Hugh Hefner and the Logic of Porn

I’ve just written a piece for the Calvinist International on the subject of Hugh Hefner and the logic of porn. Within it I argue, along with a 2003 piece by Read Mercer Schuchardt, that porn leads to the feminization of men, the masculinization of women, and the homosexualization of sex. I challenge the nervousness we have in speaking about these controversial issues.

What Wittgenstein wrote of suicide—‘when one investigates it, it is like investigating mercury vapor in order to comprehend the nature of vapors’—is something that the Christian tradition has often recognized to be true of homosexual relations. There is something paradigmatic about this sin that serves to reveal the character of sin more generally, especially in the arena of sexual relations. This realization strongly challenges any who would like to treat persons who engage in homosexual relations as a special class of moral lepers, in comparison with whom we can all flatter ourselves in self-righteousness. The Christian tradition has often displayed this moral insight in the ways that it has, however imperfectly, condemned homosexual relations: it has condemned them, not as a discrete and detached type of sin, but as the paradigm species of a particular genus of sins. These sins would include things such as anal sex, masturbation, and other forms of sexual relations seeking to frustrate their proper procreative end.

In claiming that ‘all pornography is ultimately homosexual,’ Schuchardt shares this insight. If we were to think that his claim is merely an opportunistic attempt to appropriate a stigma that exists against homosexual relations and apply it to pornography use, we would be badly misunderstanding him. Schuchardt is engaging in something closer to a task of harmatological taxonomy—exploring the proper classification and phylogeny of sins and vices—a serious task which, though quite unfashionable, is immensely important and illuminating.

Read the whole thing here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Culture, Ethics, Guest Post, In the News, Sex and Sexuality, Society, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Hugh Hefner and the Logic of Porn

  1. Geoff says:

    Having read your original article, I’ m not sure what to say.
    It’s as if you’ve let the brake off, nuance and modulated discourse analysis left behind in, rightly exposing the redacted CT article. Well done. Your head is well above the parapet. You’ll need allies. More than ever, the full armour of God, a hiddeness in Christ.
    There seems to have been, for some while now, a gradually developing boldness in your writings.

  2. p duggie says:

    Thanks for pointing out the CT editing of the article. Very interesting.

    Two thoughts

    1. it strikes me that “straight” porn of the, say, phallocentric variety has a homoerotic component that the straight viewer probably suppresses in various ways.

    2. I wonder about the “perfect impossible bodies” critique of playboy type porn holding in a world of “amateur” porn trends.

  3. quinnjones2 says:

    Wow! You certainly didn’t beat about the bush – good stuff, Alastair!
    I read the 2003 CT article recently and I was impressed – thank you for enlightening us by giving the omissions from that article, along with your comments (Ignorance is not bliss!)
    It seems to me that you have shown that porn and other behaviours arising from abuses of our God-given sexuality are rooted in downright selfishness, and that they do not in any way spring from love for others

  4. katie says:

    I’d like to hear a little more on the feminization of men, as relates to porn. The masculinization of women seems an accurate description, but things like men appreciating “literature, a good pipe” etc aren’t convincing to me. As a masculine knitter, could you elaborate on this? (I realize you didn’t write that original article).

    • Lol! Good question, Katie.

      The Playboy vision of masculinity was of the man as sophisticate and connoisseur, of the man with high taste in fashion, art, literature, and, oh, naked women, of man as skillful consumer. However, this vision is one in which the man is primarily located in a domestic realm and spends most of his time around women. Although such a man may situate his sense of masculinity in his refined masculine tastes in consumption and may flaunt his heterosexuality, treating the women around him as other fine objects in his life, ultimately his world is fairly unmanly. He is a ladies’ man, not a man’s man.

      Hefner himself was the perfect image of this. He was like the rebellious adolescent boy who never grew up, left home, and learned to be a man among men. The domestic world he inhabited was oestrogen-driven, a mansion shared with studiedly immature ‘girls’. He was the pampered princeling, the teenage boy who never became a man.

      There is nothing wrong with a man being a literate pipe-smoker, but a man who pursues Hefner’s playboy vision is courting the sort of juvenilization and feminization that Hefner himself exemplified on account of his ‘playmates’ and his hyper-domestication. You don’t become a grown up man by spending your time playing along with girls.

      • katie says:

        That’s very helpful, thanks. Doug Wilson has a recent article on pitfalls of homeschooling, one of which is the growing boy constantly at home with mom. I homeschool four of them, so this is something I think about. Quite a different category from the playboy mansion, but still.

      • If I remember correctly, someone asked me a question about that on my Curious Cat account. It may have been you. I’ve been fairly busy over the last few days, so haven’t gotten around to answering it, but hope to do so.

  5. Thanks for a most enlightening piece, Alastair. Not least, indeed perhaps most significantly for highlighting the conflict within the broad arena of Christian ‘thought’ regarding on the one hand male female ‘equality’ (a term which is always is reductionist in its account of male and female) and pornography, same sex relationships et al. One leads to the other. It recalls another conflict which you have highilghted regarding the ready acceptance of contraception and divorce within evangelical circles and the contradictory approach to same gender ‘marriage’. I’ve likened this to “having blown off the roof and burnt down the doors of marriage, we now stand as police ‘guarding’ the institution from others who would do it harm”.

    I am very grateful for the way in which you’ve helped me more clearly understand the deeper issues involved here and the loss of the human, and the way in which you help us to think holistically.

  6. Alastair, I hope you won’t mind a bit of push back and engagement.
    Over the past week I’ve seen this article positively referenced in multiple places, much to my surprise. I find the connect between Hefner, the Playboy legacy, and homosexuality to be quite tenuous, with slight support from evidence.

    To say that porn and masturbation feminizes men and masculinizes women is absurd. Porn turns women into sex slaves and masturbation keeps men in their “not good”, pre-imago Dei male-onlyness.

    Furthermore, any true acquaintance with or real understanding of the male homosexual lived experience would have to acknowledge that the entire dynamic depends upon the dominant, hyper-masculine role as initiator. The effeminate is merely a transition point in, but completely unsustainable in a longitudinal sense.

    For a first hand understanding, check out Joseph Sciambra’s story of surviving the hyper-masculinized world of male homoeroticism.
    http://josephsciambra.com/s

  7. katie says:

    That curious cat question wasn’t me, but I’m headed there now to check it out!

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