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Age of Consent:

Many states have lower ages of consent for sex among minors than for sex between adults and minors. Thus, two 16-year-olds having sex may be legal, but not a 30-year-old having sex with a 16-year-old.

I share the intuition behind this distinction, but I wonder whether my intuition is right. For instance, I would think that quite a few 16-year-old girls who are interested in sex would rather be involved with 30-year-old men than with other 16-year-olds; the 30-year-olds are more likely to know what they're doing both sexually and romantically, plus are more likely to be much more emotionally mature as well as interesting to talk to. What's more, to the extent that women are said to be attracted in some measure to success (not just financial but professional and social), the 30-year-old may be much more attractive to them. Plus if a serious relationship ensues, the 30-year-old might be a better influence on the 16-year-old than another 16-year-old would be.

Ah, one might say, but perhaps the 30-year-olds are more likely to be sexually exploitive of the 16-year-olds, whatever "sexually exploitive" might mean. But why should we be so confident of that? Sixteen-year-old boys can be as interested as 30-year-olds in sexual conquests for the sake of sexual conquest, and can be as willing and able to lie and manipulate to get what they want. I suppose they might be less good at the lying and manipulating, for the same reason that they can be less good at some of the things the 16-year-old girl may want (being courted in a romantically appealing way). But I doubt that they're entirely unable to lie and manipulate -- and they may feel even more pressure to do so, because they may be more hormonally charged, sexually desperate, and desperate to prove their adulthood and manliness by getting sex or by racking up partners.

Of course, 16-year-olds are more likely to be thrown together with other 16-year-olds in social contexts, and are thus more likely to "naturally" become interested in each other. Perhaps then the rationale is simply that you can't stop such sex without prosecuting millions of people, while you can stop adult-adolescent sex, which might be more likely to be more common. But the effect of the law is still to channel some 16-year-old girls away from sex with adults and into sex with other teenagers. That would make sense, I think, only if we think that sex with teenagers is better for them than sex with adults would be. But why is that so?

Query, also, whether the analysis should be different when we get to 14-year-olds or 15-year-olds, but please set aside for purposes of the analysis flat rules that categorically forbid sex between anyone and someone under a certain age. Those rules are easy enough to explain, as being based on concern about (say) a 15-year-old not being mature enough to make a decision that can be so emotionally and physically dangerous. The tougher question is why the 15-year-old should be allowed to make such a decision when the partner is another 15-year-old as opposed to a 25-year-old. (Note that I'm talking about sex between adult men and adolescent girls; one can ask similar questions with the sexes reversed, and as to gay and lesbian sex as well. But my sense is that the bulk of the sexual conduct that is actually punished or deterred by these laws is between adult men and adolescent girls, so I thought I'd focus on that.)

Now perhaps my skepticism here is unjustified. I wouldn't mind being persuaded that it is unjustified, since as I said I find the distinction between "Romeo and Juliet" sex (the laws allowing sex between minors who are close together in age are often called "Romeo and Juliet" laws) and adult/teenager sex appealing -- though look what happened to Romeo and Juliet. I just wonder whether we can be confident enough in this distinction.

And, just to stave off the speculation, I've never dated a minor while I've been an adult, and have never wanted to date one. Among other things, I've generally found adult women considerably more attractive and interesting than underage ones (much as I suspect that some many adolescent girls would find adult men considerably more attractive and interesting than underage ones).

Happyshooter:
In Michigan, the reduction to age 16 was a direct tradeoff for the adoption of the unifed 'Criminal Sexual Conduct' levels one through four which replaced the older patchwork quilt of laws.

It has worked fairly well, with the tweak the 13-15 YOs are legal so long as the partner is not more than five years older. An extra tweak was to add classes of people who cannot have sex (teachers/students, guards/prisoners...) based mostly on government granted authority.

People in the state seem fairly happy with the ways things now work.

Now the rape shield laws are fairly bad in some cases. The worst one I am aware of was a woman who seven years prior went to a hotel room with her boss and charged him with rape afterward since she said he held her down. Fast forward and new boss, same attack. The trial court kept the past episode out and was upheld by the appeal court.

A lot of folks didn't care for that but it wasn't enough to convince the state house to tweak the laws.
4.25.2008 10:22am
Random Thought:
I think the big issues when dealing in a "Romeo and Juliet" case is who's the victim and who the criminal. If both are under-age, who do you prosecute? And if you prosecute both, you have a truly victimless crime, in a very real sense.

Those of us who believe that without a victim there's no crime should be glad for such exceptions.
4.25.2008 10:25am
Tennessean (mail):
Query whether a distinction can be made between the 16-year-old and the 30-year-old this way (which I will put in the case of males, but is easily modified):

Most 16-year-old males want to have sex with 16-year-old females. Nothing is thought abnormal about that. Few 30-year-old males want to have sex with 16-year-old females. Something is thought abnormal about that. Thus, the 30-year-old male is more likely to be 'sexually exploitive' than the 16-year-old male because the 30-year-old male is (far) more likely to be abnormally psychologically motivated.
4.25.2008 10:30am
Anderson (mail):
Sixteen-year-old boys can be as interested as 30-year-olds in sexual conquests for the sake of sexual conquest

It's only April, but this is going to be a strong contender for VC Understatement of 2008.

Excellent post, on a subject I hadn't even considered before. Sex is sex, and a 16-year-old woman (girl, whatever) is as competent to decide to sleep with a 30-year-old as with a 16-year-old.

Not to mention the sex is better with the 30YO. Listen up, ladies!
4.25.2008 10:35am
Prof. S. (mail):
Are you trying to put Chris Hansen out of a job?
4.25.2008 10:36am
WF (mail):
Lots of the arguments in favour of the 30 year-olds(more mature, better influences, know what they're doing, etc.) are solid when you're talking about abstract 30 year-olds, but seem weaker when you remember that the 30 year-olds that are actually in question are the ones who are seducing minors.
4.25.2008 10:37am
iowan (mail):
Abortion rights advocates declare any pregnate female is mature enough to obtain an abortion without parental consent. That means girls are mature enough to make decissions in picking sex partners. In the area of gay marriage judges not legilatures are the prefered bodies to decide the issue. Should not judges also decide this?
4.25.2008 10:42am
Eugene Volokh (www):
WF, Tennesseean: Interesting points, but is it really that "abnormal" (in the pejorative sense or in the descriptive sense) for 30-year-old men to be interested in 16-year-old girls?
4.25.2008 10:45am
Sean M:
I agree with WF. The argument for 30 year-olds is strong in the abstract, but poor in theory. After all, where do 30 year-old men and 16 year-old girls meet, usually, such that they'd have a relationship?

Generally the Internet and other places where the 30 year-old is more the pursuer than in general life. It's not like the two can run into each other in a bar, after all.
4.25.2008 10:46am
The NJ Annuitant (mail):
The issue is one of consent. The idea is that young people who are close in age are easier to turn down than the older, richer ,more interesting and suave "mature adult." The same inquality that exists in the student/teacher context is deemed to apply to the 16/31 union. But there are other cultures in which such a paring is perfectly fine. I am really not sure that the 16 year old is unable to say no where there is no power vested in the older person.
4.25.2008 10:48am
Anon123 (mail) (www):
This is a perfect example of why people claim professors are out of touch with reality. When someone can accurately but facilely summarize your suggestion with "he wants to change the law so that adults should be allowed to have sex with high school sophomores," you lose. No further inquiry, no appeal, no nothing: you're automatically some lunatic that thinks something approaching pedophilia is OK.

Some curious thoughts are best kept to one's self....
4.25.2008 10:48am
Amber (www):
This post is even better if you imagine it read in the voice of Brent Spiner.
4.25.2008 10:52am
Blue (mail):
The issue, I think lies in the difference in cognitive capacity that exists between a 16 year old and a 30 year old. The 16 year old, for example, cannot enter into contract. It seems perfectly reasonable and just to me for the state to recognize that a sexual relationship between two minors--both having acknowledged limits on cognitive capacity--is different, and should be treated differently, than a relationship between a full adult and a minor.
4.25.2008 10:53am
NYNY (mail):
Interesting factoid: John Marshall, at the age of 24, met his wife Polly. She was 13! Imaging John Marshall on "To Catch a Predator."
4.25.2008 10:53am
Crackmonkeyjr (www):
I think that, at least in part, Romeo and Juliet laws aren't so much about saying that it is OK for people below the normal age of consent to have sex, as saying that it is asking too much for other people under the age of consent or slightly above it to forgo sex with people around their age. In other words, we expect 30 year olds to know better, we don't expect 17 year olds to know better.

That being said, I think that age of consent tends to be too high. I know a number of teenagers through a youth group that I'm involved with and most of them seem capable of dealing with sexual issues (no I don't know from personal experience). There's definitely something wrong with having sex with an 8 year old, and maybe a 14 year old, but I can't see how a 16 year old is any more likely to be traumatized from sex than a 36 year old.
4.25.2008 10:55am
Patrick216:
NYNY:

This Wikipedia article suggests Mary Marshall was 17 at the time they were married. Maybe people back in those days actually did abstain from sex before marriage...
4.25.2008 10:59am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
From Eugene's idle and rather creepy speculation, it is obvious he doesn't have teenage daughters.
4.25.2008 11:00am
Prufrock765 (mail):
While I realize that such a distinction would fail under the 14th amendment, I wonder if EV's analysis would militate in favor of treating a 30 yo woman and a 16 yo boy different as a matter of policy than the reverse.

Points up the difficulty in basing one's analysis on the child's motivation and incentives rather than, as we do now, on the adult's motivation and incentives
4.25.2008 11:04am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
I think it all boils down to the fact that a 30 year old "should know better" and that for two 16-year-olds, or a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old to have sex is such an inevitable, however undesirable, it would be unfair and even more undesirable to punish them whenever it occurs.

