Consenting to Sex: Yes, No, Maybe?

Last month, I took my first women’s studies
course (Intro to Women & Gender Studies or WGS) as part of the winter term.
I’ll admit: there wasn’t much I didn’t already know.  There was one topic, however, that particularly interested me,
mainly because I had not previously had the space to broach it–the issue of consent.

In the context of a WGS course, the question of
consent was presented during a conversation around physical violence against
women. Clearly consent is an issue when too large a number of women are forced
or coerced into having sex, or are raped. What stuck with me, however, was a
different issue surrounding consent, one concerning young people in mutually consensual relationships.

My partner is 8-and-a-half years my senior. We began dating when I was 17, which,
thankfully, is the “age of consent” in New York. But what does that mean? I had
been consenting – and yes, at times, not clearly consenting – to sex for over a
year at that point. If my partner was able to “coerce” me into having sex
because of his “seniority”, couldn’t he control every aspect of my life? 
Is that what consent laws
are trying to get at?

But what does that say about my maturity, my
sense of self, my sexuality, and responsibility to myself as a young woman? My
biggest frustration with my family when I first starting dating my partner was
their lack of respect towards me. How is it that, because I chose to date
someone 8-and-a-half years my
senior, all the good qualities I had went out the window? I was no longer a
responsible, headstrong,
independent, smart young woman, but the
object of a “sexual predator.”

I understand how people can be
uncomfortable with the idea of a 17-year-old
dating a 25-year-old. But there
are many joys and positive outcomes from the relationship, and instead of being
less independent, less responsible, or less smart, I’ve only matured and grown
into an even more powerful young woman. And I continue to love – and have sex
with – the man I met 2 years ago, when a consent law just barely missed us.

So how do consent laws make sense when what they
tell young women is that they are incapable of watching their own backs so
someone else has to do it for them? Telling girls that they lack the sense to
willingly have sex is a way to control their sexual experiences. Who wants
young women to have pleasurable sex?

Whether they are with partners their own age or older, young women are told that
their sexual appetites will never be satiated because only men are allowed to pursue sex for pleasure; the
sexual desires of young women are invalidated both because they are young and because they are
female. And men exploit young women’s desire to their advantage. How is a girl supposed to get her rocks off listening
to that? More importantly, how will young women know the difference between
consented and un-consented sex if their sexual experiences are so
controlled by both society’s and the law’s ideals of consent?

Of course, society continues to silence and
wrongfully instruct young women in other ways than consent laws. But what we’re telling these girls is
not only who they should or shouldn’t sleep with, but who they can and can’t
love. This for me is completely unacceptable, not to mention that consent is a
very hetero-normative idea. There are no laws defending young women, and young men,
who experience same-sex unconsented encounters, nor is there protection for our
trans brothers and sisters.

We must protect must all people from sexual predators,
but protecting them does not mean controlling their lives. I didn’t allow my
life to be controlled and ended up with the best gift I’ve ever received.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

  • marydoula

    Hey B, thanks for sharing your experiences and perspective on this aspect of consent. It’s a complicated issue, and one that I imagine a lot of us have strong and varying opinions about. I’ve been confronted with this issue several times over the past year working with young women as a birth doula and in an abortion clinic, and I sometimes struggle with how best to support these women and respect their relationships. At times it feels very much like it should be the individual woman’s choice, and at other times I’m grateful a law is in place. I’m really glad you opened up this dialogue, and look forward to hearing other people’s thoughts.

  • heather-corinna

    Bianca: I agree, great thoughts.


    I also agreed with the other commentors on this.  I think one thing to particularly bear in mind is that AOC laws also protect people who are not teens at all (AOC laws initially didn’t usually include those over 13): they’re part of what can protect younger children from sexual abuse.  And that’s where the really sticky-wicket comes in because asking someone 17 if they gave consent and your ability to answer honestly — and your ability to earnesty give informed consent — is a very different animal than asking someone 3 or 7 or 10.


    Which is not to say we couldn’t develop a different, and likely better, system and a standard for addressing those inequities and differences: I think we probably could, and in doing so, potentially even refine what informed consent is, legally and practically, so that it serves all people better, including victims of sexual abuse and assault. As well, if emancipation of minors was part of that picture we might find a better standard (one that considers a young person’s maturity and ability to be autnomous very individually) and practice when it came to YP rights, too.


    Unfortunately, when it comes to the law, especially in a nation so large, things often have to be a bit reductionist, a bit more black-and-white than they actually are.  So, there is also that to contend with. Age-in-years alone has never been a sound way to guage maturity, but coming up with a different standard that works in a system of law is difficult.


    Of course, there’s also the issue that I don’t think there is a lot of motivation to get AOC laws changed or refined, and the fact that the people most motivated to do so are either a) earnestly predatory people or b) legal minors without the right to vote on the issue makes it all the more complex.


    Where I did get a bit lost in your post was the idea that consent is heteronormative.  Consent — legally or otherwise — certainly isn’t just about heterosexual or cis gender intercourse in many states or nations.  AOC laws also aren’t only about female-bodied or identified people (they apply to all genders), even though we more often see them used in practice that way.


    One thing that always strikes me about AOC laws I find equally troubling and interesting is their origin: they were initially popularized and put into law for very different reasons than they are usually used for now, namely to help protect children or very young teens from their PARENTS, in regard to parents who were marrying them off exceptionally young or forcing their children into prostitution.  In other words, AOC laws initially had to do with protection for children, and then later, in some areas, teens, from TWO potentially exploitive groups of adults, parents and then the other adult engaging in sex with a child or young person.

  • shewho

    and intend no disrespect to your happiness. But when you speak, you speak from your own experience, and my experience differs, so I speak from that.

    When you say "we’ve been together two years" it sounds so LOOONG to you. Two years ago was just a minute, to me. Today I’m celebrating when I first became a mother. It was after 5 years of trying, and it’s quite possible your parents hadn’t met then. I wouldn’t support my 20-something in being involved with a minor. He’s a fabulous person and I could recommend him as a partner, but both people are entitled to be the age and stage they are, without pre-view or recap. I also wouldn’t support my young teen in being sexually involved, even with an age peer.

    At 17 I was an AIDS activist and, like you, a smart and articulate girl. But if I’d been involved with a 20 something, they would have been wrong, and I would have been cheated. Not of prom excitement, or any of that stuff, but of the opportunity to discover my path at the same rate as my partner. Particularly when it comes to older men and younger women, the inequalities built into the system make that difficult for both partners anyway. Adding an age disparity at the time period when so many choices are being made makes it worse.

  • sschoice

    Heather, you wrote: 

    One thing that always strikes me about AOC laws I find equally troubling and interesting is their origin: they were initially popularized and put into law for very different reasons than they are usually used for now, namely to help protect children or very young teens from their PARENTS, in regard to parents who were marrying them off exceptionally young or forcing their children into prostitution. In other words, AOC laws initially had to do with protection for children, and then later, in some areas, teens, from TWO potentially exploitive groups of adults, parents and then the other adult engaging in sex with a child or young person.


