Hugh Hefner’s Playboy was a major force igniting and defining the sexual revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Hefner was a major civil rights advocate. He was an advocate for LGTBQ rights and women’s right to choice, and he stridently and effectively combatted puritan prudishness and sexual hypocrisy. He opposed the double standard, and he emphasized the importance of privacy and our fundamental right to consensual eroticism.
Hefner died recently, but he left a legacy of support for the First Amendment and a strong criticism of sexual censorship. His Playboy Foundation financially supported sex research and sex education, and Hefner donated millions to major university graduate programs to support research and education about sex and censorship. His Playboy Philosophy detailed the state of sex in America. He called for more sexual liberation and an evidence-based approach to sexual knowledge.
The Kinsey studies were published about the time Playboy was introduced in 1953. The combination of Kinsey’s documentation of what was then considered wild sexual behavior and Hefner’s outspoken writing helped usher in the sexual revolution. He called for freedom from religion, and not just freedom of religion. He advocated separation of church and state. Since rigid religion is the arch enemy of sexual freedom, we are all better for his immense contributions.
Since his death, Hefner has been viciously attacked as a pornographer and chauvinist by a few–but by no means all–feminists (it is not sexist to be sexy!) and by the religious right wing. Radical feminist Susan Brownmiller bragged about calling Hefner her enemy on The Dick Cavett Show many years ago. Cavett later regretted having Brownmiller on with Hefner, as Cavett admired Hefner’s writing. Similarly, my colleague Nadine Strossen, former head of the ACLU, heralded Hefner for his support of the First Amendment. At the same time, conservative columnist Ross Douthat attempted to tear down Hefner in his scathing criticism, calling him “the grinning pimp of the sexual revolution.”
It is patently unfair to only view and criticize Hefner in the present. His major works were in the past. It is his past that brought us closer to sexual freedom today, but the past is not well understood by many today. Most were either not born or were too young to know anything about Hefner and the revolution. Many take freedom for granted today, but they should not!
I was a leader of the sexual revolution as a professor and writer in the national media in the 1970’s. The revolution began about 1963, and it peaked from 1973 to 1974, winding about 1975. Even though the revolution ended, many of the gains of the revolution are still with us. Women are more free to be satisfied sexually, and contraception is widespread, even though our government is now rolling back insurance covered birth control—a huge mistake for women and a potential loss of sexual freedom.
I appreciated Hefner, as he appreciated me. I never met him, but I knew his publicist well, and he informed me that Hefner saw me as the creator of the horny toad, Roxanne Ribbit, just as he created the bunny. My stuffed horny toad—a lusty frog– and I appeared in the pages of Playboy when I created and celebrated National Orgasm Week. What a heady time it was!
The first sexual revolution occurred in the 1920’s with the flappers and the bohemians. Thanks in part to Hefner, the third revolution is starting now. The new revolution is a reaction against rigid government and rigid religion, the minimization of our right to privacy, and the lack of effective sex education. The third revolution has support from diverse sexual populations such as the kink community, the LGBTQ community, swinging, polyamory, those in open relationships, senior citizens, the disabled and of course healthy participants in monogamy.
The unhealthy and totally inaccurate emphasis on so-called “sex addiction” and “hyper-sexuality” today was first criticized by Hefner. There are still far too many counselors who view sex addiction as real, when in fact no sound empirical studies support its existence. Sex addiction counselors are modern day moralistic charlatans who view sex as fearful sin, even if they try to dress it up in sheep’s clothing.
I have dedicated my life to combatting sexual repression and censorship. I have acted on my vision for a more sexually healthy culture which supports lust, love and passion as good things. Hugh Hefner encouraged me, and his contributions will inspire many more for years to come. It is my hope that his son, Cooper Hefner, will continue his father’s groundbreaking work with today’s Playboy.