Sorry for the long winded sentence.
4.25.2008 11:04am
LarryA (mail) (www):
And, just to stave off the speculation, I've never dated a minor while I've been an adult, and have never wanted to date one. Among other things, I've generally found adult women considerably more attractive and interesting than underage ones (much as I suspect that some many adolescent girls would find adult men considerably more attractive and interesting than underage ones).
There's another distinction hidden here. When you talk about a 30-year-old man having a "sexual relationship" with a 13-year-old girl you're really talking about two things. I can understand why a normal 30-year-old would want to have sex with a teenager. But a relationship with someone who can't remember not having a cellphone? How?
4.25.2008 11:04am
Houston Lawyer:
I'm with Random Thought on this one. The primary point of statutory rape laws is to protect under-age girls from exploitation by older men. Here the law actually recognizes that when a boy and a girl of the same age are having sex that the girl is not being taken advantage of. If we were to do away with this distinction, we should also allow high school teachers to have sex with their students. I don't think that this is the route you would want to take just to increase the number of male high school teachers.
4.25.2008 11:10am
Ex parte McCardle:
In Ross Macdonald's fabulous series of Lew Archer novels, at some point Archer says, "As a man gets older, the kind of woman he finds interesting gets older too. The trouble is that most of them are already married. Or sometimes that's not the trouble."
4.25.2008 11:12am
LTEC (mail) (www):
1) Is the issue about being interested in the other person and having a "relationship"? Probably this is more likely to happen in the case of two people of about the same age. My guess is that the real reason for these laws is that we don't like our teenage daughters to have sex at all, but we find it more tolerable if we can pretend there is something else there, such as a "relationship".

2) The worst thing about teen sex is the possibility of disease or pregnancy or marriage. We should ask if this is more or less likely if the partner is much older.

3) WF --
If it became socially acceptable for older men to have sex with teenagers, we would find that a lot more socially acceptable men were openly doing it.

3) When I was young, the verb "to date" did not mean what you think it means. Is there a verb we can use that actually means what "to date" used to mean?
4.25.2008 11:15am
hawkins:

If we were to do away with this distinction, we should also allow high school teachers to have sex with their students. I don't think that this is the route you would want to take just to increase the number of male high school teachers.


It would continue to be immoral for teachers to have sex with students, the same way its immoral for a high school teacher or college professor to have sex with their students who are over the age of 18.
4.25.2008 11:19am
john w (mail):
From Eugene's idle and rather creepy speculation, it is obvious he doesn't have teenage daughters.

Well, I do have a 15 year old daughter, and I agree with EV. Obviously, as a stereotypical, traditional, paranoid father, I would prefer that she stay a virgin until she finishes grad school, and then gets married in a big church wedding with white doves, etc., etc. And if I found out tomorrow that she is in a sexual relationship with somebody, I'd be very annoyed -- to say the least.

BUT!!! I really don't see why I should be any *more* annoyed if the partner were 40 than if he were 14. What the Hell difference should it make? If anything, from a logical standpoint, rather than an emotional one, I ought the be *less* upset if the hypothetical boyfriend were 40 because the 40 y.o presumably would have enough sense to use birth control (and enough resources to pay child support if he didn't).

I don't see the logic in this idea that it's perfectly OK for a pair of (supposedly) immature, irresponsible, nitwitted 14 year olds to have sex with each other, but not OK for either of them to have sex with a mature older partner who might actually be able to teach them something useful about life.

Full disclosure: When I met my wife, 16 years ago, I was 45 and she was 20. I honestly don't think that our lives together would have been any different -- any better or any worse -- if I had been 40 and she had been 15. It's the same difference, right?
4.25.2008 11:20am
Weird:
This is the weirdest/creepiest post I have EVER seen on this site....seriously
4.25.2008 11:26am
Brian Mac:

"I've generally found adult women considerably more attractive and interesting than underage ones"


But you just can't get enough of those catholic school uniforms, eh?
4.25.2008 11:29am
DJR:
Another example, along with the endorsement of torture, of a remarkable blind spot that will prevent Eugene from serious consideration for the federal bench.


But the effect of the law is still to channel some 16-year-old girls away from sex with adults and into sex with other teenagers.


The point, which your post appears to miss entirely, is not who we are encouraging 16 year olds to have sex with, it is who we are discouraging 30 year olds from having sex with. And if you think this is limited to adult male-adolescent female, you have not noticed the many adult female-adolescent male cases that seem to come up in the news every other month or so.

The idea is that adults stand in a different position with regard to teens than teens do with regard to each other. Adults are part of the mature world to which teens aspire, and by virtue of their age alone have a greater ability to influence or deceive teens about adult relationships.
4.25.2008 11:31am
VincentPaul (mail):
There is no need to go any further than the school system for an example of why it must remain illegal for adults to have sexual relations with minors. Often kids are attracted to adults in a position of authority, and the adults are too weak/corrupt to avoid taking advantage of students. And what of other adult authority figures? Well, my daughter's roommate at college had been having an on going affair with a fireman since she was 14. Also, two of the policemen hired by my local high school district were relieved of duty for having sexual relations with students.
4.25.2008 11:32am
DJR:
john w:

Ew. I mean seriously, ew.
4.25.2008 11:35am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
When I met my wife, 16 years ago, I was 45 and she was 20. I honestly don't think that our lives together would have been any different -- any better or any worse -- if I had been 40 and she had been 15. It's the same difference, right?


Please tell me you're joking.
4.25.2008 11:36am
CJColucci:
In an internet cartoon I can no longer find, there was a Creepiness Formula for determining the appropriate age of potential dating partners: Age/2 + 7 = Non-Creepiness Limit. If you work out a few examples, you'll see that you have broader options as you get older. A 50-year-old can date a 32 year-old, a 30 year-old can date a 22 year-old, and a 20 year-old can date a 17 year-old.
4.25.2008 11:37am
Weird:
Mr. Volokh-
I'd seriously consider taking down this entire post....it can only go downhill from here....While I generally respect and recommend this site, I am rather embarrassed to have recommended this site just yesterday only to see this rather odd post today with unavoidably creepy comments...
4.25.2008 11:39am
Crackmonkeyjr (www):
Here's the comic that CJColucci refers to: http://www.xkcd.com/314/
4.25.2008 11:39am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
The point, which your post appears to miss entirely, is not who we are encouraging 16 year olds to have sex with, it is who we are discouraging 30 year olds from having sex with.

Yeah Eugene, the saying is "16 will get you 20" not "30 will get you 20."
4.25.2008 11:40am
Prufrock765 (mail):
CJ:
If the Spike Lee movie, Malcolm X, is accurate, the Reverend Elijah Muhammad used that exact formula for determining the propriety of a marriage match--the man being the elder of the hypothetical pair.
4.25.2008 11:42am
JohnO (mail):
I think focusing on the 16 year-old girl is the fallacy here.

To me, these laws make sense from the perspective of the older participant (usually, but not always the guy).

The rationale in my mind is that it's always a bad idea for 16 year-olds to have sex. But the idea is that it's fair to make it a crime for the 30-year-old to be involved than it is to prosecute one of the 16-year-olds. The 30-year-old is old enough to know better than to have sex with a 16-year-old, while another 16-year-old might not. Therefore, it is reasonable to make the 30-year-old's conduct a crime and not the same conduct by a 16-year-old. So I think it makes more sense looking at it from the perspective of the "perpetrator" and not the "victim."

And, yes, I am the father of daughters, though not yet teenage daughters.
4.25.2008 11:42am
On the Way to the Bar (Exam) (mail):
Speaking from first-hand knowledge of having been a 16 yo girl who dated men above the age of 25...

OTOH, it is really attractive to date someone who is older because generally speaking that person has had more life experiences and more stories to tell on the "relating" level. There is also a better developed sense of consideration for people as a whole and a better developed practice of small acts of kindness. On the physical intimacy level, that person is also less likely to forget things like condoms or is better able to practice restraint in the absence of condoms compared to another teenager.

OTOH, it is kind of weird that someone can be attracted to someone who has fewer life experiences and who's stories are probably limited to what happened at school that day or at her after school part-time job. Especially given, that in this day and age, it is unlikely that the the pairing will get engaged or married and begin a family shortly after the younger person graduates from high school.
4.25.2008 11:42am
TheGut (mail):
Houston Lawyer wrote:

The primary point of statutory rape laws is to protect under-age girls from exploitation by older men. Here the law actually recognizes that when a boy and a girl of the same age are having sex that the girl is not being taken advantage of.


Boy, thats not what I've observed about teen boys, nor, to my shame, is it what I remember about being a teen boy.

But, more generally, when I was a teen (Over 20 years ago) most of the girls I knew had lost their virginity at 14. This was from the 10-15 I hung out with/were in my circle of friends. All but one were fully sexually active by 16, and that one who wasn't was a technical virgin only. (Everything short of penetration was fair game). This was all in the rural south, right in the heart of the bible belt. So I view stories about the supposed sexual inexperience of teens with a jaundiced eye. Teens get cynical about sexual motivations really fast, in my experience.

That said, there is nothing odd about 30+ year old men finding teens sexually attractive. Its merely that they are not suppose to act on it. I've never quite figured out why (logically it makes no sense) but since its far easier to relate to women of my own generation, I don't worry too much about it, either.
4.25.2008 11:44am
Kurt2 (mail):
WF, Tennesseean: Interesting points, but is it really that "abnormal" (in the pejorative sense or in the descriptive sense) for 30-year-old men to be interested in 16-year-old girls?

Yes. It might be normal for a 30 year old to be "interested" in the sense that he looks at Britney Spears or whoever on a magazine cover and think "wow, she's really hot." But to be "interested" in the sense that he's actually seeking out and having sex with 16 year old girls? I'd say "abnormal" is, if anything, too kind a term.
4.25.2008 11:44am
Aultimer:

Tennessean

Thus, the 30-year-old male is more likely to be 'sexually exploitive' than the 16-year-old male because the 30-year-old male is (far) more likely to be abnormally psychologically motivated.


A bit of a leap that "abnormal motivation" correlates to "sexually exploitive". Even if you define exploitive to REQUIRE some abnormal motivation (as opposed to lacking normal restraint, etc.), you don't have enough information to show correlation.