    While it’s true that in many cases where young adolescent women (or girls) were essentially sold or bartered by one or both of their parents into marriage or "employment" which was sexually exploitative, like the choice of the girls to go off with their new owner/caretakers, the choice of the parents was sometimes coerced as well.  In societies with no social safety net parents had no ability to ask the community for help if a daughter, for example, got pregnant out of marriage.  Sons faired little better, as they were themselves sometimes sold by their parents into slave-like arrangements with wealthier families or tradesmen.


    This history of this practice in the USA highlights that, unfortunately with a racist element, in yellow journalism from the 1800s and early 1900s of a “white slave trade” (though the term was applied sometimes to sex trafficking of girls of all races) in girls and younger minors.  This telling of the story usually has the parents either oblivious to the nature of the predator inquiring about their daughter (or wholly unaware of who they are, like if their daughter encounters a so-called slave trader in her workplace) or themselves nearly unable to care for their own needs and seeing the arrangement they’re giving their daughter into as good of an option if not better than what they’d be providing for them if they had not done so.


    This isn’t to say that poor parents even a hundred years or more ago couldn’t have made better choices for their children, and many did so, and supported institutions often affiliated with religious groups to collectively care for children until they neared adulthood, and later supported reforms and public education efforts to address these issues.

  • heather-corinna

    Absolutely agreed, and full-stop with the racist elements of the "white slave trade."


    My intntion in talking about the history of AOC laws wasn’t to suggest (or deny) they were or are more relevant in regard to parents, merely that their origin, particularly with older teens, is radically different than the typical use of AOC laws for older teens today.

  • sschoice

    And for what it’s worth, Heather, the above comment on your post wasn’t meant to be critical, it was meant to add to what you had to say.  For some reason this morning we’re unable to edit comments on previous comments but root comments to the blog post are editable.  It may be a tech glitch which will be fixed soon. :)

    –southern students for choice, athens 

  • heather-corinna

    Didn’t assume they were!


    But even if they had been, not like that isn’t okay. :)

  • crowepps

    At 17 I was an AIDS activist and, like you, a smart and articulate girl. But if I’d been involved with a 20 something, they would have been wrong, and I would have been cheated. Not of prom excitement, or any of that stuff, but of the opportunity to discover my path at the same rate as my partner.

    There’s an underlying assumption here that age is the best indicator of maturity, and that 17 year old girls and 17 year old boys are at the same maturity level, and age is an accurate indicator of the rate at which someone is discovering a path. I don’t think any of that is true.


    I do understand your underlying idea – adult men shouldn’t be trolling the local high school for someone inexperienced they can take advantage of. I do remember, however, that when I was in high school all the 17 year old girls wanted to date guys from the college, because they felt the boys their own age were childish. What in the scenario of age is inherently abusive, though? Is a 17 year old senior girl being ‘taken advantage of’ because she’s dating her older brother’s 19-year old college roommate? Or is the ‘taking advantage’ connected exclusively to their engaging in sex?

  • heather-corinna



    This statement also is a very slippery slope if it’s just about age-in-years:

    the opportunity to discover my path at the same rate as my partner.


    Why? Well, for starters, it presumes everyone is in the same place at the same age. I first left home at 15, for instance, had lived through some absolute hell in the years before and the next year was working part-time to pay for my high school tuition while also going to a very challenging program.  While I did fine with plenty of my same-age peers, in friendships and romances or sexual relationships, I assure you that that majority of them were SO not on the same path as the same rate as me. At the same time, I don’t think the same-age relationships I had were instrinsically less gratifying or positive because my peers were in a very different place than I was, nor that those I had with people older than me who were a bit closer to where I was at in that way were intrinsically more so.  Commonality and compatibility (and equity) are far more complex than that.


    As well, if you’re talking about male-bodied/female-bodied relationships, it’s well-documented that male-bodied young people do mature in several ways at slower rates than female-boied young people. If we wanted to assure everyone in opposite-sexed sexual (or any kind of) relationships were as close to the same place as possible JUST based on overall development per age-in-years, then we’d actually have to suggest young women dated male partners OLDER than them as a general rule.  You can perhaps see clearly with that example how slippery stating being in the same or a similar place in a very general way can be.

  • shewho

    these laws are drafted to protect people from getting adult consequences from decisions they make before they become adults. Age may be a poor predictor of maturity, but it’s neutral. I’d trust my car to my daughter long before any number of people 5 years older than she is, but I don’t expect society to take my judgement on that. So she’ll drive when society permits, which is based on a number of judgements which may, or may not, apply to any given individual.


    What’s the alternative? I promise you, no one here wants to pass a test to prove they’re old enough to have sex, even if we could agree on who would design it.


    In the case you cite, on average, both would be cheated, imo. The older boy wouldn’t be challenged in a way that dating women his age might provide, just as much as the girl would be flattered past the realities of her situation.  2 or 3 years at this age are much farther apart, in terms of life experience, than they will be in 20 years. For the average kid, they’re the difference between living at home and not…and that alone is huge. Add to that decisions about college, a career path… you may not recognize how short this period is, but, as I said, from my POV it passes in an instant. 

  • heather-corinna

    these laws are drafted to protect people from getting adult consequences from decisions they make before they become adults.


    To be clear, that’s not really correct.  Rather, they were primarily designed, and work, to penalize adults who engage in sex with minors or who put minors in harms way.  It’s secondarily about protection, in that these laws are also there in the hopes they they will dissuade those adults from those actions.

  • shewho

    that the primary target of most age-based sexual statutes is to criminalize adult behavior. However, as they apply to this discussion, I would say that we’ve entered into "consent" and when it comes into existence. In that context, I would say "laws which require reaching an age of majority for sexual consent are designed to protect young people from the consequences of adult behavior engaged in before we legally recognize adult understanding."

  • heather-corinna

    I can mostly go with that. (Where I get stuck with that is that it sounds like the law is applied to the minor, when in fact, it is not.  In other words, if a minor under the AOC has sex with someone over/outside it, it’s not the minor who has broken that law.  But I may be tangled in semnatics.)

  • crowepps

    In that context, I would say “laws which require reaching an age of majority for sexual consent are designed to protect young people from the consequences of adult behavior engaged in before we legally recognize adult understanding.”

    I will absolutely agree with you that this is the purpose of the law, but it doesn’t address just why sex is considered ‘adult behavior’, particularly when the statistics pretty much worldwide show that teens tend to begin engaging in sex at about the same age – between 14 and 16.


    There is also the contradiction that teenage girls can’t considered old enough to ‘consent to sex’ but their parents can give them permission to get married, in some states at as young an age as 14 and in Kansas girls can get married at 12! There certainly isn’t anything in those laws about the size of the gap in ages between the parties either.


    If age is a reliable indicator that they can’t have adult understanding, and having sex before that age is damaging, what on earth is there about undergoing a marriage ceremony that confers understanding or mitigates that damage?


  • crowepps

    Certainly the recent attempts by various sex-o-phobes to charge teenage girls with ‘distributing child pornography’ because they were sending sexy pictures of themselves to boyfriends seem to indicate that the next cause in the hysteria about ‘depravity amongst the kiddies’ will be charges of ‘sexual abuse of a minor’ because a 12-year old is caught having sex with himself by masturbating.  Onto the sex offenders list with HIM!

  • heather-corinna

    Yes, yes, and so yes. (Same goes to your other post, crowepps, re: minor-made nude photos and child pornography charges.)


