Intersection of Life and Faith

6 Ways Hugh Hefner's Ideas Were Bad for Women and Our Culture

  • J. Parker Contributing Writer
  • 2017 29 Sep
6 Ways Hugh Hefner's Ideas Were Bad for Women and Our Culture

With just $8,000, Hugh Hefner launched Playboy magazine in 1953 and for the next 35 years ran the corporation that produced hundreds of nude photographs. Playboy still has a circulation of over 670,000, but the messages Hefner put across through his magazine and his lifestyle have permeated beyond his subscribers.

In fact, I’ve written about the first time I saw a Playboy magazine, and the array of feelings that followed, including both fascination and sadness. I immediately understood that what I saw wasn’t merely about the photograph of a woman, but rather what it meant — the underlying meaning of that visual.

It’s difficult to find someone who hasn’t seen a Playboy magazine, or another magazine that followed in its footsteps. Likewise, Hugh Hefner’s views have been spread to many, including believers, and have affected how women, sexuality, and relationships are viewed. Now that he’s dead, I’ve been thinking about how his ideas were bad for women and our culture.

Photo: LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 16: Hugh Hefner poses at Playboy's 60th Anniversary special event on January 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.

Photo courtesy: Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Playboy

  • 1. It's about getting what you want.

    1. It's about getting what you want.

    Of course the approach of the entire Playboy magazine was self-pleasure. Hefner printed pictures of nude women and stories of sexual fantasy, so that readers could be aroused and satisfied outside any relationship.

    But the perspective of self-pleasure goes even further. Playboy essentially defined sexuality as something you do for yourself. The models pose for you. Their sexuality only matters in terms of how they make you feel. Men who spent years seeing these and other such magazines construe good sex as something that makes them selfishly feel good. 

    Of course, sex feels good, and God made it to feel good. But He also made sex to bring us together as one flesh, meaning it’s a joint experience between husband and wife. To have real sexual intimacy, you have to be willing to consider how your spouse feels, what turns her on, and what satisfies her as well.

    Hugh Hefner once said, “It is easier to deal with several girlfriends than one wife.” It might be easier, but it’s not as fulfilling and it’s not what God calls us to. Rather, He says, “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:4). Sex and relationships aren’t all about you, but pursuing what’s best for both spouses.


    Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/Ingram Publishing

  • 1. It's about getting what you want.

    2. Women are sex objects.

    In a Time Magazine interview, Hugh Hefner said, “What is wrong with celebrating women as sex objects?… If women aren’t sex objects, then there wouldn’t be another second generation. Women are sex objects. That doesn’t mean they aren’t human beings. To be a sex object and to be desired gives women a tremendous amount of power.”

    But what power is there really in being “a person viewed as being of little interest or merit beyond the potential for providing sexual gratification” (sex object as defined by Random House Dictionary)? Any perceived power comes from how the other person sees you in terms of your ability to sexually satisfy them; and in the two-dimensional pages of a Playboy magazine, that’s all about appearance.

    So many women I’ve encountered have experienced this objectification in the real world, being treated by a man as if her whole value was wrapped up in her physical attributes. The real consequences in these cases were sexual harassment, mistreatment, and abuse. After all, if she’s just good for one thing, why worry about the rest of her? Objectifying anyone is against God’s will, for we are all made in His image (Genesis 1:27). The power we possess doesn’t come from our physical appearance, but from our value in Him.


    Photo credit: ©Thinkstock

  • 1. It's about getting what you want.

    3. You can stay an adolescent.

    When asked by talk show host Piers Morgan, “Do you want to grow up?” Hefner responded, “When people say they want to be me when they grow up, I say, ‘The key to that is don’t grow up.’” He also admitted that, “The whole notion of Playboy came from my own dreams, my childhood, adolescent dreams.”

    Basically, Hefner was a man-child, stuck in the days of teenage boyhood. And he made that seem not only okay, but cool. He was wealthy, surrounded by beautiful women, and indulged adolescent fantasies through his magazine and his lifestyle. Nevermind the selfishness involved in that perspective, the damage he did to others, or the sheer immaturity of this life perspective — he was presumably “living the dream.”

