Not-So-Good News

This post contains mature content that may be offensive to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

The odds are good that you have already heard by now that Playboy has decided that it will stop publishing full nudity in its magazine. The New York Times reported on October 12 that Cory Jones, the top editor at Playboy, went to see Hugh Hefner and suggested that the magazine “stop publishing images of naked women.” Hefner, the man who made his fortune and his image as a playboy and a purveyor of “tastefully nude” images of women agreed with Jones. “As part of a redesign that will be unveiled next March,” the Times reported, “the print edition of Playboy will still feature women in provocative poses. But they will no longer be fully nude.” Why did the magazine that is synonymous with nudity decide to stop publishing nudity? “That battle has been fought and won,” said Playboy‘s chief executive, Scott Flanders. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.” In other words, Playboy fought for the freedom to sell nudity and won…and has fallen victim to the seemingly unending amount of nudity and pornography–of every kind–that is now available. That is precisely why so many commentators have said that the news from Playboy is really not good news at all. Considering that the decision was made because nudity is available anytime, anywhere, for free, those who are concerned about porn and its influence have no reason to cheer.

Here is what Albert Mohler had to say in response to Flanders’ statement: “That is one of the most morally revealing statements of recent times. Playboy has outlived its ability to transgress and to push the moral boundaries. As a matter of fact, it was a victim of its own sad success. Pornography is such a pervasive part of modern society that Playboy is now a commercial victim of the very moral revolution it symbolized and promoted for decades.” Phil Cooke, on My Christian Daily, wrote, “this has happened because of the growing amount of extreme, dark, and violent pornography online. Today, children have easy access – not only through computers, but social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram.” In Fortune, Neil Powell wrote, “To those of us over the age of say, 40, Playboy once held an almost mystical, forbidden fascination. It was something to be coveted, hidden away, and with any luck, occasionally stumbled upon under your dad’s bed or in some older kid’s secluded hangout. This is almost laughable now, as we live in a world where porn is so widely available for free on the net and produced so widely for free by ‘amateur’ companies.” In other words, there is really not any good news in all of this.

In February 2014, in Psychology Today, Dr. David Ley wrote that common sense would seem to indicate that pornography is not good, that something like Playboy can be a gateway to more serious, more extreme forms of porn because of the tolerance effect, but that such assumptions and presumptions don’t hold up. “But, porn exposure in kids doesn’t have a life-altering, warping effect on children,” Ley wrote. “In fact, recent research in the Netherlands showed that exposure to pornography explained less than 4% of the variance in adolescents behavior. This means that 96% of the reasons why these kids do the things they do have NOTHING to do with the fact that they saw pornography. But, from the hyperbole and panic that we all hear on a regular basis, we are paying a lot more attention to porn than it deserves.” With all due respect to Dr. Ley’s PhD, I think that’s a bunch of boloney.

Stephen Arterburn is the author of the well-known book Every Man’s Battle and the subsequent version for teens. Writing on Huffington Post in February 2014 he wrote the following:

For the regular pornography user, sex becomes an act of relief or release while lusting after a photograph, a video, or a live webcam performance by an object called a woman. In this act, the man is all about his penis, his needs; whatever makes him feel good instantly–and with no regard for anyone else. He views the pornographic woman who demands nothing, does not judge his performance, or require anything other than that he look at her, and he most likely never forgets the image.

Perhaps it is tempting, for those like Dr. Ley, to suggest that Arterburn’s position is based on something other than scientific evidence and driven largely by a sense of puritanical ethics that ought not be forced on the rest of society. Truth be told, though, there is a multiplicity of evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, that Arterburn is right. In 1994 Tim Allen had the number one television show and movie in America along with a bestselling book, Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man. In it, he recounts his first exposure to nudity, which came in the form of a poster he saw in his friend’s brother’s bedroom. Allen described how after that exposure he looked for reasons to go into that room every time he was at the house. He described how, decades later, he could still vividly recall that image. In November 2013, Scott Christian, on, wrote a piece entitled “10 Reasons Why You Should Stop Watching Porn.” After listing his ten reasons he sums it up this way: “So there it is men. While the evidence may not be scientifically thorough, there’s certainly enough to suggest that porn has a negative impact on our lives.” According to Britain’s Independent, a Cambridge University study found that men “who are addicted to pornography show similar brain activity to alcoholics or drug addicts.”

