An Unhappy Birthday

This month Playboy is celebrating its 60th birthday. And at age 60 the iconic “adult” magazine is more than past its prime—it’s on life support. Its sales have plummeted, its profits have vanished, and the value of its parent company has collapsed.

That’s the good news. The bad news is why it has happened. After leading the charge to popularize pornography, Playboy has, as writer Suzanne Fields put it, “suffered the consequences of the de-moralization of the culture that it set in motion. It has lots of competition.” In fact, pornographic magazines generally are becoming a rare species; but that’s only because they’ve given way to porn that is more vivid, more explicit, and more accessible, thanks to modern technology.

Playboy’s troubles aside, pornography is big business these days. What not so long ago was mostly limited to shadowy operators and seedy establishments has become a multi-billion-dollar industry. Most of its money comes from cable/satellite/pay-per-view TV, video sales and rentals, and the internet—all avenues for porn viewing that essentially didn’t exist back when Playboy was in its heyday. And while those revenues have fallen sharply in recent years, the cause appears to be, not a drop in demand, but intense competition, and especially an explosion in the amount of free porn available online. (After all, no matter what the product, it’s hard to make money selling it when people can get it for free.)

Pornography has been around for a long time, of course. There are even pornographic frescoes in the ruins of ancient Pompeii, dating to the New Testament era. But never before has porn been as life-like and easy to obtain as it is now. And, in American culture at least, never before has it been so widely accepted. A Los Angeles Times article notes that pornography is so accessible, even for teenagers, that it hardly raises a pulse anymore. “Porn is just another form of entertainment now,” said one teen. “I mean, porn is really easy to get now. It’s like, who cares?” Another said, “Pornography is just part of the culture now. It’s almost like it’s not even, like, porn.” Like, really.

I won’t trouble you with the statistics on pornography’s ill effects. It’s enough to say that years of research show that porn can do—and has done—a lot of damage to people’s thinking, emotions, relationships, and communities. It has played a part in destroying lives, families…and most importantly, souls. (For a frank, informative, and Biblically-focused discussion of pornography, I recommend Jason Hardin’s book Hard Core: Defeating Sexual Temptation with a Superior Satisfaction, available from DeWard Publishing.)

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). The “look with lust” that Jesus describes is the very essence of pornography. To suggest otherwise is absurd. It is just the sort of behavior included in the New Testament word “sensuality” or “licentiousness” (Greek aselgeia), which Scripture repeatedly condemns (see Mark 7:22; Romans 13:13; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; 1 Peter 4:3). God’s will is that we conduct ourselves “in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion” (1 Thessalonians 4:4-5).

While it glorifies unrestrained sex, pornography devalues (and openly mocks) the very setting for which God designed our sexuality: marriage. “In the first issue,” wrote Fields, “Playboy identified its philosophy as anti-marriageIt vulgarized what most men and women in their deepest sentiments hold dear—an appreciation of intimacy through trust, the basis for every good relationship and every good marriage.” That is how pornography treats an honorable relationship that God ordained from the very beginning (see Matthew 19:3ff; Hebrews 13:4).

As a failing magazine marks an unhappy birthday, I’m praying that the industry Playboy helped to create will follow it down the drain to oblivion. I’m praying that men and women everywhere will once again learn to cherish God’s gift of marriage above the deceptive promises of porn and sexual immorality. I’m praying that God’s people will be relentless in pursuing purity and instilling it in our children, so that we can show others the way. Let’s resolve with David: “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes” (Psalm 101:3).