    Per usual, you rock my world.

  • grayduck

    "Clearly consent is an issue when too large a number of women are forced or coerced into having sex, or are raped."


    Are forced or coerced sex acts not rape in New York?


    "If my partner was able to ‘coerce’ me into having sex because of his “seniority”, couldn’t he control every aspect of my life? Is that what consent laws are trying to get at?"


    For me at least, age-of-consent laws are not motivated by a fear that old people can coerce young people into sexual acts. My concern is similar to that of sschoice; a minor does not have the control over her life that is necessary to enable her to freely make decisions. Unlike adults, minors usually cannot decide where to live, where to work or go to school, where to shop, or where to eat. As such, they may not have good alternatives to accepting an offer of sex. Without such alternatives, there is no way for anyone- even the child- to really know whether the decision was best for that child. Moreover, the lack of autonomy by minors means that they are restricted in providing a good home for potential offspring resulting from the sexual act.


    "How is it that, because I chose to date someone 8-and-a-half years my senior, all the good qualities I had went out the window? I was no longer a responsible, headstrong, independent, smart young woman, but the object of a ‘sexual predator.’"


    Whether someone is a sexual predator says nothing about the characteristics of his victims. Rape victims are responsible, irresponsible, headstrong, weak-willed, independent, dependent, smart, dumb, young, old- every kind of woman is raped.


    "So how do consent laws make sense when what they tell young women is that they are incapable of watching their own backs so someone else has to do it for them?"


    So what is your solution; to do away with such laws entirely? What if an eight-year-old decides to have sex, should that be allowed?


  • shewho

    Those laws provide a way to legitimize the offspring of raped children, that’s all. I’d be perfectly willing to do away with them. 


    I’m also willing to look at your statistics for when children begin engaging in sex worldwide. I’ll expect to see similar statistics, however, on child trafficking and sexual slavery. Because you cannot divorce the context of sexual activity from the larger context of options for women and children. However much an individual child may be excited about having a "job" raking leaves at 10, that excitement is not a reason to abolish child labor protections, you see?


    Similarly, many women I’ve known in the pornography and sex trades are pleased to have part time jobs that enable them to provide for their families. I think that reflects a lot more about how our society is set up to provide for families than about the intrinsic advantages of the work, which they do not recommend.


    Clearly, not all people regard sex as "adult behavior." That’s why there’s any discussion. For me, I think there is sufficient evidence that the combination of young people’s fewer options, less life experience, somewhat different developmental state, and the long-term risks of sexual activity make defining sexual activity as an "adult behavior" an appropriate thing for society to do.  

  • heather-corinna

    Clearly, not all people regard sex as "adult behavior." That’s why
    there’s any discussion. For me, I think there is sufficient evidence
    that the combination of young people’s fewer options, less life
    experience, somewhat different developmental state, and the long-term
    risks of sexual activity make defining sexual activity as an "adult
    behavior" an appropriate thing for society to do. 


    I just want to speak briefly to this.


    A big trouble with this view is that all of sexuality is developmental.  It’s also lifelong, so we have infant sexuality, childhood sexuality, pre-pubescent, post-, adult, older adult, etc.  And sexual behaviour in all of those stages (which also have a world of diversity in all of them) varies quite a lot, especially in the first 25 years of life, though we do tend to have some basic developmental timetables that a apply to a great many people, though the age-in-years in this tends to vary somewhat.  For example, not everyone will have or seek out their first sexually-motivated kiss at the same age, but that tends to happen around a similar stage of sexual development for most.


    It might also be worth, especially as older adults, even looking back at the kind of sex, the way you had sex, the tenor of your sex life, when it was newest for us, and recognize that it probably is not the same now for those of us in our 30’s, 40’s or onwards. I began my sexual partnerships in my teens, for example, and by all means, the partnerships I had then, the way I engaged in sex then, the whole works, was different than it is for me now that I’m turning 40.  All was still sexual activity — just like, say, infant masturbation, which most do, is sexual activity — but I was at a different stage in my sexual and overall development.


    I think in these discussions, one attitude that can often come up is
    the idea that sex is "offered" by one party and then either accepted or
    refused, and of course, so often when we’re talking about hetero men
    and women, that is presented as always being male-initiated, or overall
    on the age-thing, always initiated by an older party, which simply
    isn’t factual or actual for many young people and many young women (and is one thing Bianca, I believe, is trying to make clear in her piece).


    I think it’s a clear conflict to try and classify something as "adult behavior" that people who are not adults (however we are defining that) have historically been, and still currently are, motivated to do at their own ages and stages within their own age groups in every culture.


    Sexual behaviour, including sexual partnership of various kinds, is not something older adults or adults teach young people.  Obviously it CAN be, but often it is not.  Quite often, it is something young people  choose to seek out and engage in of their own volition, and when given the absolutely free ability to make those choices themselves — which certainly includes being free of invidividual and cultural coercion, but also includes having the freedom to choose — is something young people wil tend to choose at their own pace, and far more often than not, as crowepps made clear, choose (when there is opportunity to do so) before the age of legal majority, especially in an area like the U.S. where it’s as high as 18.



  • shewho

    "which party initiated" sexual activity in a way that was culturally neutral, and I think this "all of sexual behavior on a continuum" business obscures what is covered by consent laws. And I’ve yet to see all this ‘research’ supporting  sexual activity across cultures and at young ages that IS separate from societal issues.


    Society establishes what activities are legal, and culture establishes what activities are normative. Adults can purchase cigarettes in this country. Children can’t. That’s a legal issue. Now, we all realize that some children smoke cigarettes. If a LOT of children smoked cigarettes, well, we’d still probably think that normalizing it would be a bad idea, so we wouldn’t change the law.


    Do you see how that’s similar here? It doesn’t make any difference whether children were given cigarettes by older people, or stole them, it’s a bad idea.


    Now as to "young people choose to engage in" and apart, as I said, from "free of individual and cultural coercion", a state that doesn’t exist in the real world, consent laws aren’t about kissing under the bleachers.  Statistics on age of first intercourse in the US still have the median age at first intercourse at about 17. Add to that statistics which show earlier averages for lower socio-economic groups (which statistics ARE robust, cross-culturally) and you can’t help but see that cultural factors contribute largely to what young people see as their options, or requirements for behavior.


    It’s not a conflict for society to set standards to protect minors. That’s what societies try to do.

  • heather-corinna

    Before we talk any more, I get the impression you and I may use the words "sex" and sexual activity" differently.  Obviously, if one of us is using terms to mean one thing, and another of us another, we’re going to miss each other in passing a lot.


    What do you mean by those when you use them?


    To be clear, when I say sex, I mean any number of things a person may do alone or with partners to express and enact their sexuality or an aspect of their sexuality.  When I say "sexual activity" I mean something tangible done/enacted with the body (and that would include masturbation).  And when I say either of those things, I’m not talking about any given age or gender, and also come at this from the standpoint of a) activities which are not only male/female (and which, for some people, may never include male/female genital intercourse) and b) when it comes to AOC laws, the knowledge that many are not just about penis-in-vagina or genital intercourse.  Some are, others include things like petting, manual sex and/or oral sex.

