The silk-wearing, pipe-smoking legend Hugh Hefner passed away Wednesday. Though tears may stream from the eyes of those who loved him most, a celebration of his legacy almost seems more appropriate for this playboy. The success of Playboy stemmed from the willingness of a passionate man to expand a new and much needed culture.
Beyond Playboy’s stunning naked models laid across the centerfolds is the concept of sexual liberation. In the United States today, sex is more prevalent in our everyday lives than ever before with the legalization of same-sex marriage and the Constitutional right to abortion, protests like the free the nipple campaign, the broadcasting of risqué shows like Game of Thrones, and the increasing positive outlook on birth control. The normalization of some of America’s most prized possessions were all made possible by the sexual revolution which began in the 1960’s with a little help from our friend Hugh Hefner.
According to CNN, in 1974 Hugh Hefner said “If you attempt to suppress sex in books, magazines, movies and even everyday conversation, you aren’t helping to make sex more private, just more hidden. You’re keeping sex in the dark. What we’ve tried to do is turn on the lights.” And, that’s exactly what he did when he published the first issue of Playboy magazine in December of 1953 featuring nude photos of the iconic starlet who is recognized as the symbol of sex itself, Marilyn Monroe. Interestingly, Hefner will be buried next to Marilyn Monroe in a memorial park located in Los Angeles, California. Being only the second “soft-porn” magazine to publish nude photographs, Playboy began normalizing nudity and human sexual desire in society.
Hugh Hefner held a philosophy dearly, that women have desires, just like men, and that they have a right to these desires. “Nice girls like sex too — it’s a natural part of life. Don’t be ashamed of it. Part of the sexual revolution is bringing rationality to sexuality. Because when you don’t embrace sexuality in a normal way, you get the twisted kinds, and the kinds that destroy lives.” Hefner said in an interview with NPR in 2003. Playboy influenced and encouraged the sexual revolution like no other entity because it halted the housewife stereotypes: that women were only supposed to be the mother of her husband’s children while cleaning his house and cooking his food. Sex was viewed as only a man’s pleasure and Playboy contained many photos of women showing that they enjoyed sex just as much, if not more. The Playboy magazine did not create the new, sexy woman like many believe, but some may say it rather released the woman that was bound to society’s chains for so long, which opened doors for many more sexual opportunities regarding both women and men. Hefner himself fought a life time for gay rights, free speech, and reproductive rights.
Though today people argue that women are hyper-sexualized in magazines like Playboy and almost all other parts of the media, there was a time before Playboy where women fought for their ability to express their sexuality. Some women claim to enjoy being hyper-sexualized and some women protest hyper-sexualization, the sexual revolution did not choose a side on this issue but rather challenged society so that women could make this decision for themselves. Today, women are increasingly becoming able to decide what kind of woman they want to be, which many argue as the most important aspect of the sexual revolution.
Now, 64 years later, Playboy remains one of the largest and most successful enterprises ever. Though, the Playboy empire is not the only thing that will remain, Hugh Hefner’s philosophy which fueled his success and influenced the sexual revolution will live on forever after Hefner’s passing on Wednesday.