You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of Hugh Hefner.
The Playboy overlord created an empire of scantily clad women, a place where men could fulfill all their wildest dreams.
Far fewer people outside her home country know about Beate Uhse, known as the “German Hugh Hefner.” However, she ran her sexual empire a little bit differently.
A Road to Enlightenment
After fulfilling her dream of becoming a pilot, Uhse had to find something else to aspire to when WWII was over. The end of the war created problems for women in accessing food and housing, but unwanted pregnancies were also a huge risk in the post-war environment.
Contraceptives were pretty much nonexistent, so Uhse took it upon herself to educate women and teach them natural methods of contraception. And thus, her sexual empire was born.
She launched a mail-order business with her second husband, and the couple published a catalogue featuring condoms, books, and other items.
The mail-order business soon grew, and Uhse opened the world’s first sex shop, calling it “The Institute for Marital Hygiene.” Business kept growing, especially once pornography laws relaxed in the 1970s, leading to a full chain of Beate Uhse stores.
Fast forward to the present, the brand has a successful website, has done a few re-brandings, and has ventured into the home parties business, solidifying the Beate Uhse brand as a global sexual empire.
The Beate Uhse shops have taken on a more feminine look, showcasing their focus on catering to women.
The Important Difference
Both Uhse and Hefner were undoubtedly pioneers, paving the way for people to openly discuss sex and sexuality. They fought against conservative norms, restrictive laws, the church, and other socially conservative groups that opposed what they were introducing into the culture.
Both of them also showed intense business prowess, creating their empires from virtually nothing and building them into large, successful corporations.
The difference is that Hefner built his sexual empire around men. In Hefner’s worldview, women became nothing more than objects for men’s desire, ones who were always ready and willing for sex.
He surrounded himself with his Playmates, showing off the beautiful girls that came with having power. He bragged about the number of women he had sex with, and had multiple —much younger — girlfriends simultaneously.
Uhse focused instead on helping women communicate their sexual wants to men, as well as encouraging a quality sex life within committed relationships and marriages.
She was a married mother of four and was dedicated to her family, which sharply contrasts the rotating parade of women that always surrounded Hefner.
Encouraging Equal Pleasure
Uhse wanted sex to be enjoyable for both partners, and to make sure a monogamous sex life was still a fruitful one. She offered advice on how women could express their needs without hurting a man’s ego or sounding insensitive.
Men may not even have realized women weren’t achieving orgasm, as women almost always take longer to climax than men.
While Hefner catered mainly to men and their fantasies, Uhse was grounded in realism. She wanted sexual relationships to be fulfilling for both partners, and offered both literature and products such as condoms, creams, and sex toys.
Hefner’s magazines, however, were strictly focused on men and their wants — even when it came to the content of the articles.
In contrast, Uhse never ignored men — and, in fact, men were the bulk of her customer base. Emphasizing how to assist women in their pleasure brought a better sexual experience for men, and left them less likely to turn to other places for sexual satisfaction.
More pleasure for women meant they would be more receptive to sex, when they might not have been previously because they weren’t fully enjoying it.
Uhse is the kind of sexual liberator we should be celebrating. She achieved the same cultural shift Hefner did, yet in a way that didn’t objectify women.
She built her sexual empire on mutual satisfaction in committed, monogamous relationships, with an emphasis on ensuring equal enjoyment and satisfaction from both partners.
Her success story is the one we should be telling when we talk about the rise of prominent sexual culture.