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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

M-M-M-Musturbation

 

Social Work and REBT

 

Herein, I’ll address the topic of pornography. Not everyone will agree with or appreciate my perspective. Nevertheless, I invite the reader to maintain an open mind if deciding to consume the content herein. For those who choose not to engage this topic, no problem.

 

I entered a social work graduate program between 2012 and 2014, during a time when I was a self-professed feminist. At that time, the functional definition of feminism related to belief in the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes—of which there are two, male and female.

 

By “male,” I’m referencing boys and men. By “female,” I’m referring to girls and women. Although there are scientific abnormalities regarding sex, these exceptions prove the rule pertaining to dual sex taxonomy though don’t necessarily refute it.

 

When I was in grad school, there was academic discussion regarding gender—a subclass within a grammatical class (e.g., pronoun) of a language that is partly arbitrary but also partly based on distinguishable characteristics (i.e., masculine or feminine) and that determines agreement with and selection of other words or grammatical forms.

 

Whereas sex concerns biological traits, gender relates to socially-constructed qualifiers which are correlated with sex (i.e., boy, man, girl, woman). Within the halls of academia when I was in grad school, discourse pertaining to sex and gender was a highly contentious matter.

 

In particular, there was controversy related to those who differed on matters distinguishable from the first, second, and third wave of feminism, as well as the then-emerging fourth wave of intersectionality – which some students and educators didn’t consider a form of feminism at all.

 

Likewise, there was disagreement among those who considered themselves sex-positive and sex-negative feminists. Here, “sex” doesn’t relate to biological characteristics, though the term refers to sexuality.

 

Differentiating between these terms, one source states, “While sex negativity shames people for their sexual activities, for being victims of sexual abuse, or even for having sex for the first time outside of marriage, a sex-positive culture accepts that everyone has a right to make their own choices about their sex life.”

 

While in grad school for social work, I identified as a sex-positive feminist. Now, I no longer support feminism or engage in sex-positive or sex-negative arguments. If anything, I remain sex-neutral—refraining from prescriptive beliefs about how others should, must, or ought to conduct their lives.

 

It’s worth clarifying the distinction between description and prescription. Description occurs when remarking about what is. Prescription takes place when expressing what ought to be.

 

Considering this distinction, my current perspective on sex-neutrality is largely informed by my approach to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). This psychotherapeutic modality operates on two core concepts: the ABC model and unconditional acceptance.

 

Regarding the first concept, REBT theory posits that when an Action occurs and a person Believes something unhelpful about the event, the assumption and not the occurrence is what results in an unpleasant cognitive, emotive, bodily sensation, or behavioral Consequence.

 

In this way, people disturb themselves with irrational beliefs – subjective attitudes related to the truthfulness of a subject, though which aren’t founded in logic and reason. Noteworthy, the occurrence of self-disturbing beliefs is an automatic and natural mental process of human functioning. Generally speaking, these unhelpful beliefs present within four major categories:

 

Demandingness (e.g., social workers shouldn’t objectify females by posting scantily clad depictions of a woman on a blogpost)

 

Awfulizing (e.g., it’s awful to know that Deric believes there are only two sexes)

 

Low frustration tolerance (e.g., I can’t stand to think about how someone doesn’t support feminist ideology)

 

Global evaluations (e.g., all people who consume porn are immoral degenerates)

 

Albert Ellis, the psychologist who developed REBT, humorously referred to use of “must” beliefs as “musturbation,” though sometimes spelled “musterbation.” Regarding this matter, Ellis credited with having stated, “There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.”

 

Whereas masturbation is said to be a joyously pleasurable activity, musturbation occurs when people work themselves into a frenzied condition through use of self-disturbing beliefs. The unpleasant release with this sort of activity isn’t necessarily desirable.

 

Noteworthy, when practicing REBT, I try to refrain from violating naturalistic and moralistic fallacies. Taking a lesson from philosopher David Hume’s is-ought problem, I remain mindful of irrationality related to deriving an ought from an is.

 

This requires understanding about the distinction between morals and ethics. Morals are standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and isn’t acceptable to do. Ethics are moral principles which govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.

 

Morals inform a person about what is good, bad, right, or wrong. Based on morality, ethics are the rules one pledges to live by. As an example, I consider it morally reprehensible to conduct mass shootings. Therefore, I maintain that I mustn’t participate in this sort of activity.

 

Some people confuse morality and ethics with legality—the quality or state of being in accordance with the law. However, simply because something is illegal doesn’t mean people will refrain from violating the law (e.g., marijuana use is federally illegal, though people still use it).

 

Understanding about the first concept of REBT is necessary when engaging the current blogpost, because this is how I approach the topic of pornography. Concerning the second concept of REBT, unconditional self-, other-, and life-acceptance are used to promote a reduction in self-disturbance.