  • heather-corinna

    P.S. I also don’t think we can make analogies about sexuality using something like cigarettes or alcohol.  I know people do it all the time, but it just really doesn’t work because those substances are de facto dangerous and unhealthy, which is not the case with sexuality and/or sex.  They are also external substances/objects, which sexuality is not, and the same goes for any one person’s part in/experience of any kind of partnersex.

  • heather-corinna

    Shewho: per the stats, crowepps may have something she’d suggest per getting an easy overview of global young adult sexual activity, but I can’t think of any one single source for that.  How I personally get that information has involved reading tons of studies over many years coming from various sources and areas (and keeping up with all of them is certainly tough), reading a mess of different journals, keeping up with research from my colleagues, etc.  To boot, for me in my job, because I work with YP internationally, I also just listen to/read those young people’s words themselves.


    However, International Family Planning Perspectives, via the Guttmacher Institute, can be a good place to start if you want one. Durex also does a global sex survey each year that often has some good stats in it. Advocates for Youth is another good place to get informed on this. Judith Levine’s work could also be a good start, if you’re not already familiar with her.


  • crowepps

    Society establishes what activities are legal, and culture establishes what activities are normative.

    The law does not establish what activities are legal, all activities are presumed to be legal unless they are specifically made illegal.  The law establishes which activities will be punished.


    Culture establishes what activities are normative PUBLICLY and which activities must be kept private.  Homosexuality, for instance, was culturally non-normative but people didn’t have any problem with the ladies down the street, the ‘two best chums since school’ who had never married and lived together all their lives.  The problem with ‘society setting standards for minors’ is that we have pushed the definition of minor quite a bit later than it ‘naturally’ used to mean.


    Until quite recently, the great majority of ‘society’ felt that graduating eighth grade (14) was just about the time at which people should begin to be expected to act like adults.  Encouraging all students to attend high school is a very recent innovation, something which happened during my grandmother’s lifetime.  I had a great-aunt who got her first paid job in 1911 at 13, and had to lie about her age because the law was you had to be 14.


    It is important to understand that when discussing the boundary between activities which are legal for ‘children’ and those which are legal for ‘adults’, the line has been moved later and later over the years, the entire concept of ‘teenager’ is a recent invention, and we may now have been moved unrealistically far past biological fact when more and more the pressure is on for people to complete college before marriage. 

  • shewho

    And I also work with young people.

    I don’t really need sources for information on sexual activity in young people, because I’ve been doing this since you were in elementary school. I need her sources, because I’m getting a lot of unsupported assertions, and I’d like to know what they’re coming from. 

  • prochoiceferret

    Judith Levine’s work could also be a good start, if you’re not already familiar with her.

    That’s something I’d been meaning to ask you, since your last reply to me (on how delaying sexual activity for its own sake is misguided).


    What is your opinion on Levine’s book, Harmful to Minors? Does it cover pretty well everything you’ve learned in dealing with young people and how they relate to sexuality? (I don’t believe you’ve put out a book, so I’m curious to know how much Levine’s perspective reflects yours.)

  • shewho

    of biological fact, I think it has been moved in support of biological fact. 


    When puberty was effectively the beginning of  a girl’s useful life in reproduction, taking advantage of that made societal sense. Still, statistics for age at first marriage range in the 20’s, for the last 100 plus years in the US. With increased life expectancy, why would the span of supposed sexual activity move down? And why should it?

  • heather-corinna

    I only suggested sources because in two of your responses you said you wanted to see them.  You also say right in this post you need sources, so I’m confused.


    because I’ve been doing this since you were in elementary school.


    You know, it’s really tough to have productive conversation when someone decides they need to be patronizing. I know of very few people besides myself who have worked with/for as many youth around the globe as I have specifically pertaining to sexuality.  I only said what I did about my work because it tends to be relevant when it comes to these issues given the length of time I’ve done it for and how broadly I do it, and because it sounded to me like you were asking for more information.


    By the way?  You mentioned in this thread that you were an AIDS activist at the age of 17. Given the timeline of HIV, chances are we were in elementary school around the same time.

  • heather-corinna

    I do have one book out of my own, but it’s a book for teens and young adults that is a sexuality, sexual health and relationships guide, not a book about teens/YAs.


    I really, really appreciate Levine and what she did with Harmful to Minors, especially given how much almighty crap she had to take for writing it.  I do find it to be very truthful and reflective when it comes to young people’s sexuality per my own observations, though I’d say it’s more about adult projections unto young people, and how the sexuality of minors is treated and percieved in our culture than anything else.

  • shewho

    I was an AIDS activist before it was called AIDS. We just talked about "gay cancer" and handed out surveys. I was a field associate for the Gay Rights National Lobby during the Reagan years.


    You mentioned your work, I mentioned mine. Pissing contest over? 

  • heather-corinna

    I didn’t enter one in the first place, because I was speaking to you with respect and benefitting from our conversation before you felt the need to become patronizing.

  • crowepps

    Reading more widely in the sociology of varied cultures or the more distant history of our own culture might help you to unlink your unconscious assumption that ‘age at first marriage’ and ‘age of first sex’ are tightly linked.


    My point was that the biological drive towards sexual activity actually has moved earlier due to better nutrition and the age of first illicit sex hasn’t moved much at all but the age at which people get social approval for marriage has been moved quite a bit later.


    Reading histories of ‘the common people’ reveals there is a bias introduced by using official statistics to structure assumptions about sex.  You are ignoring sexual activity which is not ‘licit’ and therefore undocumented.  Those older ages of marriage among the prosperous middle and upper classes need to be balanced against the enormous number of children who were engaged in prostitution in England.  I know there was a huge controversy in 1875 about how the government was ‘invading the rights of parents’ when Parliament raised the ‘age of consent’ at which parents could sell their children to brothels from NINE to 13.

  • prochoiceferret

    I do have one book out of my own, but it’s a book for teens and young adults that is a sexuality, sexual health and relationships guide, not a book about teens/YAs.

    Ah! I hadn’t known about that one. Will make a note of it!

    I really, really appreciate Levine and what she did with Harmful to Minors, especially given how much almighty crap she had to take for writing it. I do find it to be very truthful and reflective when it comes to young people’s sexuality per my own observations, though I’d say it’s more about adult projections unto young people, and how the sexuality of minors is treated and percieved in our culture than anything else.

    I remember the controversy when it came out, how conservatives did their damnedest to stop the publisher from putting out the book. I wasn’t much aware of the whole RH issue at the time, but man, did that ever bump up my interest!


    I’m specifically looking for something that analyzes and deconstructs the harmful (adult) attitudes that color society’s view of early sexuality, and that marshals a defense for that analysis. Given your experience, I’d be happy to take you at your word—but many people obviously wouldn’t, and even someone like me may need some stubborn misconceptions corrected. Levine’s book is a good source to go on, then? Would there be any others that come to mind?


    (Which is not to pooh-pooh your title, of course. Only that, as I’ve seen in your many columns published here and at Scarleteen, sensible and practical advice to someone who needs it doesn’t necessarily cover the ground I’m looking for.)

  • heather-corinna

    No pooh-pooh assumed!  My book would not be very helpful for that purpose, save some of the statistical material (which often has its own problems because of how researchers tend to frame YA sexuality and sexual behavior).


