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"When did porn stop being a bad thing?"

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Have we all made our preparations for the wedding of the year? Sent a card wishing the blushing bride and groom well? Sighed with satisfaction at the swelling romance of it all? Maybe you have even waxed yourself up the wazoo and stitched a fake bunny tail to your old black basque in honour of the occasion?

I’m sorry. I’ve just realised you probably thought I was talking about the royal wedding! But no – I am speaking here of another special event, this time across the pond. For in just a few short weeks, Hugh Hefner is getting married.

It will be 85-year-old Hef’s third wedding and the first for his 24-yearold paramour, December 2009’s Playmate of the Month Crystal Harris. They became engaged last year, after their eyes met across a crowded (and, if recent public health reports of Legionnaire’s disease felling over 100 guests who bathed there in February, possibly slightly fetid) hot tub. She will wear pink, not white, down the aisle. I guess that jig is up.

What disconcerted me most about this news was not the 61-year-age gap, or anxiety about cynicism or scepticism spreading through the couple’s special day, but the fact that my first reaction was “Awww!”

Not, “Awww, Hugh Hefner’s getting married!” Not even, “Awww – an octogenarian is making one last, valiant grasp at happiness!” But, “Awww, bless! Remember Playboy?”

I was never a terrifically politically aware student. But there were a couple of things even semi-mushrooms like me were aware of – Margaret Thatcher had spragged up the country and pornography was evil. Andrea Dworkin was still alive and writing her impassioned polemics. Catherine MacKinnon was agitating in the US for legal reform and for those of us who couldn’t deal with anything quite so heavy, there was always Naomi Wolf and The Beauty Myth or Clare Short and her protests against Page 3 to alert us to the fact that all might not be well with our apparently egalitarian world.

And Playboy was held up as the exemplar of all that was wrong. Hef’s empire – his women-objectifying and humiliating empire – was mighty. His vile and filthy magazines that were undermining society’s progress, corrupting our young and unsettling our young women were swept off the shelves by irate mothers, students and anyone else who felt they had a stake in not being represented as sexual playthings for men. Even if you weren’t a sweeper, you had to applaud.

Are we really more empowered or have we just adopted an if-you-can’t-beat-’ em-join-’em mentality?

Anti-porn campaigns were rife and seen as a good and righteous thing. If anyone had told us that we would come to be living in an era where Playboy and its ilk would seem sweet and wholesome, infused with a nostalgic glow for simpler, more innocent times, we would not have believed them. Our Eighties/Nineties – basically our pre-internet – selves would have looked like Victorians being told that one day women would be flaunting their ankles. But, inexorably, the world has changed and it is strewn with pictures, no more than two clicks away, of women with their ankles behind their heads and their orifices being stuffed with articles far beyond the traditional remit and indeed the traditionally regarded limits of natural elasticity.

How did we get from there to here?

How did we get from the general consensus that porn was, by and large, a bad thing – or at least something to be banished to the margins of civilised social intercourse (if you’ll pardon the phrase) and indulged in privately – to a situation in which hardcore availability is now so normalised that certain male friends of mine think nothing of sending me links to cartoons and daft things that they have obviously found on porn sites.

I appreciate that the ‘porn is always wrong’ stance is as simplistic as any we used to hold when we were younger. Any opinion needs to deal with the theory that women, too, are turned on by these images. Are we really more liberated and empowered to enjoy it, as some would have us believe, or have we adopted an if-you can’tbeat-’ em-join-’em mentality?

I don’t know. I just know that the death of Hugh will signal the end of a gentler era. And that reeks more strongly than a hot tub in the Playboy mansion. Doesn’t it?

Contact Lucy Mangan at lucy.mangan@stylist.co.uk and on twitter.com/lucymangan.

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Picture credit: Getty Images

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