FWIW - I have a daughter and would do everything in my power to prevent her having such a relationship, including deterring suitors with extralegal means.
4.25.2008 11:47am
Creeped Out:
Seriously Volokh, this post is going to get really weird (as if it is not weird enough already)

TAKE IT DOWN! YOUR SITE IS BETTER THAN THIS!
4.25.2008 11:47am
billb:
Think about the opportunities that 30 year olds have to meet and form relationships with 16 year olds. These usually occur when the 30 year olds are in positions of power or trust. We rightfully want to punish those who abuse their power or aren't worthy of our trust. Abuses of power imply that the consent of the younger party was not complete. We want to punish breaches of trust because the (now) untrustworthy have done things to those we feel responsible for the health and safety of. This is especially true in the case of youth group leaders, school teachers, bosses, etc.

In the case of 40 year old professors and 18 year old college freshmen (freshpersons?), since both parties are adults, we simply punish the professor for abusing his position of power by taking away his job or employing other disciplinary action. When it comes to minors, we also employ the force of the law. We probably do this because, deep down, we feel that parents should have some say in the lives of their children (they aren't chattel, but parents still have lots of power). We don't do this for those much closer in age because the relationships tend to come about through other mechanisms. Besides, it's probably too difficult to write a law that could withstand scrutiny which only penalized those who abuse positions of power or trust to have sex with teenagers (of course, Texas does have a law that makes it a felony for a public school teacher to have sex with a student of any age, even at another school).

I'm a little surprised that EV has discounted the older woman/younger man scenario in this post, given the "rash" of stories in the headlines where female teachers get it on with one of their male students.
4.25.2008 11:51am
Prufrock765 (mail):
It would be helpful if all the ew-sters would relax and realize that we are not talking about how to score with teens, we are talking about the motivation behind the legal policy of age of consent laws and how much sense it makes.

FWIW: I am 43 and have a 22 yo step daughter and a 5 yo daughter. I have never dated anyone more than 5 yrs my junior.
4.25.2008 11:51am
BT:
The first thing I thought of when reading this post was Drew Peterson. He is about my age and was 47 when he first met his now missing wife who was 17. There is a picture of them from that time that just gives me the creeps. Just trying to put myself in his shoes and why he would be attracted to a 17 year old is beyond me.

I have known several women who had a thing for older guys. Typically they come from homes where the father was absent or some other disfunction was going on. I find that there are plenty of guys who would love to hook up with younger women but most younger women seem to want to date guys closer to their own age. The exception seems to be when the guy has a great deal of money, status, etc., then they are there for the goodies. I am sure like anything else, there are exceptions to the rule, but even a 14 year difference as in the example provided is huge at that age.

The laws limiting this kind of behavior are there for a reason and typically because of hard earned experience. Count me as someone who doesn't think it is a good idea to have them changed.
4.25.2008 11:53am
Cornellian (mail):

Most 16-year-old males want to have sex with 16-year-old females. Nothing is thought abnormal about that. Few 30-year-old males want to have sex with 16-year-old females. Something is thought abnormal about that.


I doubt I've ever met the 30 year old male who, given the opportunity, would not want to have sex with an otherwise attractive 16 year old female. They don't because it's socially frowned upon, or illegal, or they don't want the baggage that comes with that kind of relationship, but that's not to say they don't want to do it.

Historically, a marriage between a 30 year old male and a 16 year old female would have been considered nothing unusual.
4.25.2008 11:53am
Passing By:
As I see these laws, they do not reflect a belief on the part of state legislatures that sex between kids of "Romeo and Juliet" age is acceptable. Instead the legislatures seem to view underage sex as undesirable, but are less willing to criminalize underage sex when the participants are close to each other in age. Adults are expected to demonstrate greater self-control. (Compare, e.g., the entire concept of juvenile courts.)
[Michigan's law] has worked fairly well, with the tweak the 13-15 YOs are legal so long as the partner is not more than five years older.
I see that for 4th Degree CSC (MCL 750.520e) relating to sexual contact, but not for 3rd Degree CSC (MCL 750.520d) relating to sexual penetration. Did I overlook something?

I recall Michigan having a case where it prosecuted two minors (< age 16) for Third Degree CSC against each other.
4.25.2008 11:53am
GMS:
The tougher question is why the 15-year-old should be allowed to make such a decision when the partner is another 15-year-old as opposed to a 25-year-old.

Don't you think you're focusing too much on the attitude of the "victim," as opposed to the culpability of the the person being charged with the crime? After all, these statutes do not authorize sex between 15 year olds, they criminalize sex by an adult with a minor, and they do so by making it a crime for the adult, not for the minor. Since it's the defendant who will go to jail, it's his conduct that is being judged.

Clearly, the judgment is that there is something wrong with an adult having sex with a minor, and I don't think many people have a problem with that. When two minors have sex, by contrast, there is not the same level of culpability on the part of the "defendant" (whichever one that might be), regardless of what the effect is on the other party. Plus, if two minors have sex, which one are you going to prosecute? If the answer is "the boy," that just doesn't quite seem fair, does it?
4.25.2008 11:55am
GMS:
The tougher question is why the 15-year-old should be allowed to make such a decision when the partner is another 15-year-old as opposed to a 25-year-old.

Don't you think you're focusing too much on the attitude of the "victim," as opposed to the culpability of the the person being charged with the crime? After all, these statutes do not authorize sex between 15 year olds, they criminalize sex by an adult with a minor, and they do so by making it a crime for the adult, not for the minor. Since it's the defendant who will go to jail, it's his conduct that is being judged.

Clearly, the judgment is that there is something wrong with an adult having sex with a minor, and I don't think many people have a problem with that. When two minors have sex, by contrast, there is not the same level of culpability on the part of the "defendant" (whichever one that might be), regardless of what the effect is on the other party. Plus, if two minors have sex, which one are you going to prosecute? If the answer is "the boy," that just doesn't quite seem fair, does it?
4.25.2008 11:55am
MarkField (mail):

This is a perfect example of why people claim professors are out of touch with reality. When someone can accurately but facilely summarize your suggestion with "he wants to change the law so that adults should be allowed to have sex with high school sophomores," you lose. No further inquiry, no appeal, no nothing: you're automatically some lunatic that thinks something approaching pedophilia is OK.

Some curious thoughts are best kept to one's self....


It would really be a shame if this were true. Are we really still so Victorian that sexual issues can't even be discussed?

I have to say it's kind of odd watching the reaction of some people. There have been comments here reveling in torture, yet they don't get half the squicky reaction that this post gets. And while God knows I think torture is abominable, I wouldn't dream of telling anyone to shut down discussion of the issue.
4.25.2008 11:58am
MarkField (mail):

Historically, a marriage between a 30 year old male and a 16 year old female would have been considered nothing unusual.


Exactly. Anyone who's researched their genealogy would find plenty of ancestors in such marriages.
4.25.2008 12:01pm
Oren:
This is a perfect example of [SNIP] you're automatically some lunatic that thinks something approaching pedophilia is OK.
No, this is a perfect example of why professors have tenure.
4.25.2008 12:07pm
john w (mail):

When I met my wife, 16 years ago, I was 45 and she was 20. I honestly don't think that our lives together would have been any different -- any better or any worse -- if I had been 40 and she had been 15. It's the same difference, right?

Please tell me you're joking.



Joking about what?? About the 25 year age difference between myself and my wife? I've got the marriage license to prove it. If you have a **logical** rebuttal to my argument, then by all means go ahead and make it; I'm all ears. I've never understood the logic behind the modern American phobia against 'May-December' marriages. It didn't use to be that way. There are plenty of historical examples of famous couples who 'lived happily ever after' in spite of (or maybe because) of 20 to 30 year age differences; Bogart and Bacall come to mind as one very famous example. If I'm not mistaken, they met when he was 45 and she was 18. What's the big deal?
4.25.2008 12:09pm
Ken Arromdee:
I suppose they might be less good at the lying and manipulating, for the same reason that they can be less good at some of the things the 16-year-old girl may want (being courted in a romantically appealing way). But I doubt that they're entirely unable to lie and manipulate

This is really the main problem with Eugene's argument. He argues that even if the age limit makes some problem less likely, it doesn't prevent the problem from happening entirely, so the problem isn't a good reason to have the age limit.

But any justification for an age limit is subject to this objection. Age limits are inherently imperfect, but they're all we can do, short of administering maturity tests and sex licenses. Saying "this can sometimes happen even with the age limit" isn't a good objection unless you're prepared to discard age limits entirely.

Of course part of the answer is that 16 year olds are not as good at manipulating other 16 year olds as 30 year olds are at doing so. The fact that they're not entirely unable to do so isn't relevant; all justifications for age limits are inherently "not as good as" or "not as likely to".

I'd also add that the 16 year old is less able to manipulate someone of the same age group because of circumstances, as well as because of skill in manipulation. For instance, it's harder for the 16 year old to say "run away from your home and live with me".
4.25.2008 12:13pm
TheGut (mail):
So one question is, why has this historical abnormality - a social taboo, about sex + marriage between older individuals and teens developed?

Is it related to womens rights? I.E, its far easier for a woman to develop her own resources, gain property, education, write articles, etc on her own, rather than "under the wing" of an older husband? Who by virtue of age has already started developing, or has developed his own "presence" and accomplishments in the world?
4.25.2008 12:14pm
Cory J (mail):

3) WF --
If it became socially acceptable for older men to have sex with teenagers, we would find that a lot more socially acceptable men were openly doing it.


Passing a law lowering the consent would not automatically make it socially acceptable. I tend to think it's an ingrained resistance to the idea. And yes, you can probably say that if people are conditioned to seeing it more often then people will think it's OK and I can't really disprove it.

A lot of people, particularly parents, would be very upset, to say the least, if their child sat down to dinner with a partner who is more than twice the child's age. Whether it's legal or not wouldn't make a difference.
4.25.2008 12:16pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Joking about what??

Joking that any five years of chronological age is like any other (especially between 15 and 20). It is ridiculous to claim that people mature at the same rate between 15 and 20 as they do between 20 and 25.