 

When teaching others about REBT, I incorporate into my practice a modified concept of Stephen Covey’s spheres of influence. Essentially, in my circle of control, I retain mastery of only a limited number of my physiological and psychological functions.

 

For instance, I cannot stop my heartbeat with the capacity of my mental control. Likewise, I cannot fully stop thoughts which stem from cognitive functioning. Therefore, I retain only partial control of myself.

 

Outside of me, I have no actual control – though many people retain the illusion of control apart from their own being. In actuality, I may only have influence over others and my environment.

 

As an example, when working with clients I hope to persuade people to live rationally. However, since I’m not in control of my clients – and given that each person with whom I work is a self-determined and autonomous human being – I acknowledge the limits of my influence in this regard.

 

Aside from myself and others, I have no control and exceedingly limited influence – if any – over life. For instance, I have no ability to change the past, stop nations from engaging in combat with one another, or prevent the experience of death for all human beings.

 

Given the limits of one’s control and influence, an individual may then comprehend the practice of unconditional self-acceptance (USA), unconditional other-acceptance (UOA), and unconditional life-acceptance (ULA). Acceptance of this sort begins with a singular premise: fallibility.

 

I’m a fallible human being, the reader is also flawed, and life itself is an imperfect experience. Because I recognize my own fallibility, I accept myself without the irrational condition that I must be any other way.

 

Nevertheless, I can seek to improve undesirable behavior. Still, I accept that I’ll never achieve perfection. Therefore, I tolerate and accept myself while attempting to change my actions – which aren’t who I am, because doing so serves my interests and goals in life. This is USA.

 

Being that I can identify my own fallibility while controlling certain actions which improve my behavior, I may then acknowledge that others are similarly flawed. Although I may desire for people not to behave as they do, I admit that I have no control and only influence over these flawed people. This is UOA.

 

Understanding the limits of my control and influence regarding my own fallibility and the flaws inherent in others, I can then be honest with myself about life. I have no control and extremely limited influence over most matters which comprise an imperfect existence. This is ULA.

 

The two core concepts of REBT inform my perspective on pornography. Additionally, there’s a derivative of a social work component I’ll use to frame this matter. When in grad school, I learned of the micro, mezzo, and macro (triple-M) levels of social work. According to one source:

 

Micro – Working directly with individuals or families on everything from access to housing, healthcare, and social services to treating mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders.

 

Mezzo – Working with groups and organizations such as schools, businesses, neighborhoods, hospitals, nonprofits, and other small-scale communities.

 

Macro – Working towards large-scale systematic change by crafting laws, petitioning governments for community funds, organizing activist groups, and modeling social policy.

 

One can understand how concepts of unconditional acceptance, spheres of influence, and levels of social work overlap. Some of these concepts support one another while others are in direct opposition to each other (e.g., the ULA principle clashes with a macro level concept).

 

Herein, I’ll frame my outlook on porn using an offshoot of the triple-M concept. By “micro,” I’ll refer to an individual or family. By “mezzo,” I’m referencing porn sites, religious congregations, etc. By “macro,” I’m drawing attention to an entire category of sex, society as a whole, etc.

 

Although I suspect people would rather have a brief, well-defined answer when it comes to the subject of pornography, I don’t value reductionist contributions regarding matters of complex systems (i.e., three simple ways to improve your concentration). Therefore, this post is intended to be consumed in its entirety so that one may better understand by perspective.

 

M-M-M-Musturbation

 

As a matter of full disclosure, and to admit personal bias regarding this topic, I’ve had a number of close friends who’ve been involved in sex work, which one source defines as “the exchange of sexual services, performances, or products for material compensation. It includes activities of direct physical contact between buyers and sellers as well as indirect sexual stimulation.”

 

Although I was brought up under Judeo-Christian values and was once opposed to consumption of pornography, I now maintain a sex-neutral position. I choose not to rigidly musturbate regarding those who choose to masturbate through use of porn.

 

Concerning my perspective, in a post entitled Cybersex, I clarified, “Trampling the rights of adults in favor of a Helen Lovejoy position, as it relates to a ‘think of the children’ declaration, is little more than an illogical appeal to emotion and an egregious offense to constitutional rights.”

 

While I’m aware that people may disagree, I believe that individuals retain personal agency—the capacity to cause or generate an action that influences one’s circumstances. Likewise, I subscribe to the notion of personal ownership, which is comprised of responsibility and accountability.

 

Here, “responsibility” relates to the opportunity or ability to act independently and make decisions without authorization, and the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something. “Accountability” thus refers to the fact or condition of being answerable, culpable, or liable for matters regarding that for which one remains responsible.

