A couple of weeks ago, Hugh Hefner, the man who built the Playboy empire, passed away at age 91.
There was much debate about what kind of legacy he left our world. Many religious and feminist thinkers alike talked about the negative ramifications of the doors he opened for our culture. Other public figures, former playmates, and his own son shared how they believed he brought a new sexual freedom to our country. They commented about his role in helping bring about a new attitude towards sex. Hefner himself was quoted as saying, “That I changed attitudes toward sex. That nice people can live together now. That I decontaminated the notion of premarital sex. That gives me great satisfaction” (The Register-Guard, September 28th, 2017). He saw himself as a cultural revolutionary going against the stifling, puritan underpinnings of his parents’ generation.
When I examine what has happened in our country in the last 50 years, sexual “freedom” is the last way I would describe it. Sexually transmitted diseases have reached a record high (The L. A. Times, September 27, 2017). AIDS had never been heard of until the early 1980s. Unwanted pregnancies and children born to single mothers has increased, as well. Similarly, we have seen an increase in sexual addiction, fueled by the proliferation of pornography. This phenomenon has led to widespread digital adultery, which I believe has led to the demise of countless marriages and the rising divorce rate.
How do we define sexual freedom? Does it mean the ability to have sex with whoever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want? Is sexual freedom illustrated by Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible – a city so perverse that when visitors came to town, the people pounded on their doors and demanded they be turned over so they could have sex with them (Genesis 19)? Is this the type of sexual freedom we desire in our culture?
Do we desire the sexual freedom of the Roman empire, especially under the leadership of emperors like Caligula? Caligula was a champion of sexual excess. He had four wives, and it is said he had an incestuous relationship with all three of his sisters. Caligula would do anything to satiate his sexual appetite.
And then we have Hugh Hefner. He was married 3 times. He divorced his first wife after encouraging her to engage in the practice of spouse swapping. Hefner admitted to sleeping with his own brother’s wife. Is this the type of lifestyle we should champion in our culture?
Sadly, maybe the worst contribution that Hefner encouraged is the objectification of women. This is where the dark world of sexual addiction comes into play. Hefner has helped to create a world in which women are seen as objects that exist merely for the sexual gratification of men. Women are judged not on the basis of their virtue, but on their aesthetic appeal. If they have a strong sex appeal, then they have value; if they don’t, then they have lesser or no value.
The objectification of women and the fantasy life it creates has led men to do egregious, almost unspeakable acts toward women in our culture. Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has been in the news recently for sexually assaulting women and forcing them to do inappropriate acts to further their careers. There is also the story of Dr. Larry Nassar, the former doctor of the U. S. gymnastics team, who pleaded guilty for the possession of child pornography. Dr. Nassar is also awaiting trial on separate charges that he assaulted former gymnasts who were under his medical care. And much has been written about the rape culture on college campuses in the United States.
What mindset has the boom of pornography created in the minds of men? Sadly, it’s one in which women are not cherished or respected for who they are as human beings. They are only valued or respected for the pleasure they can bring to men.
Talk about destroying the dignity of women.
This is a tragic reality that I believe Hugh Hefner and others in his industry have cultivated. Did it start with him? No. But he was a big part in fanning the flame in this nation which has gotten, in my mind, way out of control. As a pastor, I have counseled many men who have been in the bondage of the demon of sexual addiction. I have seen it destroy their mental and emotional health and bring undue pain to their marriages. I could go on and on. We haven’t even discussed the rise of the sex trafficking industry in our country and the deplorable circumstances of child pornography.
Hugh Hefner and others may say his legacy was one of freedom. I call it a legacy of destruction.
Pastor Toby Gallego
Riviera Baptist Church