The statement was so absurd and illogical on its face I didn't think I needed to provide the logical rebuttal, it is self-evident.
4.25.2008 12:17pm
WF (mail):
WF, Tennesseean: Interesting points, but is it really that "abnormal" (in the pejorative sense or in the descriptive sense) for 30-year-old men to be interested in 16-year-old girls?

I just don't know about the descriptive sense.

As far as normative considerations go, good question! It does seem to me that you should look for intellectual compatibility with potential romantic partners, and that if you're reasonbly smart and mature and are 30, teenagers is not the first group you should look at.

And this consideration does reflect badly on the 16yo girl's 30yo suitors. Quite possibly not badly enough to want to outlaw the relationships in question, but I do think you were overselling the 30yo suitors.
4.25.2008 12:25pm
Cory J (mail):

Joking that any five years of chronological age is like any other (especially between 15 and 20). It is ridiculous to claim that people mature at the same rate between 15 and 20 as they do between 20 and 25.

The statement was so absurd and illogical on its face I didn't think I needed to provide the logical rebuttal, it is self-evident.


I agree with this. Indeed, why are we even confining this discussion to 16 year olds? Why not just create a court where a judge can decide on a case-by-case basis whether any particular person is mature enough to make a decision? The proposed 16 year old cutoff is surely preventing some mature 13 year olds from having sex with a 20something.
4.25.2008 12:26pm
john w (mail):
Joking that any five years of chronological age is like any other (especially between 15 and 20). It is ridiculous to claim that people mature at the same rate between 15 and 20 as they do between 20 and 25.

The statement was so absurd and illogical on its face I didn't think I needed to provide the logical rebuttal, it is self-evident.


I didn't say that *any* 5 year gap is like any other. Obviously, there are light-years of difference between a 5 year old and a 10 year old, or even between 10 and 15.

But there is *NOT* very much difference between 15 and 20; and the little bit of difference is cultural rather than innately biological. All this crap about the 'teenaged brain' is Junk Science. There is a book out called The Case Against Adolescence, I think the author's name is Epstein. He makes an excellent case that the human brain is fully mature at about age 15; If it weren't, our paleolithic ancestors could not have survived.

Just to give one cultural example: Why are bar and bat mitzvahs traditionally celebrated at ages 13 and 12? Because that is when boys and girls are supposed to turn into men and women.
4.25.2008 12:33pm
ERH:
If anyone believes that a 16 year old and a 30 year old can communicate or have a relationship on anything like an equal level they haven't been around many 16 year olds.

I'm not sure if it's duress or not, but I know it's not right.
4.25.2008 12:34pm
Prufrock765 (mail):
I am sympathetic to EV's motivation for this post ....but I think John just left the reservation.

Are you saying, John, that you did not mature noticeably (ie., A LOT) between 15 and 20?

I am pretty sure that I did and I am also pretty sure that everyone I knew in my peer group did.

prepare to be flamed, my friend
4.25.2008 12:37pm
Cory J (mail):
I should note I completely forgot about the end part of EV's post by the time I made myself some food and read the comments. So ignore my 11:26 am post.

It's exam time, so I ask for some slack :)
4.25.2008 12:44pm
WF (mail):
<i>3) WF --
If it became socially acceptable for older men to have sex with teenagers, we would find that a lot more socially acceptable men were openly doing it. </i>

Well maybe, but it's not like I was saying that people who are not socially acceptable shouldn't be having sex :).

All I was saying is that 30yo's who sleep with 16yo's are not all that, and the judgement doesn't depend(much) on what society has to say(and I think that we can all agree that at least all but one society(and I would say all of them) are talking crap on the subject anyway).
4.25.2008 12:44pm
Crackmonkeyjr (www):
Cory J:
Deciding on a case-by-case basis is a bad idea. Do you really want a judge second guessing whether the 17 year old you were dating was mature enough for you, when the result of his second guess is that you go to jail and are labeled a sex offender?

ERH:
I've talked to a number of 16 year olds. Many of them are idiots, but there are also a number that can carry on a decent conversation, often better than some 26 year olds that I know.
4.25.2008 12:46pm
TheGut (mail):
I had forgotten the case against adolescence. If I remember right, (and my computer is in the shop, so I can't get to my clippings file) the basic gist of it is that teen culture is a modern day western world invention. That for the bulk of history, and for the bulk of the modern world still, that teens don't spend a lot of time around other teens. They are in the company of adults, either their parents, or their employers. And they are usually doing work, or learning a trade - like George Washington at 16. Its an interesting idea, that deserves more study.

Also, from the viewpoint of the group of hunter/gatherers, being considered "mature" around 16 or so would have distinct advantages. Teens are noticeably more foolhardy than adults, and its always nice to have someone willing to run under that mammoth and stab it in the gut with a spear. The older men, or women, have gained too much sense to want to do it. But it does kill the mammoth faster, and makes it that much more likely they will have fresh meat for supper.

Oh, and Bogart was in his 40's, and Bacall was 19 when they first met.
4.25.2008 12:52pm
DJR:
Let's see: At 15, most people have never lived away from their parents, have never had autonomy of movement beyond the limits of a bicyle, have never held anything approaching a full-time job, and have never had any meaningful degree of financial responsibility. Moreover, nobody in those individuals' peer group has had any of those experiences either.

In contrast, by 20, many people live away from their parents, can drive, have had at least a significant part-time job or full-time summer job, and have some responsibility for their finances. Moreover, a 20-year old's social circle is likely made up of adults who also have had these experiences.
4.25.2008 12:54pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
I doubt I've ever met the 30 year old male who, given the opportunity, would not want to have sex with an otherwise attractive 16 year old female. They don't because it's socially frowned upon, or illegal, or they don't want the baggage that comes with that kind of relationship, but that's not to say they don't want to do it.
I'm only 27, and I'm gay, but I find the idea of sex with someone who can barely remember the Clinton presidency extremely disturbing. None of that for me, thank you.

Is there any way we could impose a content-based "don't post about your creepy sex fantasies" rule?
4.25.2008 12:56pm
john w (mail):
Are you saying, John, that you did not mature noticeably (ie., A LOT) between 15 and 20?

Frankly, No. I don't think so. I was a very bright kid, and my parents had pushed me a lot, academically (which may not be such a good thing, but that's a separate discussion).

Anyhow, when I was 15 1/2, I was already a Freshman in College, and by the time I was 19, I was a married Graduate Student. (Admittedly, the marriage did end in divorce, 25 years later, but that is also a separate discussion.)

Thinking back on it from 45 years later, I think that those college years were the best time of my life (unlike High School which was Hell-on-earth). None of my college peers had any idea that I was 3 or 4 years younger than they were. So, No, I don't think there is any significant emotional difference between 15 and 20.

And today, when I look at my 15 year old daughter, I see exactly the same thing: When she is with a bunch of immature kids, she acts like a kid. But when she is with adults, she acts like any other adult.
4.25.2008 12:57pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
I basically agree with Ken Arromdee, et al., above, the EV makes an error in equating the exploitive powers of 30 year olds with that of 16 year olds, and that possible predation and exploitation by adults is the issue. But if you think 16 is obviously, "creepily" too young, you really need some perspective.

Anyway, what I find "creepy," is the inordinate prudishness about human sexuality in this thread. Can't we just all be adults?
4.25.2008 12:59pm
JoshL (mail):
I am often reminded by something a middle school principal once said to parents: "sooner or later, your child will do something INCREDIBLY STUPID." The basis of the above laws is that we expect children to do something INCREDIBLY STUPID, but that we don't approve of adults aiding and abetting such things.


I doubt I've ever met the 30 year old male who, given the opportunity, would not want to have sex with an otherwise attractive 16 year old female. They don't because it's socially frowned upon, or illegal, or they don't want the baggage that comes with that kind of relationship, but that's not to say they don't want to do it.


As a teacher younger than 30, I can say this is absolutely false. I spend time with 16 year olds every day, and while it's a great and rewarding job, they do a great job of reminding me that they're KIDS.

Perhaps if we were living 200 years ago or more, when all women were expected to be married fairly early and where being unmarried at 20 or 22 meant that one was an old maid then I would think differently. But it's not 200 years ago, and we don't live in a society where 20 is an old maid, and we don't give adult responsibilities to children, and as such they are still children.
4.25.2008 1:00pm
CJColucci:
As a lot of people have pointed out, at various times and in various places the age differences in sex partners that count as creepy have differed. When I see women lawyers in their 30's and 40's dealing with career, biological clock, and mommy-track issues, I sometimes wonder if it wouldn't make more sense for women in their early 20's to marry 30-somethings who are already established, raise kids for a few years, go to law school around 30, and hit the professional world without the conflicts. I suppose I need to say that I'm happily married to someone close to my own age -- though a plaid skirt and knee socks can add spice to the relationship.
4.25.2008 1:02pm
sbw (mail) (www):
The civil wrong ought to be the premature loss of innocence. Cheating someone of their childhood.

Hence, the distinction between activities among those of the same age and those substantially older as instigating predators. This concept does not address youthful instigation -- the "that woman was no child" situations.
4.25.2008 1:04pm
hattio1:
I haven't read the comments yet, so maybe this is mentioned elsewhere. I've always thought, from a legal standpoint our rules make no sense whatsoever. We have a legal fiction that persons underage cannot consent (they obviously can consent, whether they can meaningfully or not). So we say that sex with a person underage is rape just as if the person didn't consent. If the person is incapable of consenting, why does the age of the partner matter? It should either all be rape or none be rape from a consent standpoint. And yet, my sense, and most other people's sense apparently, is that it's just not right to punish two 14 year olds from having sex, but a 14 year old and a 40 year old is an entirely different story.
4.25.2008 1:05pm
libarbarian (mail):

It is ridiculous to claim that people mature at the same rate between 15 and 20 as they do between 20 and 25.



Logically, 5 years is 5 years. A person matures as much from the ages of 20 to 15 as they do from 15 to 20 or from 1 to 6.

