At first glance Playboy magazine’s decision to stop including nude photos appears to be cause for celebration–and in a way it is, as one less outlet of exploitation is a good thing. However, we also know the underlying reason for the change is cause for lament. Porn has become so ubiquitous and easily accessible via technology, that Playboy magazine is no longer commercially viable nor culturally relevant– and therefore they have decided to change course. Playboy has essentially been devoured by the monster they helped to create. In the words of Playboy’s own chief executive, “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”
In December of 1953 the first issue of Playboy was printed. Hugh Hefner’s biographer later reflected on the creation of that first magazine, noting that, “with an $8,000 loan ($1,000 from his mother, who had hoped he’d become a missionary), the 27-year-old Hefner produced a pasted-together magazine. He bought the rights to an old pin-up picture of Marilyn Monroe and used it as centerfold bait to drum up 70,000 advance orders.”  Since that time, countless women have been objectified, exposed and exploited through the publication. Even children such as the underage Brooke Shields, and others were stripped naked for profit, by Playboy. And now, with the production of the Playboy online archive, it is something they may never be able to fully escape. Just as heartbreaking, are the countless porn addicted boys and men (as well as girls and women) who were initially exposed to pornography through the magazine.
The early success and profitability of Hefner’s concept to mass distribute naked women’s bodies quickly spawned copycats such as Hustler and Penthouse, who in order to keep up continued to produce increasingly more “hardcore” content. Nearly twenty years later in the early to mid seventies–inspired no doubt by Hefner–filmmakers began to produce and send to the big screen, pornographic films such as Deep Throat, The Green Door and others that ushered in what was dubbed “the Golden Age of Porn”. Then, almost suddenly, in the early nineties the proliferation of pornography exploded with the advent of the Internet. The pornography industry transformed from a handful of prominent magazines and films- to hundreds, thousands and then millions of easy to access websites, each one containing hundreds of individual pages of content. For perspective, in 1991 there were fewer than ninety different pornographic magazines published in America, in 1997 there were about 900 pornographic sites on the Web, in 2011 the Internet filtering software Cyber Sitter blocked 2.5 million pornographic websites. By now that number has increased exponentially. It is important to see that behind each number is a person. Every woman exposed in a glossy image or high definition film, has a name and a story–and usually that story is a tragic one of prior sexual abuse, abandonment, poverty, coercion, manipulation and the abuse of their positions of vulnerability.
This historic moment is a time to reflect and take an inventory of what damage has been done over the past sixty years through the normalization of pornography– a body count in essence, of the casualties of this war on our sexuality, our children, our families, our marriages, our identity as men and women–and to consider what lies ahead for a generation who are being sexually educated through hardcore violent porn.
As we mourn our great losses, may we emerge from our grief with hope, and a new vision for men and women. A vision for women of a culture that doesn’t require sexual objectification as a qualifier of value and worth– and a vision for men, which sees them not as insatiable, unfeeling consumers of female bodies–but as ones who can protect and love, instead of use and exploit.