For Patrick Trueman, president of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Hefner left "a sad legacy."
"We shouldn't be celebrating. We should be mourning his death. He lived the life of a predator and sexual exploiter," he said, contending that Hefner has fewer admirers than he did 10 or 20 years ago because the harms of pornography are better recognized.
Four states have passed resolutions proclaiming pornography to be a public health crisis.
"Reams of research show that Internet pornography is linked to neurological harms, sexual dysfunctions, and increases in rates of sexual violence," Trueman continued. "Hugh Hefner was not a champion of free speech. He was a pioneer in the sexual objectification and use of women."
Playboy Magazine presented women's sexuality in a subordinate role and as universally accessible to men.
Sears said that everyone researching the effects of pornography in the 1980s recognized Playboy as "the gateway to lower people's inhibitions" that increased acceptability of more extreme pornography.
He pointed to Hefner's portrayal of legally adult women in "very young" situations, dressed in school uniforms and pigtails or using lollipops, portraying them as children.
Playboy marketed its trademark across many products and venues, including several clubs around the world staffed by waitresses dressed as bunnies.
The women who worked for Playboy both promoted, and suffered from, "the idea that your intimate self is a commercial product for sale," according to Sears.
While the Playboy centerfold opportunity had a reputation as a glamorous career-launcher, Sears said the women whom his commission interviewed had the opposite impression.
"They were at vulnerable points in their life, they were naïve, they thought this would be a great thing. In many cases, this led to great personal trauma in their own life," he said.
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"Boyfriends thought that because the women had posed in Playboy, by the mere fact that they had posed, were now sexually free to do any act," he said, noting that some Playboys models reported being sexually abused.
Trueman said Playboy itself was a victim of the tendency of pornography to extremism.
While the magazine introduced a person to pornography, people's brains would then demand more hardcore and deviant material.
"Over time that made Playboy passé, because the internet could supply the hardest and most deviant material," Trueman said. "Just as Playboy was undone by its portrayal of sexual images, an individual's life becomes undone by consuming pornography."
Playboy Magazine sales peaked in the November 1972 issue, when close to 7.2 million copies were sold. By 2015, the magazine was selling less than one million copies per issue, CNBC reported. The magazine was still sold in over 20 countries, and Playboy Enterprises claimed over $1 billion in sales annually of trademarked assets in 2017, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian says.
Sears characterized Hefner as a "destroyer."