Hugh Hefner & The Legacy of Pornography

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As someone whose childhood was severely damaged by pornography, I find it difficult to be undisturbed by the sorrow which so many have expressed at the passing of Hugh Hefner. They mourn as if a great benefactor of humanity has been lost. These people do not comprehend the true nature of Hugh Hefner’s pornography. They do not understand, or they choose to ignore, the dehumanizing sexualization of the female body which he helped normalize.

I remember, being around 11 years old, and having to delete photos of simulated rapes and nude teen girls off my desktop just so I could start my homework. You see, my dad used to save porn to my computer. That was one of his methods of abuse. He particularly favored porn featuring girls who looked like me, with men who looked his age.

Jennifer Grassman

Holding a newborn puppy at our family home in Austin, Texas

He also enjoyed watching me find this porn. I remember catching him spying on me a few times, and the look on his face made me fear him. I feared for my life. No child should have nightmares of their own dad raping and killing them. However, this is damage that pornography (but ultimately my dad) inflicted upon me.

Some of the files I’d accidentally open, not realizing what they were until it was too late. I still have those images burned on my brain. Others were titled obvious things like “Brittany’s c***,” and I’d just move those straight to trash.

Because I grew up this way, I thought all men were like my dad. He was my blueprint of maleness, and he was disgusting. Once my mom asked me, “What type of man do you want to marry someday?”  I replied, “Someone not like daddy.”

I knew, even as a pre-teen child, that I was in a very dangerous situation. I prayed that God would empower me to see evil. I prayed that God would fill the role of “daddy” in my life. I prayed He would keep me from getting pregnant, addicted to drugs, or dead by the time I was sixteen. I prayed He’d sustain me through the nightmare I knew my teen years would be.

And He did.

When I was 15, I seriously considered suicide. By that time, I had known for many years that my dad was perverted and violent. For some reason, during my mid-teens, I understood to a knew depth that he did not love me. This realization came crashing down on me one afternoon, and it was too much to bear. The prospect of waiting three long years to be 18 — old enough to go to college and leave home — seemed like an eternity. It was three years of promised torment. However, I was also scared to kill myself.

My dad had told me when I was about 5 years old, “The biggest loser in the world is one who can’t even kill themselves.” Those cruel and evil words rang in my head as I contemplated enduring life on earth, or taking my chances in the next life. Heaven seemed far more appealing to me than continued hell with my dad.

I took a razor blade up to my bedroom, and I prayed and wept for hours. I told God I was done, and that I felt like an orphan. I felt like helpless prey trapped alone with a diseased predator. I had tried to tell pastors and friends about my dad’s problems, but none of my words communicated what I meant. When I said, “My dad has anger problems,” they thought I meant he got road rage or was grumpy before his morning coffee. They didn’t understand that I meant, “He has threatened to kill our whole family if we try to leave him.”

Any time I considered explaining the sexual abuse, the words stuck in my throat. They were too grotesque and disturbing to utter. I was a child, unused to and yet well acquainted with evil.

I felt like an orphan. I felt like helpless prey trapped alone with a diseased predator.

I asked God, “If I kill myself, will I go to Hell? I can’t live in the hell I’m in right now. Will you please take me to Heaven to be with You?”

Unlike the thousands of prayers I’d prayed before, or the thousands I would pray after, to this one I received a strikingly clear audible response.  The voice that spoke was one I’d never heard before, and yet I knew it well. It was as if its tenor was woven into my very DNA.

“I will never leave you or forsake you,” God said.

Yet, packaged along with these profound words of promise, was an overwhelming concern for what would happen to my mother and sisters if I went through with suicide.

That day, I determined to suffer my dad’s perversion and violence for three more years. I would take it, and I would survive, because if I didn’t, my mom and siblings would be destroyed. Without me around to take his hate, I knew he’d turn on them. I also knew that they’d never understand why I chose not to go on, because no one knew (or at least, no one acknowledged) what was being done to me.

My pain was an island; standing in plain sight, yet never comprehended or explored. I was a lightening-rod for hate; I kept our family together, for better or for worse, and the emotional-language-barrier that made my pleas for help ineffectual grew thicker, because now I began to question my own sanity.

