Grieving Hugh Hefner

i saw my first Playboy magazine when i was nine years old. That night changed my life, and not for the better.

It wasn’t glamourous. It wasn’t liberating. But it was intoxicating.

Shortly after news of Hugh Hefner’s death broke, the post mortem on his legacy began. Many have weighed in: tributes from celebrities and women who posed for his magazine here and here; condemnation from feminists here and here; a scathing piece in the New York Times here; and religious commentary here.

It’s not surprising that so many people have something to say about the man and his impact on culture given his mission was to push the limits of society with the “Playboy Philosophy,” which he called a “new morality.”

Playboy wasn’t merely “Entertainment for Men,” as the magazine’s tagline read. It was a broadside against traditional sexual mores, which Hefner considered “not natural,” nor “logical”; and therefore “not truly moral.” (Hefner appeared on the PBS show Firing Line in 1966 and discussed the Playboy Philosophy at length with the show’s host, the late William F. Buckley, Jr.).

At nine, i knew nothing of the Playboy Philosophy, but it had a direct impact my life just the same. i am not alone. The same intoxication i experienced that night in the mid 1970s is the same feeling countless men have experienced.

Hefner has been lauded as a pioneer of sexual liberation, but he didn’t free anyone. He did, however, enslave many.

Just ask the men who became addicted to pornography and their wives — or their ex-wives; the girlfriends of men addicted to pornography; or the women who suffer under the frustration that men their own age won’t marry them — or sometimes won’t even date them — as a result of Hefner’s influence.

Men who followed Hefner’s advice now fill up recovery group meetings on a weekly basis, dealing with damaged relationships, destroyed marriages, unemployment which stems from getting fired for watching pornography on the job, confusion about how to relate to women in a healthy way, conflicting messages about what it means to be a man in this world, and on and on and on.

It took a while for my anger at Hefner and other pornographers to subside years ago when i was first working through my recovery, but it did eventually. Now i feel a certain commonality with Ethan Renoe, who — regarding Hefner — wrote: “I don’t celebrate his death; I’m more brokenhearted by how he lived his life.”

His life and his empire illustrate the great emptiness that inevitably come from pursuing a porn lifestyle. You keep discarding women of your own age in favor of younger and more enhanced ones, eventually getting to the point where the women you seek are young enough to be your grand daughters.

And no matter how many you have, it’s never enough.

The mainstreaming of pornography is something that some praise as liberating, while others condemn it as misogynistic and sexually exploitative. All can agree that Hefner was the man responsible for it.

The fruit of Hefner’s work was ultimately to sever the connection between sexual activity and meaningful relationship. He accomplished that by promoting women as sexual objects rather than extolling their whole womanhood: their intellect, the true beauty of their souls, and their marvelous complexity.

That seems like misogyny and sexual exploitation to me.

Craig Gross at XXXChurch was quick to write a commentary piece on Hefner’s death in which he makes the point that Jesus loves Hugh Hefner.  While it will grate on many people to think that Jesus could love a pornographer like Hefner, it’s important to say that it’s true.  

Jesus loves those who seem beyond love.

As a former porn addict who was spinning more and more out of control until He reached into my life, i rely on the power and truth of Jesus’ love; therefore, i am compelled to agree with Gross on that point.

But it’s important that when we say that “Jesus loves Hugh Hefner” that we also acknowledge the truly wicked things Hefner did, not out of spite or condemnation from those who are holier-than-thou, but in order to honor those who were — and still are — victims of his work.

Hefner’s life was grievous. He gave us poisonous fruit and we need to name that. He was an example of what not to be as a man. The challenging thing for those of us who struggle with pornography addiction is owning the fact that we would become just like Hefner without God’s intervention.

Pornography is tragic, and so was the man who brought it into the mainstream.


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