Playboy’s decision, pornography, and the hope of the gospel

Playboy’s decision

Something odd happened this week: Playboy will no longer show images of fully nude women. This announcement seems as absurd as Coke no longer selling soft drinks or Nike no longer selling shoes. Playboy personifies the push for available pornography and casual sex. The most amazing thing about this decision is that the executives of Playboy acknowledge that their magazine is making this change precisely because they have succeeded in the push for available pornography. According to the New York Times, Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive, said “You are now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”

You heard him right — Playboy is making this switch because they pushed for pornography and that push has made their magazine “passé.” Playboy defeated itself — it just took 63 years. It is our belief that our culture’s insistence that sex can be casual and pornography normal is going to always be self-defeating and more importantly, it misses out on the real meaning of life and the hope of the gospel. It is also our belief that the church has failed to talk about this well. Why? Because our normal response is to condemn or ignore rather than engage real people with honest conversations about the hope of a full life in Jesus.

The lies of pornography

Let’s look more broadly at the issue of pornography. Playboy may no longer show photos of nude women, but that isn’t a victory for the church or Christian values but rather evidence of a total defeat. Arthur is currently 31 years old and remembers when his friends discovered in middle school that pornography was available on dial-up internet one line of pixels at a time (or from an older student’s stolen Playboy). Today, pornography is accessed at high speeds from any cell phone of any person (that doesn’t exclude the ones in the hands of our elementary school children.) We have lost the cultural battle for the restraint on nude images. Pornography is easy to find. It is free. Nothing we can do will change those facts.

While we have lost the battle for access to pornographic images (as Playboy’s Chief executive said, “That battle has been fought and won”), we must regain our mission of casting a vision for a wholistic sexual and family life that is rooted in God’s purpose for our lives. In this endeavor, we might even find some unusual allies. One of us (Arthur) is a regular user of the popular website called Reddit, often known as the front page of the internet. This is definitely not a generally religious or Christian community. On it, though, is a subcommunity called r/nofap — a community in which “users abstain from pornography and masturbation for a period of time.” They describe the possible benefits of abstaining from pornography as “improved attitude,” “more time” because they are not wasting any of it on the internet looking at porn, “more hard drive space” because pornography takes up a lot of data on computers, “Increased Self-control” for those that are addicted to pornography, and the most interesting: “Numbed Pleasure Response Healing” because pornography influences the mind in such a way that each person requires more and more consumption of pornography in order to reach the same level of pleasure.

In other words, the most successful pitch of the secular community to abstain from pornography (and masturbation) is that it is, in the end, a more and more meaningless exercise. Or, in the words of the chief executive of Playboy, “Passé.” We Christians have always believed that sin is in the end unfulfilling. The fruit that Eve took from the tree did not nourish. The allure of beautiful women on a Playboy page or now on our computers and cell phones are 2-D images that diminish our ability to enjoy the real thing.

Is it any wonder that our world is filled with meaningless sex and broken marriages? We have told ourselves that sex isn’t important and what it has done is defeat the deep joy of what sex was meant to be. Pornography lies when it offers to satisfy us. We need to engage the world in honest conversations about the ways in which sin is unfulfilling and self-defeating. More than that, we Christians are here to point to the one who can satisfy. The challenge for Christian evangelism is how to offer a truly Christian approach to sex and family life in a world that is saturated with the wrong kind of sexuality. The damage done to women by the porn industry is incalculable as well, and our commitment to the equality and dignity of women requires a renewed message of creation in the image of God.

The hope of the gospel

As a pastor and bishop, we have met with people that have bought the lies of pornography and the world of casual sex. We know people who have derailed their lives because they had an image of what sex was meant to be that was divorced from the way that God intended it to be. Marriages are ruined. Children grow up in broken homes. And to top it off, no one that we know in that position has ever said that the sex or the pornography was worth the cost. As we wrote in our recent book Ask: Faith Questions in a Skeptical age, “If our culture is trying to imagine a world with a robust sexual and family life in which Jesus and churches are irrelevant, such an attempt will fail.”

And yet, as a pastor and a bishop, we know that there is still hope. The self-defeating nature of sin (like porn and adultery) means that there will come a time when the act will become meaningless and will lose its power. When sin becomes passé, we are able to do what Jesus did over and over again and declare that our sins can be forgiven. We can be made whole. Repentance and healing isn’t a joke — it is reality. Jesus’ resurrection means that if we die to our sins his power can make us whole. If Hugh Hefner sat with us for coffee we would tell him what we have told countless others: Pornography and Playboy are ultimately unfulfilling ventures. It’s time to give Jesus a chance.

Scott and Arthur are co-authors of the book Ask: Faith Questions in a Skeptical Age. You can find out more at

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