Watch Out, Men — Playboy Wants You

Stack of magazines
About a decade ago, I had a conversation with a group of friends about the problem of pornography addiction. I mentioned Playboy, which was the extent of my knowledge of porn at the time, and a male peer chuckled at my naivety. “Guys don’t use Playboy anymore,” he said, as if I had referenced Model Ts or 8-tracks. “It’s all online.” I’m sure that with smartphones, that fact is even more true today than it was back then.

Last week, I was intrigued to hear that Playboy will no longer publish full nudity in its magazine. I guessed its motives weren’t virtuous, and then I read an interesting piece at Relevant in which Aaron Cline Hanbury argued that the move away from nudity is actually a bad sign. He said, “Apparently, we live in such a pornified culture, that the only way to attract readers to a magazine built around ogling women is to put clothes back on them.” Or as Playboy CEO, Scott Flanders, said it in  an interview with The New York Times, “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so [nudity is] just passé at this juncture.”

The industry that Playboy launched has essentially put the magazine out of a job. But make no mistake: Playboy is not through with objectifying women or entangling men in sexual sin. This is a marketing move. From the Times: “The target audience, Mr. Flanders said, is young men who live in cities. ‘The difference between us and Vice,’ he said, ‘is that we’re going after the guy with a job.’”

And all the changes have been tested in focus groups with an eye toward attracting millennials — people between the ages of 18 and 30-something, a market that’s highly coveted by advertisers. The magazine will feature visual artists, with their work dotted through the pages, in part because research revealed that younger people are drawn to art.

Playboy is rebranding itself, promising a “PG-13” experience. In fact, in August of last year, the magazine did a test run with its online content, tossing out nudity, and making its offerings on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook “safe for work.” The results were dramatic. Playboy executives said the average age of its reader dropped from 47 to just over 30, and its web traffic jumped to about 16 million from about four million unique users per month.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear “PG-13,” I reflexively think acceptable. If a 13-year-old can supposedly look at it without parental guidance, how bad can it be? And that’s the problem.

This scaled-down nudity may not be porn in the traditional sense, but it’s still the objectification of women. By splashing a little cool art on one page, a serious interview piece on another, and then a scantily-clad woman in a provocative pose on the next, the magazine is cloaking something insidious: the idea that a woman is a product to be used. And just because it will now be considered a little less trashy to have a Playboy out on the coffee table or on your Facebook News Feed, the effects aren’t any less deleterious. It’s the same old poison in a new bottle.

I see Playboy’s improbable move away from nudity as an example of Satan disguising himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). He’s adapting his strategy to lure in those who aren’t paying close attention. Scripture warns, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, ESV).

Listen to Hugh Hefner’s words from the 1953 debut issue of Playboy, noted in the Times article: “We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph, and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex …” Sounds enticing, doesn’t it? And harmless. Don’t be deceived. Playboy is still dishing out the same promise of intimacy that it can never deliver; it’s just readjusting its aim.

Focus on the Family offers assistance to people who are facing sexual addiction. Get more information.

About the Author

Suzanne Gosselin
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin

Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is a freelance writer and editor. She graduated from Multnomah University with a degree in journalism and biblical theology. She lives in California with her husband, Kevin, who is a family pastor, and her four young children: Josiah, Sadie, Amelia and Jackson. When she’s not hanging out with her kids, Suzanne loves a good cup of coffee, conversation with friends, musical theater and a trip to the beautiful California coast.