On December 31st more than 20 years ago, I remember going to a bar with some friends to bring in the new year in the Gaslamp district of San Diego. We drank too much, tried to hit on some women, wore the plastic hats and counted down as the ball came down. If a picture from that night were available on the Internet, then it might show a few twenty-somethings, in good shape and smiling at the camera. To all appearances, my earlier self was having a great time and the night was an enormous amount of fun. In reality, that occasion marked the last time I ever celebrated a New Year’s Eve. When I woke up the next morning with a mild hangover, I decided that the whole night had not been worth it and resolved not to subject myself to such boredom and loneliness again.
I remembered this incident earlier this week as I considered an interview with Holly Madison on her recently released memoir. In it she details how she was miserable at the Playboy Mansion and makes a number of ugly allegations against Hugh Hefner. As I considered the ugliness that she described, the contrast between the facade that we all wear in public and the reality of what we experience struck me. Like my younger self smiling at the camera and pretending that he was having a good time while he was inwardly miserable, it seemed to me that Holly Madison’s perky and fun-loving television persona was a masquerade that she purposefully wore to deceive others. In so doing, of course, she persuaded countless young men and women that the life of a porn model was glamorous and fun and did an enormous amount of harm.
As an example of this harm, I remember the arguments I had with young women on the acceptability of casual sex, porn, abortion and other lifestyle choices. The argument these young women used to close their case was as painful as it was irrefutable. “Women who make such choices are beautiful young women who are enjoying their lives. They have made their decisions and who are you to question them? You are reacting out of jealousy because you cannot have that lifestyle.” The truth of these words stung horribly. I was jealous, they were beautiful young women, they had made their choices and who was I to question those choices? I would sullenly sulk as I walked away and went to stew in anger, resentment and jealousy.
Of course, the whole picture looks tremendously different from the perspective of Holly Madison’s memoir. The story that Hugh Hefner sold in his magazines and videos was that the Playboy lifestyle was healthy, honest, based on a mutual love of sex and pleasure and knowingly entered into by secure young women who knew what they wanted. The picture painted by Holly Madison, on the other hand, is that of an insecure young woman who had no idea who she was or what she wanted and was manipulated into doing things that made her uncomfortable using money, drugs and psychological pressure. I wonder if her experience would change the minds of any of my early disputants on these topics?
Of course, the bigger question is how representative Holly Madison’s experience is of young women who made such choices as a result of the Sexual Revolution. If the majority of women who participated in the “free love” revolution that began in the sixties had bad experiences with it that they later regretted and made them feel exploited, then we as a society should admit that our experiment with “free love” was a failure and advocate for a more traditional view of sex and marriage. Though the Bible assures me that such dissatisfaction should be widespread because human beings crave the genuine self-sacrificial love we were made for, the reluctance with which women publicly admit to errors of this kind makes this difficult to verify. The problem is compounded by the fact that no individual person can compare mutually exclusive lifestyle choices. A person who chose to experiment sexually cannot know what it would have been like if they had done the hard work of pursuing a lifelong partner and vice versa. Is Holly Madison’s experience representative of what young women experienced as the result of the Sexual Revolution? We cannot know except by divine revelation.
As a Christian who believes that God’s purpose for sex is to teach us how to love and genuinely care for someone fundamentally different from ourselves in emotional and psychological makeup, of course, I believe that Holly Madison’s experience is very similar to the experiences that most women have had when they experimented with extra-marital sex. Though sin can be pleasurable for a season, my understanding of the Bible tells me that most women should regret many of the irresponsible choices they made when they were younger even if they are never bold enough to admit it. Having gone so far as to admit publicly that she made mistakes, I will pray that Holly Madison takes the next step and accepts her responsibility for the harm that she has done to herself and to others and accepts the forgiveness that Jesus Christ made available to us on his cross. It would be encouraging to have a voice that added a genuinely healthy and honest perspective to the social conversation on sex and marriage.