hugh hefner waving

The internet is awash today with tributes and obituaries for Hugh Hefner, and it would be foolish of me to write another one. But I did want to say one thing.

If you came to your sexual maturity after 1990 or so, you’re probably wondering right now why the internet is losing its shit over the death of an old creep who objectified women relentlessly. As well you might. 21st-century Hugh Hefner was a cruel parody of the man being remembered so fondly in all those obituaries today. The sexual revolution moved on from him, far beyond him in fact… but never forget HOW MUCH HE DID FOR IT.

You have literally no idea how bad things were, sexually, in the world into which Hugh Hefner published the first Playboy. Neither do I; I’m not that old. But I saw my first porn in the 1970s, and I can tell you this: if Hugh Hefner didn’t invent sex positivity (as I’m sure he did not) he sure as fuck carried a bunch of the load of its early promotion.

In that era porn was sleazy, and grim as hell. It was mostly garbage made by mafia dudes, full of racist slurs and misogyny. Every woman in it was a bitch, a slut, a whore, or a tramp, with some kind of racial slur appended with a hyphen if she wasn’t white. Do I exaggerate? Sure, some. But those were the prevalent attitudes. What Hugh Hefner brought to the party was a whole new aesthetic. He said “We’re men, and we like sex, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and here’s a magazine full of culture and literature and pretty nude women, and you don’t have to be ashamed to read it or a dick about being the kind of man who enjoys it, and the ladies don’t have to be ashamed to be photographed in it, and we can all party together at my house, and it’s the new American future, and there’s not one damned thing wrong with it, and the people who don’t like it? They can go to hell.”

Sure. He got old, and he didn’t keep up, and he became a figure of derision or sympathy depending on how much respect and empathy you’ve got in your soul. But what he did for the toxic culture of sexuality in this country in the second half of the 20th century was an enormous fucking gift. Thank you, Hugh Hefner. Goodbye.