. In fact, my consumption served to prevent this.
For many, porn is the primary place that young boys, and an increasing number of girls, are getting their misinformation about sex. Boys are growing up thinking that porn’s ideals are the way men should treat women, and that this is the road map to a healthy sex life. The consumership of women is also on the rise, and the message they receive is that they are there for the pleasure of men, no matter what the personal cost.
If we are to make real changes, than porn and the widely embraced philosophy has got to go. I am not supporting censorship.
I am, however, suggesting that a combination of laws, personal choice and improved protections for children’s exposure to the toxic materials are all equally necessary.
The only way porn goes away is if the consumer stops consuming. Porn exists, because there are people willing to spend money on it. It is our appetite that need to change. It will take people who are tired of the rape, the child sexual abuse, the human trafficking, and the sexual pollution that Playboy and other porn outlets have produced to collectively work together to bring about change.
It took many years for Hefner’s Playboy magazine and his sexual revolution to do the extensive damage that it has done, and sadly, it will take many more years to undo it.
If you’d like to learn more about this author, how you can combat the damage of pornography, and/or seek support in your own recovery, please contact Authentic Relationships International at www.authenticrelationshipsint.com.
Gene McConnell is a popular speaker and author. His signature message, “The Power of Porn”, is about the sexualization of our culture and the impact it has upon individual lives, relationships, and communities. Gene was awarded Los Angeles County’s Citizen of the Year. Gene is in the leadership team at the renowned South Central Foundation in Anchorage, Alaska, fulfilling a vital role designing and delivering life-changing services for disenfranchised and under-served populations of native Alaskans.
Co-authored by Alisa L. Drake, MA, a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Alaska. She has spent the past 17 years working with adults whose lives have been impacted by sexual abuse, childhood trauma, sexual assault, domestic violence, and more. She currently works as a therapist and independent contractor, developing programs that address these traumas by providing a framework for healing and recovery.