How could a sane person be so depressed that they wanted to die?  How could an innocent child think such terrible things about their own daddy? How could a strong person not be brave enough to tell the truth? How could a good daughter yearn so badly to betray her own father?

Everyone else thought he was a normal Christian husband and father. Why didn’t I? What if the abuse and pain I felt was all in my head?

You see, this was the constant chant of my abuser; “It’s all in your head.”

If I was depressed, it was all in my head.

If I caught a cold, it was all in my head.

If I was afraid of my dad, it was all in my head.

If I stood up to him, I was a disrespectful, ungrateful, emotional “piece of meat,” who needed to fix her attitude.

This is what he told me. This is what he taught me.

However, my dad’s gas-lighting lost its power when, as a teenager, I came to understand an interesting truth:

Just because something happens in your head, doesn’t make it not real.

Think about it.

Lust, hate, apathy, sexual fantasies, and self-deception; these are all things that happen in your head, yet the damage they incur in the physical world is unfathomable. Likewise, love, mercy, faithfulness, joy, and forgiveness, all happen in your head, yet they are so profoundly real that they have the power change the course of the entire world.

From that point on, every time my dad told me something was, “All in your head,” I replied in my head, “So is love.” The majority of my dad’s sins were all in his head, and yet they devastated my childhood with the force of a wrecking ball. Half the things which he claimed were my imagination — from his lust for his own daughter, to his hitting me until I bore hand-shaped bruises — were most definitely real and excruciatingly consequential.

“And [Jesus] said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.'” Mark 7:20-23

Whoever died on September 27 — whatever died — he took a fragment of my childhood with him, and for that I am grateful. If only Hugh Hefner’s magazines, websites, mansions, and lies could be buried with him. Then, the world would be a much better place.

I don’t know whether Hugh Hefner was responsible for creating any of the porn my dad showed me, but given his prominence in the industry, the likelihood does seem high. Whatever the case, Hefner played a prominent role in normalizing pornography in American pop culture. His life’s work did (and continues to do) incalculable damage on innumerable lives.

Supposedly, my dad first began looking at porn when he was in his early teens. While I do hold Hugh Hefner largely accountable for normalizing porn, and for influencing millions of men to succumb to their baser natures, my dad’s sin is his own. Like Hefner, he will one day meet God, and God judges the heart “all in your head.”

My prayer is that, with the death of Hugh Hefner, the millions of people addicted and afflicted by pornography will remember their mortality, remember their Creator, and make peace with a just God. Whether Christ returns tomorrow, or in a thousand years, we will all meet him face to face in under 80.

“The Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him.”
Habakkuk 2:20

She's a Texan stay-at-home mom of three who listens to heavy metal and likes black licorice. She's baking, piano-playing poet who loves fantasy literature, Star Trek, and will slay you at Scrabble. But even as she's changing diapers, sweeping up Cheerios, and cleaning peanut butter off the cat, Jennifer is thinking about writing. Whether she's crafting her next humorous parenting anecdote, composing a new song, or contemplating a profound theological concept, 87.42% of Jennifer's writing is done in her head.
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Comments 1

  1. May God bless you and bring healing to your life. Your story, as horrible as it is, should help other women cope, and I pray that it will. The greatest hope is that it will reveal to men that viewing pornography is not just indulging a weakness of the flesh, like eating too many french fries when you know they are bad for you; it can easily become a soul-destroying perversion, twisting personal relationships and bringing profound harm to those close to you.
    When I was younger I heard other young men claim that they read Playboy just for the articles. My response–besides “yeah, right”–was that there was greater harm in the Playboy philosophy than in the pictures. I still believe that, but you remind me that every female nude is a child of God, whose sexuality was intended by Him to be shared with one man for a lifetime for mutual pleasure, not splattered across the internet to be the object of lust for millions.
    Jesus often said to those He healed, “Your faith has made you well.” I can’t say it with His authority, but I believe and pray that your courage to share will make you well, and faith will sustain you for a lifetime–and then eternity. Grace and peace to you.

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