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How Pleading Sexual Addiction Protects Evangelical Men

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(RNS) — The details emerging from the Atlanta, Georgia, massacre that left eight people dead are chilling. At present we know that Robert Aaron Long, a white Georgia resident, targeted Asian women working in massage parlors that he frequented. We also know Long was a committed evangelical Christian who has cited his “addiction” to sex and pornography as cause for him to “eliminate” temptation by murdering the women in cold blood.

What are we to make of this excuse?

According to survey research, Long is not an outlier in his experience with sex and pornography addiction. In fact, data from the 2019 Public Discourse and Ethics Survey (Figure 1) show that even though evangelical men are far less likely to be frequent porn viewers compared to non-evangelical men, roughly 30% of evangelical men consider themselves “addicted to pornography,” nearly one-third more than their non-evangelical counterparts.

Figure 1…Source: Public Discourse and Ethics Survey (August 2019)

We know Long was a member of a Southern Baptist church and had previously visited a Christian addiction treatment center that specialized in sex and porn addictions. It’s easy enough to search the internet and find Christian support programs for sex and pornography addiction recovery — though diagnoses are controversial and not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association.

As sociologists, we’ve sought to dig deeper than surveys and the official messaging of porn addiction programs to hear the stories of people who have been through them. Both of us have interviewed participants from different programs, some explicitly Christian and others irreligious. Nearly all participants were themselves religious, and most were, like Long, conservative Protestant white men.

White conservative Christians are among the most vocal proponents of laws that crack down on porn production and consumption, while pushing the cultural message that pornography is wrong. According to the 2018 General Social Survey, roughly half (49.1%) of evangelical Christians would support an outright ban on all porn, which is nearly double the percentage of non-evangelicals (25.3%). In the 2014 Relationships in America Survey, only 10% of evangelical or fundamentalist Protestants felt viewing pornography was morally acceptable.

Still, Christian sex and pornography addiction treatment programs present mixed messages about men and porn. Across all of our interviews, participants agreed that pornography was morally wrong but also that it’s natural and normal for men to desire sex and pornography.