 

It may be tempting to use micro, mezzo, and macro-level arguments to support one’s position in opposition to porn, though I reject some of the arguments I’ve encountered thus far. Nevertheless, I find it useful to steel-man a composite argument rather than straw-man a perceived position. The triple-M stance goes something like this:

 

Pornography is damaging to the individual, because people receive dopamine hits in anticipation of a reward. Over time, the brain becomes addicted to this chemical response and begins to seek out porn. This process involves the mind (function of the brain), body (genitals), behavior (genital stimulation), and spirit (soul, energy, etc.).

 

People who devote a significant amount of resources to porn (i.e., time, money, etc.) eventually become unable to control themselves – much to the detriment of themselves and their families. Porn is therefore bad for individuals and familial units at the micro level of existence.

 

Porn is further damaging at the mezzo level, because porn sites which host such content don’t do an adequate job of controlling for the fact that minors have access to obscene material. Likewise, many of the people who are involved with the creation and dissemination of pornography are sex-trafficked (human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation).

 

As well, religious congregations across the nation have experienced some impact to their members, all regarding the influence of pornography. Additionally, schools across the nation have reported an uptick in porn consumption from students at all levels of the lifespan.

 

Moreover, porn has deleterious effects at the macro level of society. Although it may seem empowering for women to monetize their sexuality, as the porn industry is mostly comprised of females and geared toward a male audience, porn actually has a disempowering outcome.

 

Many studies report that women who’ve engaged in some form of sex work wind up regretting their decision to create pornography. For a significant number of this sample size, women struggle to attain and maintain healthy and committed relationships after sex work.

 

Some report the impact their behavior has also had on their children, families, and friendships. There’s also the matter on future employability to consider, as pre-employment background investigations revealing a past of sex work automatically bars people from many positions.

 

Furthermore, we don’t have long-term data on the unintentional consequences of porn on marginalized communities (e.g., gay men) to the degree whereby it can be empirically stated that pornography definitively isn’t harmful. However, there’s ample evidence related to the unreasonable expectations boys and men develop when consuming porn.

 

As well, we have mountains of data regarding body image issues for girls and women who develop esteem problems which are correlated with pornography usage. It’s therefore inarguable that sex work and pornography are a blight upon the moral and ethical function of a civil society, as well as the mental, emotional, and behavioral health of those impacted by its effects.

 

Much of the information regarding my charitable representation of an anti-porn stance is perceivably true. Nevertheless, I don’t assume a pro- or anti-pornography position that applies to anyone outside of my own being.

 

Revisiting my example about mass shootings, I can personally determine that something is a moral bad for me and then ethically conclude that I mustn’t participate in such activity. My behavior in this regard is in accordance with my sphere of control.

 

While I may inflexibly demand that others mustn’t engage in mass shooting events, I have no control or influence on individuals who conduct such atrocities – as this relates to UOA. Thus, I can flexibly conclude that while I wish people didn’t harm others in such a manner, I have no ability to change the fact that mass shootings will inevitably occur.

 

Similarly, one may believe that porn is harmful on micro, mezzo, and macro levels. If use of a flexible assumption is then present (e.g., I’d prefer people not to use porn), then one may not self-disturb regarding this matter.

 

However, when a person uses musturbation concerning the triple-M issue – working oneself into an undesirably frenzied condition of self-disturbance – people will continue masturbating to pornography while one becomes upset through use of unhelpful beliefs. I choose not to partake in this illogical and unreasonable approach to controlling and influencing the behavior of others.

 

Conclusion

 

Having set aside dogmatic religious practice, I once identified as a sex-positive feminist. Now, I’ve shed that label and its associated beliefs. Adaptively, I now consider myself sex-neutral concerning the behavior of others.

 

Ultimately, my position on pornography aligns with my stance on so-called smartphone and social media addiction. In a blog entry entitled Smartphone and Social Media Addiction, I stated:

 

Although many of my mental health peers may disagree with my perspective, I don’t consider the existence of smartphones and social media to be corrupting elements within society. This is because I maintain that people have agency and can own their shit by taking ownership for their own self-disturbed outcomes.

 

Even if porn were demonstrably damaging to the majority of societal members at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels, I’m not prepared to m-m-m-musterbate concerning the matter. I’ll leave that messy affair to those who irrationally believe they simply must control other people.

 

In the meantime, I remain available to help people who want to stop the unhelpful process of musturbation. After all, those who choose to metaphorically masturbate with 60 grit sandpaper or put exfoliating sand in their lotion are welcome to do so, though it isn’t as though you must disturb yourself in such a manner.

 

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

 

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

 

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

 

 

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


 

References:

 

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