Next, I will explain how it is logically impossible to ever catch up to anyone with a head start.
4.25.2008 1:06pm
libarbarian (mail):

I doubt I've ever met the 30 year old male who, given the opportunity, would not want to have sex with an otherwise attractive 16 year old female. They don't because it's socially frowned upon, or illegal, or they don't want the baggage that comes with that kind of relationship, but that's not to say they don't want to do it.


Self-Discipline is what separates humans from animals.

If someone cannot forgo sleeping with those under-18 then he has a serious lack of self-discipline that raises questions about his status as a full human being.
4.25.2008 1:11pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
I would think that quite a few 16-year-old girls who are interested in sex would rather be involved with 30-year-old men than with other 16-year-olds; the 30-year-olds are more likely to know what they're doing both sexually and romantically, plus are more likely to be much more emotionally mature as well as interesting to talk to.

In theory this is true. In practice, the type of 30 year old who is interested in intensively socializing with 16 year olds is the LEAST mature of his age group.
4.25.2008 1:13pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
But if you think 16 is obviously, "creepily" too young, you really need some perspective.
Something being creepy doesn't necessarily mean it should be illegal; I don't really have an opinion on the exact number the age of consent ought to be. I was just offering myself up as a counterexample to the supposedly universal desire of men about my age to fuck 16 year-olds.
4.25.2008 1:15pm
Avatar (mail):
You guys are doing an amazing job of missing the point.

The law isn't interested in authorizing 19-year-olds to dip below the age of majority when they're looking for women to have sex with; it's interested in maintaining the authority of the age of majority in cases where kids are reasonably close in age, having sex, and getting older, and one of them hits their 18th birthday.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, hammers home the arbitrary nature of the age of majority like saying to someone "you have been having sex with her for a year now, but you have turned 18 and now you can't have sex until she turns 18". It's not like the relationship magically changes to turn the older guy into some sort of child molester. But there's more than a few guys walking around with a prior sexual crime conviction because of this, dating before they changed the law...

As far as the moralists in the thread, get over yourselves. After studying Japan for a few years, this sort of thing is small beer. (Talking about the theoretical silliness involved with the age of consent is not even worth mentioning, next to a culture where it's acceptable for a man in his fifties to buy a pornographic magazine featuring high school girls and read it on a crowded subway...)
4.25.2008 1:15pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Thinking back on it from 45 years later, I think that those college years were the best time of my life (unlike High School which was Hell-on-earth). None of my college peers had any idea that I was 3 or 4 years younger than they were. So, No, I don't think there is any significant emotional difference between 15 and 20.

Gee, your own personal experience--from describing high school as "hellish" to being married and content at 20 contradicts your contention that you didn't undergo a rapid maturation between 15 and 20. Even if you don't think you matured much because you were precocious, you must admit peer group certainly did during that time period.
4.25.2008 1:16pm
DJR:
So let me get this straight john w:

You were born between approximately May, 1947 and April, 1948. In 1963, at age 15, you entered college and nobody noticed that you were 15 years old. At 19 (1967), you got married. Six years later (~1973), your current wife was born. You remained married to the same person for 25 years, until 1992. That year, when you were 45, you got divorced and met your current wife, who was 20 years old at the time. She soon--very soon--became pregant, as your 15-year old daughter was born sometime before May of 1993.

This story borders on implausible enough to call bullshit. Even if true, your opinions on the subject are the product of very atypical experiences. Most people would pull out the shotgun if a 40 year old wanted to date their 15 year old, and would be perfectly justified in doing so. I hope your daughter is normal and healthy enough to protect her own interests on this matter, as you do not appear to be either.
4.25.2008 1:17pm
Crackmonkeyjr (www):
libarbarian:
I don't think that you can just say that "5 years is 5 years." People have different experiences at different times in their lives, and the types of experiences you encounter have a lot to do with how you develop. Getting a job, going to college, having your first apartment, having to support yourself, having a kid, all force significant growth on a person. I didn't really have to support myself until about a year ago (I'm 27), and in that year, I feel like I have matured significantly more than in the 8 years prior since I graduated high school.

Not only that, but even if a 5 years was 5 years, you have to look at the baseline. Between being 5 and 10, you have doubled your life experience, between 50 and 55, you've added 10% to your life experience. To put it another way, if you are an employer looking to hire a new employee, an employee with 5 years of experience will probably be significantly better at their job because of it than an employee with no experience; an employee with 25 years of experience probably will be only nominally better because of it than an employee with 20 years of experience.
4.25.2008 1:21pm
NI:
I actually have some personal experience here. I lost my virginity at age 12 to a 26 year old. Looking back on it 35 years later, the sex didn't hurt me a bit, but waiting a few years wouldn't have hurt me a bit either. Oh, by the way, both of us are male. (He was a customer on my paper route; we remained friends until his death last year.)

Here's the problem with allowing "eew, ick" to be a basis for social policy: It's completely subjective. Having had sex as a pre-teen, I'm not at all squeamish about the subject; in fact, I'm far more squeamish about the eyeball soup my Greek neighbor offered me in celebration of Orthodox Holy Week. My Greek Orthodox neighbor, who grew up on eyeball soup, has no "ick" issues with it but would be completely appalled if I told him the story of how I lost my virginity. And I really wish people would quit pretending that their particular emotional comfort level is a sound measuring stick.

On the question of what is sound social policy, even if I assume that the government has a role to play in protecting people from broken hearts, I think the real issue is male versus female. For guys it's about sex; for women it's about relationships. Think about that for a while and tell me if your analysis changes.
4.25.2008 1:21pm
Peter Wimsey:
I was involved in a lot of discussions that led to my state's adoption of a romeo-and-juliet law (more accurately, a romeo and juliet exception to our sexual misconduct with a minor statute), and the motivation was exactly as John O and a couple of other posters pointed out. The point in adopting the law was not to authorize sex with 14 or 15 year olds; it was to decriminalize sex with a 14 or 15 year old under certain circumstances (when the perpetrator is close in age, doesn't use force, and a couple of other conditions are met). With the justification that an 18-year-old high school senior (say), should not be convicted of having sex with his 15 y.o. high school girlfriend.

While the 18-15 relationship may not be ideal, it is not nearly as creepy to most people as a 40-15 relationship. Moreover, since being convicted of sex with a 15-year-old will require one to register as a sex offender, the consequences are even more severe than they were when the crime was originally adopted.
4.25.2008 1:22pm
hattio1:
Oh,
Just thought I'd note that most 16 year old males don't necessarily want to have sex with 16 year old females. They want to have sex with females. As long as they are near their age or older, they don't really care.
4.25.2008 1:24pm
e:
The most disturbing thing about this thread is that some people seem to think that the topic should not be discussed. The number discussed is 16, not 13 or pre-adolescent.

The policy choice is probably wise, since it takes a relatively small number of guys to psychologically injure a great number of impressionable girls, but any arbitrary age cut-off line raises obvious questions. An older man is more likely to be able to manipulate, but there are a few 16 year old boys who could be a suave predators and impregnate or psychologically damage girls. And there are 16 year old girls who can cause lasting damage to boys or even older men. Sex and its politics are always messy, but the answer is not to talk less about it.
4.25.2008 1:41pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
16 and 30 is a big age gap, but in my experience, it's fairly common for a 16 year old girl to have a boyfriend in his early 20s. Unlike the 16 year old's age mates, the 22-24 year old has a job, a nice car, money, his own place to live, and the ability to take her to nice places. All of these boyfriends had the girl's parents' blessing. If the girl's life plan includes marriage the summer after high school graduation, her choice of partner is reasonable.

Personally, I find that the women who catch my eye usually have a young child or two nearby, so let's say 25-32.

And unless things have changed, 17 year olds can still join the military with parental consent.
4.25.2008 1:43pm
Steve2:
I'd just rather not think about teenagers having sex with anybody, period. Makes me too jealous and angry. I never got to have any sex when I was 16! Makes me want to end the "Romeo &Juliet Laws" out of spite.
4.25.2008 1:59pm
Brian Mac:
If Freud was still alive, he'd be having a field day reading this thread...
4.25.2008 2:02pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I actually have some personal experience here. I lost my virginity at age 12 to a 26 year old. Looking back on it 35 years later, the sex didn't hurt me a bit, but waiting a few years wouldn't have hurt me a bit either. Oh, by the way, both of us are male. (He was a customer on my paper route; we remained friends until his death last year.)
Another of those homophobic myths about homosexuals and child molestation, obviously.
4.25.2008 2:03pm
john w (mail):
So let me get this straight john w: ... You were born between approximately May, 1947 and April, 1948. In 1963, at age 15, you entered college and nobody noticed that you were 15 years old. At 19 (1967), you got married....

That's approximately correct. There are some minor discrepancies because I've been rounding off the years, partly in the interest of simplicity and partly to preserve my privacy by not revealing exact dates. But if you want the *exact* chronology, here are the only relevant ones:

> I entered college at age 15 year + 10 mo.; and to the best of my knowledge, NONE of my fellow students ever had any idea that I was significantly younger than they were unless I choose to tell them. Of course, I spent all my time hanging out with the other 'geeks and nerds' i,.e. the Math and Science majors; maybe other peers groups would have been more socially perceptive, I don't know.

> I entered Grad School at age 18 yr + 10 mo., and got married at age 19 yr. + 1 mo.

> I got divorced and remarried between age 44 and 46 (the exact number is irrelevant). And yes, my daughter was born almost exactly 9 months after the wedding; So what???

Now, you say my experience was 'atypical.' In some ways, yes and in some ways no. I was atypical intellectually and academically as a kid because I happened to have been a Math Prodigy. But I don't think I was ever atypical emotionally; I don't think I was ever any more (or less) emotionally developed than the average 'science nerd.'
4.25.2008 2:09pm
MarkField (mail):
I guess the squicked-out readers of this thread would have been appalled by the Buffy/Angel relationship on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
4.25.2008 2:12pm
David M (www):
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 04/25/2008 A short recon of what's out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.
4.25.2008 2:13pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
I think something should be added in regard to historical practices. My sense is that the historical norm was that the sexual aspects of a relationship were far less important than they are today. I see a great deal of difference between a 30 year old courting a 15 year old for the purposes of marriage and that same 30 year old courting a 15 year old for sexual gratification.