An anonymous piece published in March 2010 on NPR included the following, after a personal recounting of how internet pornography had cost the author her husband:

In a study published in Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, Schneider found that among the 68 percent of couples in which one person was addicted to Internet porn, one or both had lost interest in sex. Results of the same study, published in 2000, indicated that porn use was a major contributing factor to increased risk of separation and divorce. This finding is substantiated by results of a 2002 meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, during which surveyed lawyers claimed that “an obsessive interest in Internet pornography” was a significant factor in 56 percent of their divorce cases the prior year.

Porn use creates the impression that aberrant sexual practices are more common than they really are, and that promiscuous behavior is normal. For example, in a 2000 meta-analysis of 46 published studies put out by the National Foundation for Family Research and Education at the University of Calgary, regular exposure to pornography increased risk of sexual deviancy (including lower age of first intercourse and excessive masturbation), increased belief in the “rape myth” (that women cause rape and rapists are normal), and was associated with negative attitudes regarding intimate relationships (e.g., rejecting the need for courtship and viewing persons as sexual objects). Indeed, neurological imaging confirms the latter finding. Susan Fiske, professor of psychology at Princeton University, used MRI scans to analyze the brain activity of men viewing pornography. She found that after viewing porn, men looked at women more as objects than as human beings.

To the best of my knowledge, Tim Allen, GQ, the Independent and NPR are not bastions of puritanical morality. So there must be something to the reports and accounts that are so readily available. In Britain’s The Telegraph, Radhika Sanghani wrote last month about the impact of pornography on her peers–young, professional women in the UK: “The consequences have been severe. These porn videos showed a one-sided, male perspective of sex – with overly-eager girls and absolutely no emphasis on female pleasure. A number of my peers now have sexual issues they directly relate to porn…. As scientists have previously suggested, many can also struggle with intimacy. But this is not the end of porn’s influence. While girls of my generation would watch porn simply to learn what third base was, now a new generation of girls is watching it for career advice. Seriously.” Sanghani describes how young women, even teenagers, are attracted to the seemingly-glamorous life of being a porn star only to be shocked by the realities of the industry that kicks them to the curb after a few months because they are old news.

The good news is that Sanghani also reported that Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt hotel chains have recently banned on-demand porn and adult entertainment in their guest rooms. This is a welcome development. Far more has to be done though to address the root cause of the problems of porn–both for the users of it and the makers and actors in it. Those roots can be found tracing back to a rejection of God and His design for humanity in general and intimacy in particular. Even if you are not swayed by biblical arguments, though, the roots can be traced to the decline of the family, to a redefinition of love and sexuality, to a destruction of the idea that sex is more than a physical act.

So Playboy’s decision to stop printing nudity is news, but it is, sadly, not-so-good news. I am sure I am not the only one who would gladly go back to the days of Playboy and Penthouse appearing behind opaque panels on convenience store and news stand shelves if it meant we no longer had millions of pages of porn on the internet. The internet is going away, though, and neither is pornography, which is all the more reason for parents to be diligent in monitoring their children’s use of the internet and digital devices. The reason porn is not going anywhere is that there is a market for it. Legislation and litigation will not change that; only a heart change can cause someone to realize that genuine relationships with real people are more meaningful and more satisfying than the fake interactions made possible through porn. Only a heart change can cause someone to recognize that her real worth is not in her body and that any pleasure she thinks she is deriving from the attention she receives in displaying and offering her body is temporary. So let’s not celebrate the Playboy announcement. There is still much work to be done.

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