    Absolutely, Levine’s would be a good choice, if you’re asking me.  So might Adolescent Sexuality: A Historical Handbook and Guide (Carolyn Cocca), Teaching Sex (Jeffrey Moran), and Deb Tolman’s Dilemmas of Desire is also great for this (I can’t tel you how much I loved that book), especially when you want to get a picture of this from young women themselves.  Foucault also touches on some of this, which may be a big duh.


    This is for a very specific time period, but last year I read Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920 (Mary E. Odem), and was so impressed and glad to find it.  I haven’t read Dangerous Passage: The Social Control of Sexuality in Women’s Adolescence (Constance  Nathanson), but have heard good things about that one, too.



    I also like to balance reading like that out with books that address adultist approaches to young adults in general, because I think the issues with this we see with sexuality and in part about sexuality, but also are indicative of adultism in general, and the way youth are treated by adults/adult culture as a whole.  A couple books I have really liked on that are  The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager (Thomas Hine),
    America’s Teenagers–Myths and Realities (Sharon Nichols and Thomas Good) and The Case Against Adolescence (Robert Epstein).


    If I geeked out overmuch, my apologies.  I love crafting reading lists. :)

  • crowepps

    I’m sure I’m not the only one that loves GETTING reading lists, and prints them out to see if the library can track them down for me —

  • prochoiceferret

    If I geeked out overmuch, my apologies. I love crafting reading lists. :)

    And I’m very happy to have a list of books that are spot-on in your view. Thanks for the recommendations! No apology needed!

  • shewho

    but maybe "easy global overview" and " reading tons of studies over many years coming from various sources and areas (and keeping up with all of them is certainly tough)" caused me to make a mistake about that. If you weren’t implying it might be too difficult for me, I was mistaken.


    However, I’ve asked crowepps for support of her statement, "the statistics pretty much worldwide show that teens tend to begin engaging in sex at about the same age – between 14 and 16." Those are the particular statistics I’m looking for. I assume those statistics will define sex in a way we can use as common ground, so we stop doing the "range of sexual behaviors" thing. And I’m looking for such statistics compiled in a vacuum, since part of the point at issue here seems to be the suggestion that there’s a biological drive with which age of consent laws are in conflict. Until we can sort out whether that’s factual, I don’t see how we can make much progress, do you?  

  • shewho

    I’m just trying to work with facts.


    You say, " the biological drive towards sexual activity actually has moved earlier due to better nutrition". That sounds like a testable hypothesis. Has anyone tested it? Is it supported by any data on sexual activity from cultures with different levels of nutritional access, for example?


    And, really, are you suggesting data on sales of children to brothels bears on CONSENT? Because if they hadn’t consented, they wouldn’t have been sold, maybe? You do understand that children are, to this day, trafficked before menarche. I think it rather supports the point I raised that you cannot talk about consent until you’ve established that the people involved are developmentally, emotionally, economically, and culturally empowered so that their consent (or absence of it) carries weight.

  • katwa

    For me, I think there is sufficient evidence that the combination of young people’s fewer options, less life experience, somewhat different developmental state, and the long-term risks of sexual activity make defining sexual activity as an “adult behavior” an appropriate thing for society to do.

    Oh, come on. That’s preposterous! What kinds of sexual activity do you want to stop children from engaging in? And how do you suggest we do it? Lock them all up?

    Sexual activity is absolutely NOT an adult-only behavior. Infants touch themselves and realize it feels good. I’ve been having orgasms since I was 6. Most teenagers have or want a boyfriend or girlfriend.

    Give me a break. Do you want to make all sexual activity illegal until 18? 21?

    And comparing it to cigarettes is ridiculous. Cigarettes are bad for you no matter what age. Sexual activity is usually considered GOOD.

  • katwa

    <blockquote>What if an eight-year-old decides to have sex, should that be allowed?</blockquote>


    As far as I know, this is not currently illegal in most states. I know mine has no laws against children having sex. Only against ADULTS having sex with children. So if an adult rapes an 8 year old, he or she is breaking the law, but if 8 year olds have sex with each other it is not illegal. 


    Do you really think we should be locking children up for sexual activity? If so, which kinds of sex? All of it? Is holding hands ok? Kissing? Petting? Masturbation? Digital (as in fingers) sex?

  • heather-corinna

    I wasn’t implying that at all.  Rather I was saying that getting that kind of big picture, in my experience, involves so much reading from so many places that it’s tough to try and identify a couple sources when someone is asking for them.  Especially since I have yet to see one truly fantastic big overview that really covers it all well, especially that’s international and historical.


    Per the stat you want, the way most research studies/data define sex — especially since most are done via physical health or pregnancy funding/orgs — is as heterosexual vaginal intercourse.  I can get you plenty of those (you have probably already seem them yourself), but since that’s only one thing people of all ages do sexually, many people will never do that at all (because they’re not heterosexual), and because young adult sexuality specifically so often has years of other sexual activities that come first before that one, I don’t think that information is actually very helpful here.  Perhaps we can split the difference and look at young adult sexual partnered activity (or desire for such activity: tougher to find that data as a study, though) that’s genital?

  • crowepps

    The biological drive towards sexual activity is activated at puberty.  Puberty in advanced countries has moved earlier as demonstrated by girl’s age at first menarch.  It is believed that this is linked to better nutrition.  Hunger delays reproductive readiness.

    Today, girls begin menstruating about nine months earlier
    than their ancestors did 20 years ago. In studies conducted between 1973 and 1994 it was found that black girls were 40% more likely to begin menstruating before the age of 11, but on average me nstruationbegan for them three months earlier than white girls, who generally reach this stage of maturity at the age of 12.


    There are a ton of studies out there on age of first menarche — unfortunately, most of them are ‘pay per view’ or ‘for subscribers only’.  This google answer includes quotes and cites from some of them.


    This has nothing whatsoever to do with consent.  Actually, in my opinion, the assumption that the person’s increasing age all by itself enables them to better control consent is kind of wobbly.  While I will agree that consent rises from power, and our society doesn’t allow children to have power and therefore their ability to give or withhold consent is weak, growing older all by itself does not necessarily confer power.  The person involved could still be developmentally delayed, emotionally unready, economically dependent, or encouraged by culture is leave power in the hands of others.


    No, I was not saying that the age of children sold to brothels has anything to do with consent.  I was saying that there is ample historical evidence that not all sex was marital sex and that your reference to ‘age at marriage’ might not be taking into account the bias that might arise by linking the two.  Actually, age at marriage doesn’t have a whole lot to do with consent either, since historically women’s options were so limited that they were constrained to marry.


    I certainly don’t think it is possible within a society where there were huge cultural forces heavily involved in restricting, controlling and constraining sexuality and somehow tease out from all that the age at which people are ‘naturally’ mature enough and empowered emotionally and economically so that they can choose a sexual relationship.  How would you ever weed it all out so that the person’s choice was clear?


    As I understand what you are trying to say, children are damaged in some way by voluntarily having sex when they are too young, and you feel that they cannot actively ‘consent’ to do so because they don’t have the power necessary to refuse consent.  You think that power should be applied from the outside by enforcing a high statutory age of consent so that anyone who has sex with someone under that age is severely punished, and by using that threat of punishment discourage sex with teenagers.