And for good or ill that latter situation is where we find outselves.
4.25.2008 2:17pm
Crackmonkeyjr (www):
MarkField:
Even Angel was a little freaked out by the Buffy/Angel relationship. Early on, he commented on how inappropriate it was for a several hundred year old vampire to be dating a 16 year old slayer.
4.25.2008 2:21pm
jvarisco (mail) (www):
The question is not whether the behavior is harmful and wrong (in both cases, the answer is equally yes). Instead, it is whether someone is responsible. 16 year olds are not mature enough to decide to have sex; 30 year olds are. Thus a 30 year old can be punished for having sex with a minor, but a 16 year old can't. I don't really see the problem here.
4.25.2008 2:31pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I was atypical intellectually and academically as a kid because I happened to have been a Math Prodigy. But I don't think I was ever atypical emotionally; I don't think I was ever any more (or less) emotionally developed than the average 'science nerd.'
The two halves of that last sentence are mutually exclusive.
4.25.2008 2:38pm
MarkField (mail):

Even Angel was a little freaked out by the Buffy/Angel relationship. Early on, he commented on how inappropriate it was for a several hundred year old vampire to be dating a 16 year old slayer.


So was Buffy, but the show played it as true love nevertheless.
4.25.2008 2:38pm
Prufrock765 (mail):
jvarisco

I think that you assume the point at issue (see EV's more recent post)
16yo's are presumed by most states, including mine, to be capable of making a consensual decision to have sex.
What are you saying about the legislatures of those states?

And where does your statement about the maturity of 16yo's come from? Does it apply to all? most?
4.25.2008 2:41pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

As far as the moralists in the thread, get over yourselves. After studying Japan for a few years, this sort of thing is small beer. (Talking about the theoretical silliness involved with the age of consent is not even worth mentioning, next to a culture where it's acceptable for a man in his fifties to buy a pornographic magazine featuring high school girls and read it on a crowded subway...)
And that's the least of the weirdness of Japanese culture--studios where (presumably) adult women dress up in school girl uniforms for groping; a commercial market for junior high age girls to sell their used panties to adult men; a few years back, an epidemic of junior high girls moonlighting as prostitutes for adult men to buy consumer electronics.

I suppose next you will tell us that Jim Crow era lynching was "small beer" compared to the Holocaust, and to get over it.
4.25.2008 2:42pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

This story borders on implausible enough to call bullshit. Even if true, your opinions on the subject are the product of very atypical experiences.
I think the second sentence is more likely. There's a lot of very atypical people that gather here; my life experiences, in their own weird way, were pretty atypical. At least I know that they were atypical. There weren't any other 18 year olds working at Jet Propulsion Labs writing telemetry software when I was there.
4.25.2008 2:44pm
NI:

Another of those homophobic myths about homosexuals and child molestation, obviously.


Clayton, I know from reading your posts that you're much too smart to say something that stupid. In the first place, I wasn't a child and I wasn't molested. In the second place, even if I had been, a single instance of something does not translate into a general commentary about a class of people.
4.25.2008 2:53pm
Rhode Island Lawyer:

And I really wish people would quit pretending that their particular emotional comfort level is a sound measuring stick.


Agree wholeheartedly. Nicely put, NI.
4.25.2008 2:55pm
Prufrock765 (mail):
NI
all due respect...
you were a child and you were molested (unless "lost my virginity" means something very different to you than it does to me). This is certainly true in my state and I would imagine that it is true in every state.
Now the act may have occurred so long ago or in a different country such that a crime was not committed.
But barring that, your characterization of the law is almost certainly incorrect.
4.25.2008 2:58pm
gasman (mail):
The author pretends to weigh all the pro/con considerations of 16 year olds having sex with either other adolescents, versus adults.
What he ignores is that all too often the adult relationship is not without significant conflict of interest and power imbalance. Adolescents tend to have interactions with adults predominantly in situations of power imbalance. Indeed, reflecting on my teen years, I have a hard time thinking of an adult with whom I had any interaction with whom there was not some sort of authority relationship with: teachers, coaches, principal, relatives, boss, police. As a teen I just did not have any adult relationships free of such conflicts of interest/power imbalance.
So the reason the laws do penalize the teen in the adult/teen scenario is because it is highly unlikely that the teen is abusing their position to achieve sex with an adult; it is certainly more probably that the adult is violating their duty to the adolescent in participating in the sexual relationship (regardless of allegations about who started it).
The adult, having greater capacity for judgement and decision making is expected to show restraint under the situation when the capacity for the minor to consent absolutely free of coercive pressure due to the inherent authority of being an adult.
4.25.2008 3:05pm
john w (mail):

But I don't think I was ever atypical emotionally; I don't think I was ever any more (or less) emotionally developed than the average 'science nerd.'



The two halves of that last sentence are mutually exclusive.


Touche' ! (sorry, I don't know how to accent the final e properly.)

Seriously, though, the point that was trying to make with my personal life-history anecdote was this: Adolescent humans beings are extremely adaptable, almost chameleon-like, emotionally. If you take , say, a 15 y.o. and surround him/her with a peer group of other feral adolescents, and imply that you expect him to behave the same way, your prophecy will be fulfilled.

But if you take the *exact same* individual, and surround him with adults, he will -- nine times out of ten -- not only act like an adult, but will actually *become* an adult, almost overnight.
4.25.2008 3:05pm
Cold Warrior:
Someone must've mentioned "gay sex," thereby tickling the ClaytonCramerBot!
4.25.2008 3:06pm
NI:

you were a child and you were molested (unless "lost my virginity" means something very different to you than it does to me). This is certainly true in my state and I would imagine that it is true in every state.
Now the act may have occurred so long ago or in a different country such that a crime was not committed.
But barring that, your characterization of the law is almost certainly incorrect.


Prufrock, under the law you are right: He committed a crime for which, so says the law, he should have been sent to prison. Had we been caught and him prosecuted, and he hadn't already passed on, he would no doubt be required to spend the rest of his life registering as a sex offender. As a matter of law, you are absolutely right.

But I'm not talking about law; I'm talking about reality. In this particular instance, the law is an ass. You can't "molest" or "rape" somebody who wants it, and boy, did I want it. Maybe as a regulatory matter you don't want adults having sex with 12 year olds so you criminalize it anyway, but to characterize it as "molestation" is patently absurd. Especially when it happens for the tenth or twelfth or twentieth time; when I have to sneak out of the house or lie to my mother to make it happen. In fact, I held all the cards after it happened the first time: I could simply have threatened to call the police and tell them what happened.

None of this has anything to do with the regulatory question of whether it should be legal. But molestation? Gimme a break.
4.25.2008 3:20pm
Crackmonkeyjr (www):
MarkField:
True love, maybe, but after they had sex, Angel lost his soul, turned into a monster and went on to try to kill all of Buffy's friends and family. If that's not an argument against May-December romances, I don't know what is.
4.25.2008 3:25pm
Avatar (mail):

I suppose next you will tell us that Jim Crow era lynching was "small beer" compared to the Holocaust, and to get over it.


Wow, never expected a Godwin in this thread!

Seriously, though, if we're talking about "hey, is it a good idea to ban sex with physically-mature minors just under the age of consent", then surely the experience of other cultures is worthy of examination.

You're certainly right in that looking at Japan doesn't necessarily argue for the reduction of the age of consent. While it's obviously not the end of the world, they also have a host of sexually-oriented problems that would horrify a prudish Westerner. I don't know that the link is causal - the Japanese attitude towards women could kindly be characterized as "non-progressive", and unkindly as a string of four-letter words, and that's going to have an effect on all sorts of sexual issues - but it's possible to examine.

EV has already done us one better and contrasted several other Western nations with ages of consent lower than ours, however; those nations don't exhibit the same sexual pathologies. Probably best to discuss them in that thread.
4.25.2008 3:35pm
Brian Mac:

You can't "molest" or "rape" somebody who wants it, and boy, did I want it. Maybe as a regulatory matter you don't want adults having sex with 12 year olds so you criminalize it anyway, but to characterize it as "molestation" is patently absurd.


You should write for the Onion. Or maybe just stay away from kids.
4.25.2008 3:36pm
NI:

You should write for the Onion. Or maybe just stay away from kids.


It's a tossup which I detest more, kids or cats, so no fear of that. (35 years later I still prefer older men.) But if you have a substantive response to what I said as opposed to a smear I'd be interested in reading it.
4.25.2008 3:49pm
Prufrock765 (mail):
NI
I think Brian's point was something like:
Are you in favor of completely doing away with age of consent laws?
If you are, then you are sort of creepy.
If that is not your point then what sort of age of consent regime do you favor?
4.25.2008 3:54pm
Brian Mac:

But if you have a substantive response to what I said as opposed to a smear I'd be interested in reading it.


I'd guessed the counter-argument was self-evident, but here goes anyway: the higher cognitive functions of 12 year old kids are pretty much non-existent, meaning they don't have the capacity to make reasonable judgements on issues with potentially long-term, irreversible and at times devastating social, emotional, and physical consequences. So they need a little help with these decisions. It seems smart to err on the side of caution and forbid these kind of relations absolutely, rather than make the pervy guy down the road the arbiter of what's in the kids' best interests.

But you've heard all this already, and no doubt disagree, so I'm not sure why you wanted me to move beyond simply smearing (which was more fun).
4.25.2008 4:05pm
DJR:

As a teen I just did not have any adult relationships free of such conflicts of interest/power imbalance.


