No Nudity in Playboy

Why Playboy Without Nudity is Bad News

Scrolling through my twitter feed, I noticed the words, Nudes are Old News at Playboy. I immediately attributed the headline to the “The Onion.” Then I saw it again. The third time the same idea came barreling up from the depths of my twitter feed, I knew, click-bait or not, I needed to verify that shocking statement. With a single tap, twitter rerouted me to The New York Times.

It is true. Playboy magazine will end their 62-year streak of publishing nude photographs beginning March of 2016.

Immediately I felt something along the lines of elation. “Ha!” I thought, “Finally, a victory in this war on pornography.” My elation lived as long as a sparkler on the Fourth of July.

A few paragraphs into the New York Times announcement a quote from Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive, sparked a different kind of fire in my gut. Flanders explains the companies move away from nudity this way: “That battle has been fought and won. You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s [publishing nude pictures] just passé at this juncture.”

Too Much Pornography for Playboy

It’s hard to get a handle on the size of the adult entertainment business. The private companies that make up most of the industry benefit from an obscured valuation; therefore, we don’t have a reliable one. Even so, we know that once the first Playboy debuted in 1953 pornography pulled up a chair and made itself at home.

The sexual revolution didn’t discriminate. Women and men alike opened their living rooms to the sexual freedom propagated in Playboy. Soon enough pornography was more mainstream than not, and today “Everybody is doing it” may not be so hyperbolic of a statement.

A 2014 study by the Barna Group reports that 79% of men ages 18-30, 67% of men ages 31-49, and 49% of men ages 50-68 view pornography at least once a month. What happens if you bump up the frequency to those men who view pornography multiple times a week? Well, the numbers hold strong at 63%, 38%, and 25% respectively. Certainly, women view less pornography. But the Barna report suggests that women are no stranger to the darker side of the internet. According to the report 76% of women aged 18-30 view pornography monthly.

I understand why Flanders believes Playboy won the culture war on sexuality. But it seems winning the sexual revolution isn’t making Playboy as much money as fighting for it did.

The decision to leave behind this defining Playboy offering reads like a case study out of an undergraduate economics book. Free pornography formatted for consumption via any screen is accessible simply through an internet connection. No more looking under dad’s mattress, no one waits around for the mail man anymore, and most pornography sites cost nothing.

Flanders must have taken economics. He told the New York Times, “12-year-old me is very disappointed in current me. But it’s the right thing to do.”  In other words, Playboy didn’t stumble across a moral compass, there’s just too much pornography out there to compete and win in the nudity business.

Pornography isn’t an Us vs Them Problem

Saying that pornography has become an acceptable piece of “culture” makes it easy to image people walking the streets of another city, folks sitting in apartment buildings a few streets over from yours, or to think that those kids who graduated from your rival university have really veered off course. It’s unlikely you imagine pornography pulling up a seat in the pew next to you.

But Church, we have the same problem.

Christians have logged enough visits to pornographic websites to be counted among the culture change that changed Playboy. We already know we contribute to the clicks. We don’t need a survey to tell us that’s true. A quick perusal of Christian blogs or website exposes our entanglement. Christian sites offer articles addressing the issue of pornography, approaching the topic of pastors who view pornography, and advising Christians on how to free themselves from the addiction. Pornography is our problem too. 

Changing Hearts Not Headlines

Yesterdays announcement that Playboy will forsake nudity is not proof of healing it’s a symptom of how far our disease has spread. Pornography has set up residence in the homes of both men and women, and it’s found a place at the table of believers and unbelievers alike. More pornography, not more righteousness, took the nudity out of Playboy.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a supporter of publishing nude images in Playboy or anywhere else. What I want is the church to celebrate for the right reasons. I want to see fruit of the church walking by the Spirit and not gratifying the flesh (Galatians 5:26). I want to see the demand for debauchery dry up so quickly that the industry revolts (Acts 19:23-27). Call me Jael, but I want the headlines to reveal tent pegs (Judges 4:17-22; 5:24-27). What we need is heart change not headlines. Let’s be people who know the difference. Lets be those who pursue gospel motivated purity in ourselves, in our churches, and within our culture.

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