From Lust to Dust: The Legacy of Hugh Hefner
COMMENTARY: The joy of the Resurrection and the Ascension radically challenges the underlying assumption of the ‘Kinsey-Playboy-Cosmo philosophy’ at its very root.
The ashes of Hugh Hefner, founder of the Playboy magazine empire, were buried Saturday in Los Angeles. He was 91.
The Washington Post has proclaimed him to be something of a hero, calling him a “visionary editor who created Playboy out of sheer will and his own fevered dreams.”
On the flip side, Australian journalist Shelly Horton has written a scathing piece about Hefner, describing actions that took place in the Playboy mansion that are too graphic to detail here.
As we lay Hefner to rest, it’s a temptation to get hung up on his flashy public persona, with his red-silk bathrobe and a buxom blond on each arm. But to understand his true legacy, I think we need to look deeper.
For two decades, as a freelance journalist, I wrote articles for what was frequently called “the female Playboy” — Cosmopolitan magazine.
So I had a front-row media seat on how the sexual revolution unfolded in the beginning.
Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown admitted she admired Playboy “to the point of ridiculousness” and thought Hefner was “a bona-fide genius.”
When Brown began to redesign Cosmo as a sex-revolution magazine in the mid-1960s, Hefner bragged that he “helped her hire the right people.” He also introduced her to his own editors who, in turn, put her in contact with the agents and writers Playboy was using. Brown patterned her “Cosmo philosophy” and “Cosmo Girl” lifestyle after Hefner’s “Playboy philosophy” and lifestyle. In the 1960s and 1970s, both magazines sold Americans the media fantasy that “sex without children will set you free” — and I was one of Helen’s minions.
As we consider Hugh Hefner’s legacy, let’s look back more closely at how it began. Hefner grew up in a conservative Methodist family. The first issue of Playboy (which featured Marilyn Monroe on the cover) was published in December 1953, the same year Indiana University zoologist Alfred Kinsey published Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Kinsey’s science became the very foundation of the sexual revolution.
In fact, without Kinsey’s research to pave the way, it’s hard to imagine that Playboy and its Cosmopolitan clone would have ever been born. Kinsey’s science and Playboy were so closely interconnected that Hefner has been rightly called “Kinsey’s publicist” and “Kinsey’s pamphleteer.”
When Kinsey published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948 and his book on women five years later, he turned traditional middle-class American sexual values upside down. Among many other alleged “facts,” Kinsey claimed that 69% of U.S. men had been with prostitutes, 10% had been homosexual for at least three years, and 17% of farm boys had experienced sex with animals. Compiling mountains of statistics, Kinsey further claimed that 95% of American men had violated sex crimes that could land them in jail.
Kinsey’s research, which Hefner relentlessly promoted, was riddled with errors and skewed statistics.
For example, he claimed that his findings applied to “average” Americans, when, in fact, he and his research team had taken “sexual histories” from 1,400 imprisoned sex offenders. He never revealed how many of these criminals were included in his total sample of “about 5,300” white males. But he did admit to including “several hundred” male prostitutes in his samples. Distinguished British anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer went so far as to call the Kinsey reports propaganda masquerading as “science.”
Yet Playboy never reported Kinsey’s propagandistic research as flawed (nor do most media outlets today). On the contrary, Playboy hammered such false facts about allegedly ordinary Americans into the minds of its readers and praised Kinsey to the skies. On the rickety foundation of Kinsey’s unsound science, Hefner constructed a sex-fantasy lifestyle for men, just as Brown constructed a sex-fantasy lifestyle for single women. Over time, gullible, unwary readers began living out these media fantasies in their real lives, frequently with tragic results.
Sex and the Human Animal
Before he began studying sex, Kinsey was known as the world’s leading expert on the gall wasp. A zoologist by training, he saw the human being as just an “animal.” Leaving out any understanding of the spiritual aspects of human sexuality, he reduced sex merely to a physiological “animal” response.
In his volume about women, Kinsey likened a human orgasm to “sneezing.” Brooklyn College anthropologist George Simpson said of Kinsey’s work, “This is truly a monkey-theory of orgasm.” Anthropologist Margaret Mead observed that, in Kinsey’s view, there was no moral difference between a man having sex with a woman — or a sheep.
This is the sort of thing that can happen when a zoologist trained to study the animal kingdom dares to go above and beyond his level of expertise and tries to study human beings created for the kingdom of God.
It was perhaps no accident, then, that when he based his “Playboy philosophy” on Kinsey’s science, Hefner thought of turning women into “Playboy Bunnies.” Journalist Shelly Horton reports that, in a 1967 interview, Hefner explained why he chose the bunny as the symbol for his magazine. The bunny, he said, “has a sexual meaning, because it’s a fresh animal, shy, vivacious, jumping — sexy. First it smells you, then it escapes, then it comes back, and you feel like caressing it, playing with it. A girl resembles a bunny. Joyful, joking.” In other words, a woman is merely an animal to be used for a man’s sexual pleasure.
Hefner slept with what he estimated to be more than 1,000 women and was married three times (the last time to a woman one-third his age).
The self-reducing lifestyle founded on Kinseyism and spread in the heydays of the sexual revolution by media outlets like Playboy has, of course, now become ubiquitous. It has hastened the road that led to millions of abortions, fatherless children, rampant divorce, a multibillion-dollar pornography industry, same-sex “marriage” and countless other societal ills.
As Gabriele Kuby observes in The Global Sexual Revolution: Destruction of Freedom in the Name of Freedom, at the core of the global “cultural revolution” we’re fighting today “is the dismantling of sexual norms. The lifting of moral limitations on sexuality would appear to increase people’s freedom, but it creates rootless individuals, leads to dissolution of the supporting social structure, and creates social chaos.”
The reduction of humans to “animals” and the claim that human persons will find freedom and happiness only when we have lots of empty sex and no loving relationship with God or others is Hugh Hefner’s legacy to the world.
Combating the Legacy
In 2003, thanks to God’s mercy, I read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and found the truth I’d sought my entire life. I’m now convinced there’s only one way to combat the media fantasy world in which we all live: with the concrete reality of Jesus.
When Christ entered humanity in the flesh as a helpless little baby in a manger, went to his voluntary crucifixion, rose on the third day, and ascended into heaven, where he sits enthroned at the right hand of the Father, he raised up all of humanity with himself and put to death forever the lie that human beings are forever trapped in the prisons of their own animal instincts.
The joy of the Resurrection and the Ascension radically challenges the underlying assumption of the “Kinsey-Playboy-Cosmo philosophy” at its very root. The Christian joy of eternal life — which begins here now (not just when we “die and go to heaven”) — goes far beyond any superficial happiness the world’s false idols of power, pleasure, honor and wealth can offer human beings.
At age 72, Helen Gurley Brown (who died in 2012) exposed the emptiness of “having it all.” Speaking with Psychology Today, she confessed that, despite all her success and her long-lasting marriage (she was married to Hollywood producer David Brown for 51 years), she still didn’t know how to be happy. Brown said it was no fun “waking up scared every morning.”
Hefner’s ashes were buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles in a crypt for which he reportedly paid $75,000, next to the tomb of Marilyn Monroe. In 2009, Hefner told the Los Angeles Times that, for him, the prospect of lying next to Monroe for all eternity was “an opportunity too sweet to pass up.”
May God have mercy on Hugh Hefner’s soul. And I continue to pray for the millions of men and women who continue to be damaged by his evil legacy.
- sue ellen browder
- sexual revolution
- hugh hefner
- dignity of the human person
- church teaching on sexuality