This made me think back about my own adult relationships when I was a teen. There was this one neighborhood guy who was a friend to all the kids. They would hang out on his porch and shoot the shit, and he would give them rides on his motorcycle or to the neighborhood pool. There was no power dynamic there. The punchline, of course, is that he was a child molester. He was eventually caught and convicted, with the star witness a 14 year old who he considered his best friend. He had confessed everything to the 14-year old though their own relationship was not sexual.
4.25.2008 4:07pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

In the second place, even if I had been, a single instance of something does not translate into a general commentary about a class of people.
I wish that this was a single instance. You are not even close to the first homosexual who has told me about their first sexual experience at 12 or 13 with a much older man--and many of them absolutely swore up and down that it was consensual, and they were the agressor. One guy told me that his earliest memory from about age three was being for forced to fellate an older male relative in a polyincestous family structure--and of course, that had nothing to do with his adult homosexuality. Just a complete coincidence, I'm sure.
4.25.2008 4:16pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

It seems smart to err on the side of caution and forbid these kind of relations absolutely, rather than make the pervy guy down the road the arbiter of what's in the kids' best interests.
Even worse, some people find it easier to reimagine an exploitive relationship in the past than to acknowledge the true nature of that relationship. Especially when your current identity is so involved with reimagining that past relationship.
4.25.2008 4:24pm
NI:
Well, Clayton, has it ever occurred to you that if so many homosexuals have told you that their teenage relationships with older men were consensual, that maybe they are telling the truth? I agree with you about the three year old, by the way, but that has nothing to do with me. I might even agree with you that many if not most teen- and pre-teen/adult sexual relationships are exploitative, but not all are, any more than all employers exploit their workers (who also have a power imbalance, in that case economic.)

And Clayton, most child molestation statistically is father-daughter, so I expect you to be consistent and criticize heterosexuality equally with homosexuality.

Prufrock, I'm not sure I would abolish age of consent laws altogether; I just agreed with Clayton that 3 year olds should not be introduced to fellatio. But I do think that where they are now is ridiculously high. I think what I would do instead (and this responds to Brian as well) is to have an absolute ban on such relationships where there really is a power imbalance: i.e., teachers, coaches, clergy, parents. I would also have much better sex ed in the schools so that kids can make informed choices, instead of expecting them to ignore their biological imperatives until they turn 16 or 18, and also teach them how to avoid the bad consequences of unwise sex (disease and unwanted pregnancies).

Of course many kids make unwise choices. I did family law for ten years, which was long enough to learn that plenty of middle aged people make unwise choices too. What Brian and Clayton are really urging is that the state protect them from broken hearts.
4.25.2008 4:41pm
MarkField (mail):

True love, maybe, but after they had sex, Angel lost his soul, turned into a monster and went on to try to kill all of Buffy's friends and family. If that's not an argument against May-December romances, I don't know what is.


Heh. I agree that we were supposed to have our doubts about the relationship, even from the beginning ("This can't ever work. You're like two hundred and 24 years older than I am."). But the consequences of Surprise had more to do with the soul than the age difference.
4.25.2008 4:50pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

And Clayton, most child molestation statistically is father-daughter, so I expect you to be consistent and criticize heterosexuality equally with homosexuality.
Uh, no, it is typically stepfather-daughter. About 2% of molestation is by the biological father. We have taboos even more powerful than laws about incest; that's one of the hazards of having made divorce so easy.

I would also point out that since heterosexual men are about 96% of the population, of course such sexual abuse will be more common.
4.25.2008 5:15pm
2L:
As a 21 year old female, I guess I'm a half decade past being 16 now, but I can remember being 16 easily enough. And, man, however you want to look at it, 16 year olds are stupid. Boy or girl, it's the same deal. Sure, puberty's hit, but just because adults can find kids that age to be physically attractive doesn't mean they aren't still kids.

As has been point out upthread, Romeo &Juliet laws are designed to correct the arbitrariness of teenage couples who can legally have sex at 16 and 17, and then are suddenly breaking the law at 17 and 18.

The laws forbidding larger age gaps are there for good reason. It's a balancing act-- and denying a few 30 year old men the chance to sleep with teens just isn't compelling enough to justify the amount of damage such relationships can cause. Sure, some 30 year old man-16 year old girl relationships might be non-exploitive and mutually beneficial, but they're a vanishingly small minority.

16 year old girls are not adults, and they can't be expected to be able to place and enforce their own boundaries against an adult. On the other hand, they can navigate a relationship with another 16 year old while only facing the usual hazards that everyone must while on the dating market. (And despite what EV says, the majority of 16 year old girls find 16 year old boys to be fascinating. Crushes on teachers and idol worship aside, you're not going to get too many just itching to be with someone their dad's age. Freshmen in college, sure-- 30 year olds, no.)
4.25.2008 5:16pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Well, Clayton, has it ever occurred to you that if so many homosexuals have told you that their teenage relationships with older men were consensual, that maybe they are telling the truth?
Some of these weren't even that old. One of the more troubling pieces of information I ran into some years ago concerned HIV+ status for minors--and from analyzing the data, and the reporting categories, it was apparent that a large number of these HIV+ minors had acquired the disease at age 10 or younger from either IV drug abuse, or being recipients of unprotected anal sex. I find the IV drug abuse source unlikely.

You tell me: do you think it likely that a ten year old would be a consenting partner to be being sodomized by an adult? I know NAMBLA claims that children younger than that can take it without injury.
4.25.2008 5:20pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Crushes on teachers and idol worship aside, you're not going to get too many just itching to be with someone their dad's age.
Isn't that in the "ewww" category for most 16 year old girls? They want someone mature and cool--not old and fuddy-duddy like their father.
4.25.2008 5:22pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

I can remember being 16 easily enough.

Did you ever date a 16 year old when you were 16? A two year age gap between girl and boy was the norm in my high school.
4.25.2008 5:27pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I would also have much better sex ed in the schools so that kids can make informed choices, instead of expecting them to ignore their biological imperatives until they turn 16 or 18, and also teach them how to avoid the bad consequences of unwise sex (disease and unwanted pregnancies).
1. Is it even possible to ignore "biological imperatives" at that age? Not my recollection! There is a difference between trying to ignore them, and learning to control one's urges or desires--or there would be a lot more forcible rape.

2. I don't know that there are many people that oppose sex education. It is very clear that abstinence is safest (even condoms don't work perfectly for pregnancy or STDs), and nearly everyone agrees that contraception is a better choice than abortion.
4.25.2008 5:31pm
Sam Draper (mail):
Parents and the state need to protect children from the adult world and the predators that inhabit it. While there may be teenage predators, I think everyone agrees that boys who are interested in girls are normal; on the other hand, men who are seriously interested in girls are perverts and predators. Society gives this presumption the force of law. The focus is on the position of the 'perpetrator,' not the supposed benefits to the 'victim' as described in the second paragraph of the original post.

My sister became romantically involved with a 26 year old man when she was 14. My dad went to the guys house and threatened to beat the hell out of him and his father. Or maybe he threatened to kill them, I can't remember for sure. The romantic relationship ceased, and my dad and sister's relationship was permanently wrecked.

It is always nice when such things can be resolved amicably without resorting to the police. Hehe. But that is what the law is supposed to do: codify these societal prejudices so that self-help is unnecessary.
4.25.2008 5:34pm
NI:

Uh, no, it is typically stepfather-daughter. About 2% of molestation is by the biological father. We have taboos even more powerful than laws about incest; that's one of the hazards of having made divorce so easy.

I would also point out that since heterosexual men are about 96% of the population, of course such sexual abuse will be more common.


Clayton, I repeat, you are way too smart to be making these kinds of statements.

First of all, while I did misspeak and said "father" rather than "stepfather" it is still heterosexual conduct and, therefore, as strong an argument against heterosexuality as same-sex sex with a minor would be against homosexuality.

In the second place, you can't possibly know that 96% of the population is heterosexual. Nobody knows what percentage of the population is gay; estimates range from a low of 1% to a high of 35% (and part of it will depend on how broadly one defines "gay"), but being gay isn't like being Black where it's obvious. Sex surveys rely on self-reporting, which is notoriously inaccurate. Since nobody knows what percentage of the population is gay, there is no baseline to work from, and therefore it is impossible to know whether gay people are better, worse, or the same as the general population on any given subject.


You tell me: do you think it likely that a ten year old would be a consenting partner to be being sodomized by an adult? I know NAMBLA claims that children younger than that can take it without injury.


I think it's highly doubtful that a ten year old would consent to receiving anal intercourse, though with six billion people on the planet probably nothing is impossible. But the snippet you've given tells me nothing. Were these HIV-positive minors male or female? Did their mothers have HIV that might have been transmitted through pregnancy or breast milk? And by the way, even if every one of them was forcibly raped, don't conflate that with consensual sex. I agree with you that rape should be harshly punished, but we were talking about consensual sex.

And there's something else I wish you wouldn't conflate. Over the years I have periodically encountered members of NAMBLA, and every one of them struck me as a case of arrested development who creeped me out too. But NAMBLA advocates sex with pre-pubescent children, in which informed consent likely will seldom or never happen. I'm advocating lowering the age of consent laws for post-pubescent adolescents, who do have the ability to consent, whether or not you think it's informed consent. One really does have little to do with the other.
4.25.2008 5:35pm
NI:

But that is what the law is supposed to do: codify these societal prejudices so that self-help is unnecessary.


Well, at least you're admitting they're prejudices.
4.25.2008 5:36pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
I would also point out that since heterosexual men are about 96% of the population
Clayton, I think you need to get out more.
4.25.2008 6:09pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

In the second place, you can't possibly know that 96% of the population is heterosexual. Nobody knows what percentage of the population is gay; estimates range from a low of 1% to a high of 35% (and part of it will depend on how broadly one defines "gay"), but being gay isn't like being Black where it's obvious.
There are a lot of surveys that consistently show that about 3-4.5% of the male population has been homosexual or bisexual in the last five years; for women, the numbers are pretty consistently 1-2%. Even San Francisco Dept. of Public Health used to estimate that 11% of their male population was gay or bi, and 4% of their female population lesbian or bi.

