Hugh Hefner and the Problem of Sexual Non-Polarity

Ross Douthat opined on the death of the arch-pornographer:

Hugh Hefner, gone to his reward at the age of 91, was a pornographer and chauvinist who got rich on masturbation, consumerism and the exploitation of women, aged into a leering grotesque in a captain’s hat, and died a pack rat in a decaying manse where porn blared during his pathetic orgies.

Hef was the grinning pimp of the sexual revolution, with quaaludes for the ladies and Viagra for himself — a father of smut addictions and eating disorders, abortions and divorce and syphilis, a pretentious huckster who published Updike stories no one read while doing flesh procurement for celebrities, a revolutionary whose revolution chiefly benefited men much like himself.

That’s a great paragraph. Hefner contributed, in his own way, to the dissolution of the very foundation of American culture that made innovations like spaceships, smart phones, and breast implants (central to his lurid industry) possible. But to refer to him as “a father…of eating disorders…” is ludicrous.

There is almost no research literature supporting the claim that media portrayals of thin (or overly thin) women influences eating disorders. Women weigh, on average, as much now as men did in the 1960s, and men are fatter too! Just looking around in the 1940s-1980s one would see more thinner people than one would likely see on television now. So, unless Douthat wants to argue that publishing air-brushed photographs of women with low BMI causes mass binge eating disorder, that element is flatly false. 

It matters that it’s false. Implicit in the idea that media portrayals of thin women create disordered eating is the notion that the male preference for certain body-types in their sexual partners is a form of exploitation and oppression (see The Feminine Mystique). 

But Hefner, for all his evil, didn’t create sexual preferences any more than 50 Shades of Gray did. He exploited them.[1]The idea that the general male sexual preference for reproductively viable partners is a uniquely evil invention of the modern American man is a pox on our modern worldview that contradicts biology, the history of literature and art, as well as an implicit attack on the value of sexual polarity in the first place. Douthat, apparently buys into that.

Hefner’s influence is so rotten, not because his wares imply the notion that a beautiful woman can catch the eye of a man and procure resources from him, that’s part of what marriage is! Instead, Hefner’s whole industry is so dastardly because it exploits sexual polarity in order to undermine it all together. How? When sex is reduced to actors acting and individuals watching, the immediate motivator for sexual reproduction and competition is rendered void. When men who have normal sexual desires find themselves more motivated to masturbate to porn than to make money, invent the future, and raise families, civilization loses. But not only does civilization lose, when men and women do not engage in the dance/war of dealing with the fact that they are practically different species from one another, they lose an essential component of meaning in their daily existence. 

The economic, individual psychological, and evolutionary results of a vastly pornographic culture are worth further reflection in the future.

Camille Paglia, who wrongly assesses Hefner as a positive influence on our culture, has a much more realistic and controversial read on the allure of pornography:

The unhappy truth is that the more the sexes have blended, the less each sex is interested in the other. So we’re now in a period of sexual boredom and inertia, complaint and dissatisfaction, which is one of the main reasons young men have gone over to pornography. Porn has become a necessary escape by the sexual imagination from the banality of our everyday lives, where the sexes are now routinely mixed in the workplace. 

 

With the sexes so bored with each other, all that’s left are these feminist witch-hunts. That’s where the energy is! And meanwhile, men are shrinking. I see men turning away from women and simply being content with the world of fantasy because women have become too thin-skinned, resentful and high maintenance. 

And American women don’t know what they want any longer. In general, French women — the educated, middle-class French women, I mean — seem to have a feminine composure, a distinct sense of themselves as women, which I think women in America have gradually lost as they have won job equality in our high-pressure career system.

She’s probably right, but I’ll add two thoughts.

First, Hugh Hefner and those like him, by providing a fantastical world of unattainably attractive women has contributed to the collapse sexual polarity. Why be masculine if you can simply image having sex with the sort of people you wish loved you? And why by gracious and feminine when men live in pornworldtm

I would add that men themselves have become too boring, Christina Hoff Sommers wrote about how the public school system has contributed to this. But that is its own problem. To be a safe and good husband/father entails a bit of boredom, but to be too safe is to invite less attention from women [unless you’re tall or rich]. It’s stormy sea, but honestly it’s one that people have navigated in different ways that have been fun and fruitful for thousands of years. 

The question is this: what could you do to extract yourself from pornworldtm on the one hand, and utilize sexual polarity to enhance your virtue and sense of meaning on the other? 

References

[1] The research on sexual motivation vs sexual orientation is interesting. Here are a couple of paragraphs from a recent attempt at a theory of sexual orientation:

“…In our understanding, not all stimuli that are perceived as sexually arousing necessarily correspond to a sexual orientation. Instead, in terms of the chronophilias, it seems useful to differentiate between a relatively rigid sexual orientation for specific body schemas (in terms of sexual attractions as opposed to sexual behaviors and/or identities that are to a much larger extent malleable by cultural and social norms/expectations; Bailey et al., 2016) and relatively incidentally acquired (for lack of a better term) sexual motivations based on experiences of sexual arousal or gratification contingent to certain stimuli…

 

…If it was an evolutionary successful strategy to seek fertile females, modules that direct sexual attraction to visually accessible indicators of reproductive maturity and fertility should have reproduced with a higher frequency than others. As youth or maturity are social constructions rather than perceivable characteristics of potential mates, these modules should be sensitive to easily perceivable features…

 

Nevertheless, to fully understand why so many men turn out to be teleiophilic and heterosexual, it seems reasonable to assume that at least some of the building blocks of this sexual orientation are pre-discursively determined. [I know in academia you can assume nothing, but how was this not obvious?]

To the surprise of no sane individual, on a planet where seven billion people exist by means of sexual reproduction, men appear to be evolutionarily hardwired to be teleiophilic (attracted to the sexually mature) heterosexuals who prefer visible cues of reproductive fitness. But within the confines of sexual orientation, variances of sexual motivation occur due to choice, enculturation, and so-on.

The insidiousness of Hefner’s influence is not in that he created a sexual preference for certain alluring features (obviously, he sold what already interested the sort of people who buy porn). Instead, he contributed to the transformation of sexual motivation toward masturbation, which makes the hedonic release of orgasm easier than the process of finding a mate and setting out on life’s journeys together. Masturbation was always available, but in a more secular culture it is no longer associated with shame which might lead to trying to find a mate. It also never used to be performed in the context of access to millions of pornographic images and videos. As mentioned above, this deadens one’s sense of meaning on the individual and civilizational level. Hefner contributed to that. 

The rise in weight [from food availability and mass binge eating] and the consequent decrease in reproductive viability of men and women in the United States is an entirely different issue and to imply that sexual attraction is not tied to reproductive cues in the absence pornography is wishful thinking about the most fundamental market place.