Culture

Hugh Hefner’s Legacy of Despair

Hugh Hefner at the “Playmate of the Year” party in 2005. (Photo: Reuters)
The bitter fruit of Hefner’s life’s work has helped poison American families.

Hugh Hefner didn’t invent pornography, and it would no doubt be thriving today even if he hadn’t founded Playboy magazine those many years ago. After all, man is fallen, and somebody would have filled that depraved niche in American life. Hefner, however, played his part, and the part he played was immensely destructive to our nation’s cultural, moral, and spiritual fabric. Hefner mainstreamed porn, he put it in millions of homes, and he even glamorized it — recasting one of America’s most pathetic industries as the playground of the sophisticated rich. He then grew to a ripe old age, consorting with women young enough to be his granddaughters. He was America’s most famous dirty old man.

And now he’s dead. May God have mercy on his soul.

It’s hard to calculate the damage he did, but the cultural rubble is all around us. My generation is perhaps the first to grow up with easily accessible porn. Every one of us knew whose father had a Playboy subscription (only the scary pervs subscribed to Penthouse or Hustler), and their kids knew exactly where dad kept his stash. They’d sneak out old issues, bring them to school, and pass them around. Before teens could rent porn on tape, they could see porn on the page, and once they saw it, they were hooked.

The effects have lasted a lifetime. Boys grew up believing they were entitled to sex on demand, and the sex would always be amazing. They learned to grow bored of the “same old thing” and instead to seek new adventures. They learned that monogamy was confining, that promiscuity was liberating, and that women should always be hot. The normal female form was no longer enough. It had to be enhanced, sculpted, and waxed.

Though that kind of reality can’t exist for the vast majority of men, that didn’t stop the desire. So, they did and do the pitiful thing — retreated to bathrooms and bedrooms and masturbated nonstop to the women they could never have and the life they’d never live.

How many families have broken to pieces when a wife discovers her husband’s secret addiction and realizes that she’s not enough — that she’s never been enough — and he spends much of his life fantasizing about thousands of others? How many men have grown to hate themselves for their psychological dependence on the saddest of habits? The testimonies from porn nation are devastating.

“I watched so much porn that I can’t really enjoy sex with my wife.”

“He wants me to be something I can’t. I’ll never be as good as the girl on the screen.”

“I can’t imagine being content with just one woman. I’ve had sex with thousands in my mind.”

To see men become addicted to porn is to watch character formation in reverse. Their integrity and fidelity unwind before your eyes. They lie habitually to cover the extent of their habit, even when their wives are allegedly “open” and sexually liberated. After all, if she knew how much he watched or exactly what he looked at, even she would be shocked. The screen alone is never enough, the wife is never enough, and the addict so often seeks mistresses, prostitutes, or both.

Another family breaks. More lives fall into despair.

To see a man become addicted to porn is to watch character formation in reverse.

All this is known. Everyone has seen it happen in their churches, in their neighborhoods, and in their families. This cycle has likely happened to thousands of men who’ll read this column. And yet, the secular, progressive guardians of our public morality — you know, the people who think you’re a horrible person if you don’t recycle or if you use the wrong pronouns — all so often don’t just tolerate but celebrate the sexual “liberation” that is part and parcel of porn nation.

So many A-list celebrities spent time at the Playboy Mansion, especially at its peak, that there was a time when one could wonder who hadn’t embraced Hef or the magazine he made. Our president has. The evidence is on his office wall. These were the people setting the tone for American culture. These were the people mocking the values that kept families strong. These were the people who were teaching a nation that fulfillment could be found in sex, and that the joy of sex was worth more than marriage itself.

They were wrong, and the cultural harm done outweighs the cost of botched presidential elections, bad congressmen, or a judiciary riddled with knaves and fools. The cultural harm done is even now ripping kids from parents and husbands from wives. When I think of Hugh Hefner, yes I mourn, but I mourn because the bitter fruit of his life’s work has helped poison the families of people I know and love. He is gone, but his legacy lives on. And his is a legacy of despair.

READ MORE:

Video: Hugh Hefner on Firing Line

William F. Buckley Jr.: The Playboy Philosophy

Yes, Men View Women as Sex Objects

Want Less Sexual Trauma on Campus? Stop Telling the Big Lies.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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