    The problem is that most teenagers who are having sex are having it with each other, so that they would end up being ‘mutual abusers’ and holding either or both of them ‘responsible’ would require the persons to be considered, at the same time, mature enough to be held responsible for behavior AND too immature to be responsible for consenting to the behavior.

  • shewho

    that’s genital. Good. Who qualifies as "young adult?" 



  • heather-corinna

    In studies on adolescent or young adult sexuality what we typically see represented is a small age group, often 13-16 or 15-19, but sometimes just under 20 or just under 18.  So, who is a minor going to depend a lot on the specific studies at hand and, when we’re talking internationally, on the differing ages of majority around the world.


    But if you want to stick to/start with some spots in the west, here are a few general links that don’t address more than just intercourse for the UK, US and AU with some stats: 


  • shewho

    who qualifies as young adult?


    or are you answering for crowepps. 

  • shewho

     and we can talk about the sources of that, if you like. But lets finish this issue of "growing up younger" first, may we?


    So this study:

    which concludes "Overall, US girls are not gaining reproductive potential earlier than in the past." 2002


    and this one :

    which finds illiteracy the most statistically significant correlative  factor would be… what? Not part of the narrative?


    So, I’ll ask you the same question I asked Heather. What age are we talking about for partnered sexual activity that’s genital? Maybe we don’t have an issue at all. 

  • shewho

    carries risks as well as benefits. I’m sure you know that.


    Unless you’re too young to appreciate that.  

  • heather-corinna

    I have no idea if that answered your question, but I don’t know why I would speak for crowepps.


    Are you asking who *I* consider to be a young adult?  I thought you were asking regarding the data we were discussing, so I discussed how it is commonly defined by the studies which contain that kind of data.  Which is to say, it varies based on the study, but most typically is the kind of age groupings I referred to. If we want to agree on definitions per the kind of data you want, go ahead and make a call on it, and I’ll try to gather that information for you accordingly.


    (Just FYI, I’m out for the whole day tomorrow, so there will be radio silence from me for a bit.)

  • shewho

    And here is a partial picture of "consent" on that page.


    It discusses children in level 10 and 12, which are 15-16 & 17-18, so I’ll concentrate, where possible on level 10, but some highlights include both.

    "About 25% of year 10 students have had sexual intercourse, and 37.3% have engaged in oral sex."

     This section is combined years 10 & 12:

    "Most young people feel confident they can deal successfully with issues such as unwanted sex or a partner who is unwilling to use a condom."

    "22.8% of young people didn’t discuss any sex-related issues, such as condom use and avoiding pregnancy or STIs, prior to their most recent sexual encounter."

    "One in four teenagers report they were either drunk or high during their most recent sexual encounter." 


    • 5% of teenagers reported that their most recent sexual experience was unwanted.
    • 15.9% experienced unwanted sex because they were drunk, with higher figures for females (17.6%) than males (13.9%).
    • 6.1% experienced unwanted sex because they were using recreational drugs, with higher figures for males (6.9%) than females (5.4%).
    • 12.6% experienced unwanted sex because they were pressured by their partner, with higher figures for females (13.9%) than males (11%).
    • 2% experienced unwanted sex because they were pressured by their friends, with higher figures for males (2.9%) than females (1.2%).
    • And, back to year 10 : "Students in Year 10 are more likely to have had their most recent sexual encounter with someone they met for the first time (15%) than students in Year 12 (7.6%)."
    • This is not a picture of empowerment, to me. It is, in fact, a picture of teenagers, who have more confidence in their ability to handle anything than is borne out by the facts, are having sex under conditions of diminished capacity, and are, more as younger than as older children, the target of sexual opportunists.   


  • heather-corinna

    I only have a few minutes, and hope this conversation will continue on without me today and tonight.


    But what I’d pose about those stats is a few questions:

    • Do you imagine those statistics are all that different for legal adults/those over the age of consent?  My impression is that they aren’t, just like, for instance, we often see that rates of unplanned pregnancy often aren’t all that different for adults (especially when we factor indifferences in fertility) than for young people, or that rates of IPV/DV aren’t all that different.  I don’t have the time to do all the legwork now (but you can certainly look for yourself), but for example, here are some stats from the Women’s Safety Survey/IVAWS on rape overall in AU (what’s being called "unwanted sex," in the stats above, a phrase I really hate seeing in use, but I’m sure you know a lot of orgs are still way behind when it comes to sound rape address):

    – 10% of women had experienced at least one incident of physical and/or
    sexual violence in the past 12 months. They were more likely to report
    physical violence (8%) than sexual violence (4%).

    – During the 12 months prior to the survey, 8.3%
    of Australians experienced some sort of violence.

    – Women in the 18-24 year age bracket were more likely to be assaulted than women in other age-groups

    –  An estimated 1.2 million women in Australia aged 18 and over had
    experienced sexual violence or its threat since the age of 15. More
    specifically, one in six adult women in Australia had experienced
    sexual assault since the age of 15 years.

    – There was a small decrease in the overall incidence
    of sexual violence over the 12 months preceding
    the 1996 and 2005 surveys, but an increase over
    the course of women’s life times.


    Australia also, overall, has profound problems with drug and alcohol abuse.


    • Are those stats what they are because, expressly, of how old young people are?  By all means, I’d say in some cases that yes, or more accurately, that there are many teens who lack the education and maturity to have healthy sexual relationships.  We do have, across the board, really, sound data to show us that the very youngest teens, those under 14 or 15, tend to have much higher rates of assult or coercion, and their expectations about sex tend to be more realistic, some of which is, I think, about age.  At the same time, I don’t think age alone is the answer to this question: I think it’s far more complex than that, also including what resources adults provide teens and support them in, whether or not teens are getting solid and quality sex education, how culture at large treats teen sexuality, etc.  If it was just about age, then those stats would look very different, and you wouldn’t hear from people like myself and Bianca and a world of others who had positive, healthy sexual relationships as young people. 


    So, I’m not sure I’d agree that this isn’t a picture of empowerment with the stats as a whole, because the majority of young people in the page of stats I gave you from AU are not represented in the stats you chose to reprint here: these reprinted stats represent a minority, not a majority. And the one group of stats you pulled from that page specifically mostly addresses NONconsensual sexual experiences, rather than those which were fully consensual (if not legally, per AOC, then consensual per what the YP expressed about their choices) and wanted. As well, my impression is that often, globally, the stats we have on sexual issues and minors can tend to be a whole lot like what we see for legal adults.


    (Just to be clear: I hope you understand that I am deeply concerned about young people who are sexually assultes or abused or who are exploited, as well as those who are making choices that are more likely to put them at risk of negatives than positives.  I work hard to be sure to address young people around these issues.  However, I just don’t agree that age-in-years alone is the sole or central issue here most of the time.)

  • shewho

    "age-in-years alone is the sole or central issue here most of the time" you wouldn’t be agreeing with me. I haven’t said that. The reality for individuals is always more nuanced than mere statistics can provide.


    But that’s the dilemma for public policy. Public policy is based  on a compromise between our ideal world and the one we wake up in.