Yes: I believe that 35% of the population is gay. :-)



I would also point out that since heterosexual men are about 96% of the population

Clayton, I think you need to get out more.
Yes, you need to get out more. Urban areas have much higher rates of LGBTIQ. I think it was an NOPR survey a few years back that found once you left urban areas, the fraction that identified themselves as homosexual or bisexual dropped below 1% of the population.
4.25.2008 7:03pm
Seamus (mail):
I guess the squicked-out readers of this thread would have been appalled by the Buffy/Angel relationship on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Did they ever explain how Angel could ever consummate a physical relationship with Buffy at all. I mean, given that he had no blood circulating, . . . well, you get the idea.
4.25.2008 7:06pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I think it's highly doubtful that a ten year old would consent to receiving anal intercourse, though with six billion people on the planet probably nothing is impossible. But the snippet you've given tells me nothing. Were these HIV-positive minors male or female? Did their mothers have HIV that might have been transmitted through pregnancy or breast milk?
The particular study I was reading identified all of these males as at risk because of either unprotected anal intercourse or IV drug abuse. The population included young men up to age 24, so they didn't break down the details of how the younger ones had become infected. But some of them were young enough that they had to have been infected before age 10.

And by the way, even if every one of them was forcibly raped, don't conflate that with consensual sex. I agree with you that rape should be harshly punished, but we were talking about consensual sex.
Do you think that consensual sex with 10 year olds should be legal?

And there's something else I wish you wouldn't conflate. Over the years I have periodically encountered members of NAMBLA, and every one of them struck me as a case of arrested development who creeped me out too. But NAMBLA advocates sex with pre-pubescent children, in which informed consent likely will seldom or never happen.
Seldom? Seldom? You see, this is where you have crossed the line. NO PRE-PUBESCENT CHILD CAN GIVE INFORMED CONSENT TO SEX! They can't give informed consent to a vaccination.

I'm advocating lowering the age of consent laws for post-pubescent adolescents, who do have the ability to consent, whether or not you think it's informed consent. One really does have little to do with the other.
So what's the magic cutoff? The first pubic hair? Without an intrusive system, it is going to be a particular age. Since there are 10 year olds getting pregnant--and 10 year old boys getting arrested for rape--the gap between you and NAMBLA is a lot less than you think.
4.25.2008 7:10pm
MarkField (mail):

Did they ever explain how Angel could ever consummate a physical relationship with Buffy at all. I mean, given that he had no blood circulating, . . . well, you get the idea.


Certain issues are best left to the willing suspension of disbelief.
4.25.2008 8:21pm
NI:
Clayton, on the question of what percentage of the population is gay, in the first place it depends on how you define the term "gay". Is a man who has sex with women while fantasizing about men (or vice versa) gay? In the second place, surveys are unrealiable because they depend on self reporting. Some people, like Bill Clinton, don't consider oral sex to be sex. Some people lie to pollsters. Some people who are mostly straight but occasionally cross the fence don't consider themselves gay. A lot of people won't talk about their sex lives to strangers taking polls so these may or may not be representative samples. In other words, cite a thousand studies if you want, they're all crap. They're crap when people who are anti-gay use them to show that gays are sick, and they're crap when people who are pro-gay use them to show that gay people are wonderful. You will only have a reliable survey if and when you can come up with a method to independently verify what people say.

In other words, you're not getting numbers on people who are gay by an objective measurement; you're getting people who BOTH (1) self-identify as gay AND (2) are willing to tell the truth about their sex lives to a stranger who's taking a survey.

On the "seldom or never" issue, I suspect the answer is probably never, but since I haven't interviewed every 10 year old on the face of the planet, I can't rule out the possibility that someone somewhere might exist. Kind of like the agnostic who says that he doubts very much that God exists but can't rule the possibility out.

On where I would set the line, I would be inclined (though I would listen to contrary arguments) to set it at or slightly above puberty, which I think is nature's way of announcing that the person is no longer a child. As I said earlier, I would also have solid sex ed so the kids know what to expect and how to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease. (The Europeans and Japanese expect kids to be sexually active and train them accordingly, and their teenage pregnancy rates are a fraction of ours.)

But there's an important point that I think you're overlooking. You're assuming that the trauma of kids having sex is less than the trauma of the law intruding into kids having sex. Imagine my adult paramour and I had been caught when I was 12. I would have been subjected to social workers and police detectives probing into every personal aspect of my life, whether I wanted to confide in them or not. Every orifice would have been tested for VD whether I consented or not. I would have been dragged into court to testify against a man I loved, whether I wanted to or not, and 12 strangers in a jury box would have listened to my deepest secrets. Since I was 12 my name wouldn't have been published in the newspaper, but anyone who knew me and him would have figured it out. You think that isn't traumatic? Even if I were to agree with you that relationships such as the one I had are bad for kids, there is something to be said for sometimes leaving bad enough alone.
4.25.2008 8:53pm
Fred (mail):
Laws are not passed to prevent activities that are highly unlikely to occur from occuring. They are passed to prevent activities from occurring that otherwise would be happening on a very regular basis. In that regard laws forbidding 30 year olds from having sex with under 16 year olds are in place because a goodly percentage of 30 year olds find 15 year olds sexually desirable.

I bring this up because a number of commentators seem to be saying that it is unusual or strange for older people [men] to want to have sex with younger teens. It's not that it's unusual it's that it is not wise.
4.25.2008 11:35pm
e:
NI seems to miss the point that it doesn't matter whether a child "wants it" or not. Is he really surprised that his experience at 12 sickens almost all of us? We all have different experiences, but it is interesting how someone at the extreme can thing it should be acceptable. Physical maturity might be getting younger, but emotional maturity is not.

Almost every kid at some point want to grow up faster and try things that are unwise. Good parents and good communities set limits. I know a lot of people here want to reduce the paternalistic tendencies of government with respect to adults/parents, but it definitely goes a step too far to think that gov't doesn't have a role in protecting children, sometimes from themselves.
4.26.2008 12:39am
Avatar (mail):
Well, even then, "seldom" is probably fair. Certainly there are (a small number of) prepubescents that can exercise informed consent to the level of, say, a dim-witted 18-year-old.

Clayton does bring up an excellent point, though. If you don't set the age of consent at the majority, where do you put it? It's more or less arbitrary, no matter what you set it at. Ideally, you want to set it somewhere where it will reinforce the propriety of desiring someone - i.e. you want men to want to have sex with women as opposed to little girls, so you want "women" on one side of the divide and "little girls" on the other. Set the age too low, and you have creepy old men having sex with little girls. Set it too high, and you have Romeo and Juliet issues, and people start getting torqued that the number's arbitrary.

Theoretically, there should be no sex going on at all below the age of consent. The rationale is that people below the age of consent cannot make informed choices about having sex... but that is true whether their prospective partner is 15 or 40. (Other commenters have pointed out that in some ways, 40 is actually preferable - the 40-year-old is much more likely to have the financial resources to take care of a family - but that's a different argument.) If you can't be trusted to choose who to have sex with, and nobody else can make that choice for you (certainly not your parents!), you should be completely abstinent.

But that's ridiculous; there's an awful lot of teenage sex going on, and we don't see it as some kind of god-awful tide of statutory rape or anything. We've even accommodated it into the law to some extent... or rather, we've more or less had to, because sexually mature people are going to fool around with each other eventually.

So in the sense of "is our current age of consent at the right place", it's fair to say "probably not". There's an awful lot of sex going on involving people under the age of consent, and unless you are a parent of the girl involved, there's no sense that most of what's going on (that is, sex between consenting older teenagers) is criminal in nature. Taken further, our age of consent is doing a poor job of sorting out "legitimate" sexual desires (whistling at a well-endowed 17 year old?) from actual pedophilia.

All that said, there's definitely a limit to how close you want to shave where you set that line - the potential damage incurred by having sex too early is significantly greater than being forced to abstain for a little bit longer. On the other hand, in other areas, we certainly don't like to restrict people's behavior when we don't have a good reason, not if we're here posting on this blog anyway. I'm sure statists might have a different opinion.

The best argument for just leaving it at 18 is that it's the only bright line - of all the arbitrary dates, it's the least arbitrary, and reaching your majority and assuming adult status is at least theoretically linked to the onset of sexual activity. Unfortunately, it's simply not sustainable in the face of people reaching puberty at ten or eleven years of age. It's too high for abstinence, and so you get the crazy patchwork to accommodate teenagers fooling around, and we get discussions like this. ;p
4.26.2008 4:29am
JaredS:
Dilan Esper hits the nail on the head.

I'm almost 30. I don't imagine myself being manipulative or abusive to a 16 year old if I were to have a relationship with one. However, I don't imagine myself doing so. Even in the unlikely event of meeting a particularly intelligent and mature 16 year old who's interested in me, someone who might well be quite appealing in the abstract, I wouldn't have sex with her or even do anything that could hint at such. The likely negative consequences, regardless of legality, would be too severe.

The obvious reality is that 30 year olds who have sex with 16 year olds will not be anything like myself. They will lack even a modicum of judgment or impulse control. Quite possibly, they will also have a psychological abnormality preventing them from being attracted to adults.

Yes, it is entirely true that in the past, well-adjusted people had 30-16 marriages and such, so it's not contrary to basic human nature or anything, but in our present society, with social attitudes against such relationships, people engaging in them are unlikely to be well-adjusted.
4.26.2008 4:45am
K Parker (mail):
Stop the presses--J.F. and I agree about something! ("Please tell me you're joking.")

And CJColucci wins the Unbelivably Bad Pun Award:
you'll see that you have broader options as you get older.

Finally:
And today, when I look at my 15 year old daughter, I see exactly the same thing: When she is with a bunch of immature kids, she acts like a kid. But when she is with adults, she acts like any other adult.
Wow, john w, it's right there in front of your nose, but you don't get it.
4.26.2008 6:17am
Gaius Marius:
While there may be teenage predators, I think everyone agrees that boys who are interested in girls are normal; on the other hand, men who are seriously interested in girls are perverts and predators.

Older men who are interested in "girls" are generally insecure about their own sexual abilities. A truly secure guy would much rather be with a sexually experienced woman in her mid-thirties just as she is entering her sexual prime.
4.26.2008 11:06am