When I was 16, I had the opportunity to visit the Playboy Mansion. A friend of the family was a personal buddy of Hef’s. I was certain this visit would somehow be the day I’d lose my virginity… Or at least the first time I’d see a naked woman in person. Maybe the first time I’d see illegal drugs? I was a little scared, but electric with excitement. I was certain my life was about to get a whole lot more “Miami Vice”.
None of those things happened. I did meet a centerfold model, who had a stack of photos from a recent shoot. She asked “What does everyone think of these?” but right before handing me the prints, she said, “wait… how old are you?” and took them away. Rats. The closest I got to a “Playboy moment” was having a model tell me I couldn’t see her pictures.
But I did get a private tour of the famous grounds, grotto, and zoo. We dined in the private kitchen, where a great chef would prepare and serve any food you could imagine, on demand. I had a perfect hamburger, and only later realized I should have asked for something more exotic.
This was all while waiting for Hef to “come down.” His sleeping quarters were on the second floor, and everyone had strict instructions never to disturb him until he chose to descend the grand staircase and officially begin the day. (I later learned that this seemingly-eccentric practice is common among royalty, or anyone of an older age who has a large house and staff.)
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The main visit was the four of us quietly watching a vintage boxing match with Hef in his private screening room while he drank Diet Pepsi, which he described as his “last remaining vice”. Wow. Let me say it again: All the money and opportunity in the world, and his “guilty pleasure” was to watch old boxing matches on TV and drink diet soda.
I also overheard a conversation in which Hef was lamenting the trials of getting older. Our friend said, “Yeah, it’s hard…” when Hef sharply interrupted and said, “No, I just told you, it’s NOT HARD… that’s the problem!” They both had a loud laugh.
Holy crap! In utter shock, I quietly thought to myself, “Did I just hear the demigod of sex, the living incarnation of erotic lifestyle, confess to impotence??? There must be justice in the world! Maybe there’s a natural law, that if one person has sex with too many partners, they’re forced to stop and give other people a chance. Maybe someday I won’t be alone.”
Sexually frustrated teenage boys have some pretty strange ideas. My thoughts about relationships have certainly evolved in the 30 years since that meeting, and my thoughts about Playboy have changed since being married and having a daughter.
I still think that consenting people doing what makes them happy is a universal good – and that following our instincts is liberating. People have enjoyed looking at nude pictures of idealized women (and men) for millennia before Hef came along. He simply made a business of doing it in a high-quality print magazine, and adding some well-written articles. For what it’s worth, Playboy was recently the first “adult magazine” to stop featuring nude photos, saying the internet has rendered them too commonplace to be interesting.
I know that many women face challenges of objectification, body shame, and even human trafficking… but those dark sides don’t automatically apply to the entirety of erotica. There’s a great deal of joy for many; money for some (not just the owners); and empowerment for others. And freedom of expression. I don’t feel it’s for any one person to decide the line between “art” and “smut”, or to revere one while censoring the other. Let’s work to diminish the bad while celebrating the good.
In the past 24 hours I’ve seen protests against positive remembrances of Hefner — mainly about his personal conduct, stories about him paying women to call themselves his “girlfriends”, take drugs, tolerate abusive language, participate in group sex, and make public appearances with him.
While those stories sound possible, and they describe a lifestyle different than the one I choose to lead, I don’t consider it my authority to judge the choices made by sex workers or the personal relationships of others.
This article is simply to share one experience from 30 years ago, and the impressions that day made on me.