    Look at choice, itself, as it applies to abortion. How many people would argue with the idea that, ideally, no woman would ever need or want an abortion. Every pregnancy a wanted pregnancy is a step further from most of what we discuss, but it would solve the whole problem in one swoop. Everyone happy. The same is true for (partnered, genital) sexual behavior involving minors.  In an ideal world, where all our sexual behavior sprang from an empowered sense of our sexual and emotional needs, and was informed by a concern for the consequences to our health and other aspects of our lives, individuals could pursue their sexual activities without artificial protections by the state.


    That’s REALLY far from what we have. You say my stats represent the minority… I disagree.  The minority is sexually active children. That’s the minority whose "rights" you’re advocating for, and for them you’re willing to risk the safety of all the others. Even among them, even among children who fully believe they are prepared to "consent", their consent is a fiction… and all too often a fiction constructed as a defense against abuse they’ve already suffered.


    The problems we look at here aren’t new problems.  My cohort became adults at the height of the "sexual revolution" and I doubt anyone who wasn’t there, personally, can really get a picture of what that party looked like, particularly in the Gay community. No one headed for the Castro  or West Hollywood for fine dining. It was a rare female in my group who hadn’t coped, somehow, with one or more unplanned pregnancies. Safe sex? How many HOURS I sat in various rooms explaining and cajoling student health services and women’s bookstores and gay business owners to take a handful of leaflets or stock condoms and dental dams. And I went to more than my share, imo, of sickrooms and funerals. And I’ve been there for those women when they found out they’d never have children, due to scarring from STD’s, or that they had ovarian cancer, and I’ve sat beside strong men and women weeping as they tried to put together a mid-life that made sense when all the walls of safety and loyalty they’d built around sex they’d always defended as consensual started to collapse, leaving a deep layer of betrayal at the root.


    If 10 15 year olds in my town have sex for the first time today, how many will cry over the consequences by 40? 9 of them? Only 3? Only 2?  Is there a level of "acceptable casualties" here? Because what I see is a HUGE industry based on the idea that we, as adults, can turn our backs on children, who are denied any real liberty, have no economic recourse, and are targeted as consumers of over-sexualized bullshit by saying, "Oh, you consented."


    We do the same thing in so many areas. We stick them in schools and them blame them for being out of touch. We make their age peers their only peers and then complain  they’re not involved. We make them consumers and expect them to be productive. I totally agree that in an ideal world children would be much more respected and empowered, and I work towards that.


    But dismantling such few safeguards as consent laws represent isn’t the route.

  • katwa

    Sure, some sexual activity does. But not all… And so what if it does? Does locking children up do anything to mitigate the risk? I’m just confused at what GrayDuck was proposing. Sounded like he thought it should be illegal for children to consent to any kind of sexual activity. I think doing that would just make the majority of children criminals.  


  • heather-corinna

    I agree with and appreciate a lot of what you have to say here.  It also seems like we may be misunderstanding one another.  My impression was that you were saying that all teen sexual activity was "adult."  (And that’s what I have been responding to and trying to talk about.) 


    In that, I understood you to be saying age-in-years is most of what there is to it: if that’s not what you were saying, I misunderstood.


    I, personally, don’t think AOC laws should be dismantled or done away with, which it seems you thought I was argung for.  I’m not.  I agree with you that when it comes to the law, there’s always going to be compromise, and it’s also often going to be based in protecting those most vulnerable, and beyond my overall issues with our system of law as a whole, I don’t have an issue with that.


    But I do think they could stand to be reworked a bit, I do think it’s worth looking at what ages they’re set at, and I have often been very unhappy with how they have been applied.  They dont seem to be much of a deterrent for earnestly predatory people, either, and it seems like I’ve observed just as many young people in healthy relationships screwed by them — where then the law creates the trauma, not the sex they had — as I see them provide protection or, more accurately, punishment in cases where a young person was exploited.  It seems to me that we can still have AOC laws and yet finesse them to work better at what they are truly supposed to be doing.

  • shewho

    falls into the "hot mess’ category, ime. Falls out along the lines that reflect societies prejudices pretty fast. And of course that’s a problem, but isn’t the problem prejudice, rather than law? You can’t possibly tweak traffic regulations enough to eliminate "driving while Black" as a category, because it isn’t a legal category to start with. 


    Another story with analogy, and pardon for my free use of them, because it’s just hard-wired with me.  In the 5th grade a classmate of mine had been so badly beaten, with a belt, that she was having trouble sitting in her seat. The teacher was a bit annoyed, and the girl told me why she was restless. After seeing what she was dealing with, I got the teacher in there, and she was excused from seatwork. (I doubt very much there were any consequences for the father, btw, there seldom were, at that time.) I’m sure you would not be surprised to hear that her later choices around men did not reflect what I, personally, would hope for her.


    You have to remember, nothing that happened to her was a crime. Her father had every legal, and, in the estimate of his neighbors, probably, moral responsibility to beat that girl black and blue. So, legally she’s not a victim, and all her choices have been ‘free choices’. But in my estimation, her choices were restricted by her upbringing. 


    Now, you brought up statistics  on sexual assault and behavior among adults, and you talked about levels of alcoholism in Australia. There are not ANY adults who weren’t children, first. One of the things we know about abuse, addiction, and similar negative cycles is that they can occur in younger populations, and effectively arrest the development of the addict. In other words, a person who becomes an alcoholic at 13 remains almost precisely 13, in POV, until they get some level of recovery. Also, our understanding of the basic brain development of humans may now indicate that adolescents haven’t fully matured brains. That’s not about being "smart" or "responsible". It implies a different biological approach to issues, particularly those that concern long-term thinking. We know that early exposure to addictive substances is more likely to result in addiction than later first exposure, for example. I wonder how, then, we would separate the outcomes of "consenting" sexual behavior on an adult population from "unconsenting" behavior… particularly when statistics are so unacceptably high (in my opinion) on REPORTED "unconsenting" behavior. If over 25% of respondents report they had experienced an unwanted sexual encounter, how much unwanted sex is out there?  If the statistic is at 25% at 18 (average) what is the statistic at 30? Those numbers only go up, kwim? 


    And if we reframe this, so that teens, who now can report that 5% of their most RECENT sexual encounters were unconsenting, are considering ‘consent’ as an option earlier, how have we undermined them? 


    The advantages of earlier sex are darn few. The disadvantages are many. People tell me all the time that sex with a minor is not "real rape".  Yeah, date rape wasn’t, either. Marital rape wasn’t, either. I have a really thick skin when it comes to rewriting the definition of "rape."  It was only recently we managed to change the laws so that ‘rape’ could even EXIST in marriage.


    Consensual sex requires consent.  Consent exists in the absence of coercion. Teens seldom do.

  • heather-corinna

    Again, I agree with a good deal of what you’ve said here. And trust me when I tell you that like you, I too am very invested in the way rape is treated in our culture, which may perhaps be the understatement of the century on my part. I also agree that prejudice, rather than law, is often an issue, but in the case of some AOC laws, and the ages chosen for some of them — especially those that don’t give a grace period in terms of partners being of relatively close age, or those wher it’s as high as 18 — I’m not sure prejudice isn’t part and parcel of those laws, and a lot of the laws we have regarding young people.  Crowepps hit on that well when she talked about the laws regading young people are marriage as contrasted with AOC laws: I can’t see those disparities being about anything BUT prejudice.


