Asked to name his biggest source of pride, Hefner told the New York Times in 1992, “That I changed attitudes toward sex. . . . That I decontaminated the notion of premarital sex. That gives me great satisfaction.” It goes without saying that he decontaminated the idea of being publicly seen naked. Hefner provided, for selected models, an unprecedented ability to monetize and publicize their sex appeal. A direct line can be drawn from Hefner to Miriam Weeks, better known under her nom de porn Belle Knox, who as an 18-year-old Duke undergraduate in 2013 took to performing in pornographic films for $1,300 per scene, money she used to buy, among other things, iPads and designer handbags. In one such film she is depicted being choked and spat on.
After word got around campus about her new career, Weeks announced that being a porn actress was “empowering” and that she was a “sex-positive feminist.” This was exactly the line Hefner had been using to entice women to disrobe for 50 years. In her inevitable Playboy interview, Weeks said, “I want society to recognize that sex work is a legitimate profession. . . . I think the industry needs a feminist advocate as well. There are a lot of anti-porn feminists who try to speak out against exploitation in the industry, but we need somebody who can advocate for women while standing up for our right to sexual autonomy.” She especially defended her more degrading performative acts and added, “We have free speech in this country so I stand by the right of female performers to engage in rough sex scenes. If it’s something you enjoy doing, more power to you.”