    But good people, godly people, grow up. The Apostle Paul said, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11). And one chapter later: “Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults” (1 Corinthians 14:12).  They don’t indulge sinful pleasures like the immature prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32); rather, they leave behind childish ways of looking at sex, women, and life, and instead embrace God’s better, more mature plan.


    Photo credit: ©Unsplash/GabrielBarletta

  • 1. It's about getting what you want.

    4. Sex is transactional.

    Of course, women have historically understood their ability to get things they want by using their sexuality. But Hefner promoted this idea freely, as if it was the way things should be: You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.

    One more interesting story is that in the second year of his magazine, Hefner convinced a woman in his subscription fulfillment department to pose in exchange for a new address stamp machine that would make her job easier. How much more transactional can you get? Well, he also doled out allowances to the playmates who lived in his mansion, expecting their devotion and sexual favors in return.

    But it’s more than Hefner’s personal mistreatment of women that matters to our culture. He promoted this message that sex is transactional. Models turn men on by posing nude, and they get paid — in office machines or cash. That’s not merely soft pornography; it’s prostitution. And it’s what Hugh did for decades, bringing readers along with him. He was essentially a pimp, making sex itself a business transaction.

    Now imagine the readers who walk into marriage, believing that sex is in some way transactional. They begin to set up a bartering system of giving her what she wants, as long as she gives him what he wants. Yet Song of Songs shows a married couple who both desire one another, relationally and sexually. There isn’t a tit-for-tat, but a genuine investment in one another and a longing for physical intimacy. That’s God’s design for sex — not a transaction, but a transformation to becoming one flesh.


    Photo credit: ©Thinkstock

  • 1. It's about getting what you want.

    5. Youthful appearance is key.

    Hugh Hefner famously chose young girlfriends and wives, typically women in their 20s. Even at the age of 86, he married a woman 60 years younger. With his own life and in the pages of Playboy magazine, he promoted the notion that young, pretty women are what men of every age desire.

    How much has this contributed to husbands leaving their wives for a younger woman? No one can say for certain, but this view has certainly permeated our culture. Men who have been exposed to or sought out images of younger women for their viewing pleasure then turn to the real women around them, the women their own age, and find them lacking. Even if those men recognize the magazine as fantasy and a woman their own age as reality, how does a man ogling after younger women make his wife feel? How does it affect her own body image?

    We might like to think as Christians that we’ve avoided this error in thinking. But you don’t have to look far to find a Christian wife who feels that she’s competing for her husband’s attention with younger, prettier women, including those willing to take their clothes off to catch his eye. But a wise, godly man knows that “Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised” (Proverbs 31:30).


    Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/Mike Watson Images

  • 1. It's about getting what you want.

    6. Displaying your body to others is empowering.

    The number of women and celebrities who have posed for Playboy magazine is staggering. When I’ve read the explanations of why a woman would take off her clothes and pose as a nude centerfold, they often come down to some version of, “It was empowering to show off the body I have and express my sexuality.” That’s what the magazine and Hefner promoted as empowering: a woman willingly being gawked at by thousands of lustful men who want to see her naked. 

    But this idea is quite possibly the one I find most disturbing. Would we say it’s okay for a woman to be physically abused if she chose to simply stand there while being his punching bag? Of course not. So why is it considered empowering to be used for someone else’s sexual pleasure? To splay yourself across a shiny page for men to lust after you? 

    Yes, there is something sexy about confidence and certainly it’s a good thing in marriage for a wife’s body to be seen and appreciated by her husband. But her husband shouldn’t be treating her like an object. Rather, her nudity in that context is part of a deeper intimacy they have with each other. That is true empowerment — having your body and your sexuality appreciated as part of who you are. And for who you are to be loved and valued in a marriage covenant.


    J. Parker is the author of Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design and blogs at Hot, Holy & Humorous, using a biblical perspective and a blunt sense of humor to foster godly sexuality. She has been married for 23 years and holds a master's degree in counseling, yet it's her personal story of redemption that fuels her passion for passion.

    Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/Anetlanda