Hugh Hefner’s True Legacy

Some things just don’t seem like coincidence.

By Rob Schwarzwalder Published on October 1, 2017

Some things just don’t seem like coincidence.

This past week, Hugh Hefner died. A founding father of the sexual revolution, Hefner’s legacy is hard to summarize. The words “shame” and “pain” come quickly to mind.

The dehumanization of women. The celebration of infidelity. The promotion of sex as a god and pleasure as an idol. Increasingly, graphic scenes of violent sex.

Yet these ugly realities are covered by a blanket of air-brushed photographs and glamorized women. This was the image Hefner portrayed: Sex as fun without any consequences. 

That sex was intended to bond two people, to complete them, and to produce children was not just lost on Hefner but actively rejected by him. 

Well, you can say water runs up hill, but that doesn’t make it so. And you can pretend that sex is a meaningless exercise in selfish pleasure, but your best efforts can’t make that lie true.

The Health and Relationship Costs

This past week — the same week that Hefner died — the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that roughly “20 million new STDs in the U.S. each year, and half of these are among young people ages 15 to 24.” Yet the CDC also said that, “Across the nation, at any given time, there are more than 110 million total (new and existing) infections.”

But the bad news only continues. “More than two million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were reported in the United States in 2016, the highest number ever.” Dr. Gail Bolan, director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, writes in the new report:

The number of reported syphilis cases is climbing after being largely on the decline since 1941, and gonorrhea rates are now increasing. This is especially concerning given that we are slowly running out of treatment options to cure (gonorrhea). Many young women continue to have undiagnosed chlamydial infections, putting them at risk for infertility.

Indiscriminate sex not only is the prime source of these diseases of the body but a leading cause of diseases of the soul. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) offers overwhelming evidence of the links between pornography and sexual violence, disruption of brain function, human trafficking, and sexual dysfunction. As my former Family Research Council intern Haley Halverson, now Director of Communications at NCOSE, has argued, pornography is now “a public health crisis.”

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Additionally, pornography destroys relationships. It creates distrust and costs respect. It fosters demands on women by pornography-fueled men that debase them and even cause physical harm. These things are well-documented, even by such liberal sources as New York Magazine. In a gripping article published some years ago titled “A Laptop Never Says No,” Amy Sohn writes:

There are many reasons couples break up, but a new, and increasingly common, one is that one partner becomes obsessed with Internet pornography. Now that porn is so easy to watch at home or at work, many men are spending enough time and energy on it that they drive their female partners to end the relationship.

This is what the late Hugh Hefner bequeathed to his country and his world: Illness, hurt, and human objectification. And like all sordid things, his life had an early, tragic start.

The Life of Hefner

According to a Los Angeles Times obituary, “In 1949 he married Mildred Williams, a college sweetheart with an appealing wholesomeness, but the union was hobbled from the start. During their engagement she had an affair with another man that devastated Hefner, but he refused to call off the marriage. It lasted 10 years, until their divorce in 1959. Years later he said the experience set him up for a lifetime of promiscuity because ‘if you don’t commit,’ he told The Times in 1994, ‘you don’t get hurt’.”

Yet the man who sought to avoid pain through unrestricted pleasure was married three times, had four children, and numerous live-in partners. Not to mention that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young women he used for sexual pleasure, discarding them like paper towels.

Hefner’s mask of illicit joy was torn away quite dramatically by the writings of one of his long-term mistresses, Holly Madison. Two years ago, notes The Atlantic, she

… published a memoir in which she offered a more truthful depiction of her relationship with Hefner, detailing that sex with him was mandatory for the playmates, and unpleasant. Many of the women who lived with Hefner, she alleged, got involved with prostitution. Another former playmate, Izabella St. James, wrote a book that punctured the illusion of the Playboy Mansion itself, stating that it was dingy, falling into disrepair, and smelled like urine from Hefner’s incontinent dog.

The Legacy of Hefner

Wealthy, hedonistic, an addiction to in-the-moment pleasure. Emptiness, pointlessness, moral bankruptcy, countless broken lives.

The legacy of Hugh Hefner is found not just in relentless and destructive sexual adventurism but in the clinics and hospitals of America, where tens of millions of our fellow citizens go for treatment for the diseases their behavior have produced. 

Christians should pray for his children and grandchildren, that they will come to know the hope and contentment only a living Savior can offer. That’s a legacy good for any generation.

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