    I’m just not on board with all of what you say, especially when we consider that a) we do not know of any one age that everyone is in the right space and situations to make fully freely-made sexual choices (especially when for some people, that age can be never, and like you suggested in another post of yours, a compelling argument could be made that no one ever really can 100%, especially oppressed classes of any kind, which would include tenns but also women, the disabled — any number of groups) and b) coercion can come from more than one party, including adults who decide we know what’s best for teens even when they are telling us what they know is best for them.  For sure, some who say that may later feel as adults they didnt really know, but some will feel (I number among them myself, and as of now, so does Bianca, obviously) in hindsight that we did.  And I think we always have to consider that restricting someone’s freedom, sexually or otherwise, is something to do with a great deal of caution and deep consideration, and that doing so in and of itself has the potential to cause trauma or other negative consequences.  Like, say, feeling disempowered to really make and own your own choices even at times or in situations where you truly are empowered to do so.  I think that’s something that can actually enable rape and sexual abuse, and make people ABOVE the AOC potentially more vulnerable to coercion in some cases.


    You say the advantages of "earlier sex" are few.  I’m not sure I know what that term means: earlier than what?  What’s later enough?  By whose standard?  Again, with the law, expressly, we have to choose arbitrary standards, but I think we can still choose them wisely.  There are countries with far lower AOCs than we have here who have better sexual health outcomes, a fact alone that suggests this idea of the "right age" is deeply problematic, especially if we say, for instance, it’s 18, yet find that outcomes for people who are 17 or 19 are often so similar.


    I also hear you when you talk about how childhood and adolescent experiences, behaviors and patterns influence adulthood.  I absolutely agree.  But when it comes to young adult sex, I don’t think we can assume those must be or are more likely to be negatives in every situation.  I think we also have to consider that for some of us, sexual partnerships when we were young people posed more than a few benefits to us at that time and later.  And I think we can figure out ways to refine AOC law and practice and the way all of us, as a whole, addresses young adult sexuality that allow for positive experiences, and for young people who do want to be sexual with partners and are ready to manage a sexual life just as much as many older adults are while still working to help safeguard or reduce negative experiences, including supporting young people in not having sex at all when that is what they want, or when they feel or clearly are unequipped to handle it even when it is what they want.


    I’m a bit down for the count today, then have to prepare myself with a ton of work before a conference I’m leaving for Wednesday.  So, given I won’t be able to resume this until March, I expect that it, like a lot of ‘net discussions, will just sort of drop off. That given, just wanted to let you know I’ve appreciated the discussion. :)

  • shewho

    Travel safe. :)

  • crowepps

    By the way, highly recommend "The Prospect Before Her" by Olwen Hufton, which covers the history of women between 1500 and 1800 in a fact-packed but readable format.

  • crowepps

    Our decision on the appropriate age, from at least in my case what most teens and their parents would consider geezerhood, is pretty irrelevant.


    The point I was trying to make, apparently not well at all, is that to have laws which do not recognize biological reality – a biological drive towards having sex exists and is reinforced when rewarded by pleasure – is a recipe for failure.  It will succeed in stigmatizing and punishing behavior but I don’t think it will succeed in preventing it.


    When I was a teen, the appropriate age to start dating was around 16, now apparently the average is 13.


    Movies, television and books make it clear to teens that the purpose of ‘dating’ is to choose the person with whom you will have sex.  While I personally think 16 as a minimum age for starting dating would be more sensible, the strong connection between their children having a ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ and the belief that attaching a partner proves their children to be ‘popular’ means most parents today wouldn’t be particularly interested in my opinion.


    They are more comfortable in their delusion that dating for years isn’t going to lead to any consequences, and that they don’t need to be proactive in providing their children with information.

    In a new study released today in Pediatrics, Schuster and his colleagues reported on their yearlong study of 141 teens (ages 13 to 17) and their parents. At the beginning of the study, none of the teens had had sexual intercourse. Then, three times over the course of the next year, the scholars surveyed the teens and their parents, asking very detailed questions about parent-teen communication about sex, and asking the kids about any sexual activity. The questions ranged from moral- and values-based questions (e.g., reasons not to have sex, how you know you’re in love) to specifics about sexual behavior and contraception (proper use of a condom, choices of birth-control methods).
    Analyzing the data, the scholars determined that, in that year, 40 percent of the boys and 46 percent of the girls had had sexual intercourse before their parents had ever given them advice on how to ask someone out on a date. More than 40 percent of the teens had had sex before having a single conversation with their parents about condom use, birth-control options, or sexually transmitted diseases. 
    About 40 percent of the time, parents started telling kids why teens shouldn’t have sex—only after the kids already had. 
  • sschoice


    Before you take a man and say I do now 

    Make sure he’s in love with you now

    Make sure that his love is true now

    I hate to see you feeling sad and blue now

    My mama told me

    You better shop around


    Shop Around”

    The Miracles featuring Bill ‘Smokey’ Robinson, 1960



    Bianca, there’s a lot of ways one could respond to your post, but one is that even without age-of-consent/statutory rape laws, even besides developmental issues between the difference a young adolescent woman (or man) might have psychologically at 16 or 14 versus 18, there’s even more simple economic factors that come into play which at best compromise the seemingly free choice that minors may be said to make in choosing partners and consenting to have sex.

    Many people in liberal western cultures may say in response to being questioned in some poll that an intelligent, articulate 17-year-old likely has the capacity to give consent in an unmarried dating relationship even with a partner who might be seven to ten years their senior, but terms like “consent” in their broadest sense mean something different for someone 17 or younger.


    The issue isn’t solely a concern about helping mid-teens avoid the opposite of these choices, coercion and abuse, rather it’s that while a mid-teen adolescent may have the physical and psychological maturity to choose whether or not to have sex, and — potentially, if resources in the community are accessible to them — to get the kind of medical care that is part of what’s needed to make choosing to have sex a responsible choice, mid-teens lack the economic resources and earning potential to be on an equal footing in choosing to have a relationship or not with a partner several years older than they are.  While that relationship may not be in itself exploitative, it’s a relationship where the younger partner would be especially vulnerable to exploitation, and that’s some reason in itself to have age-of-consent and statutory rape laws.

    Mid-teens may in a sense freely choose to respond (or not) to interest shown by an older partner, but even the most mature minor will still likely lack the economic ability to choose their older partner in the same way their older partner chooses them. If they’re on widely differing economic footings and the younger partner isn’t so much choosing their partner as being chosen by them, doesn’t that call into question if the younger partner is truly making a free choice, as free as if they were as old as their partner and (hopefully) had similar resources?
    Mid-teenage adolescents may not be able to drive with a regular unrestricted drivers license, and those who do are less likely to have their own vehicle (or be given free access to one by their parents) while older adolescents and young adults may more likely have that. That isn’t so much of an issue in urban areas with good public transportation, but it obviously is everywhere else.  Mid-teenage adolescents likely work at most part-time in minimum wage jobs and don’t have the ability to afford to pay out of pocket for unsubsidized care, assuming that they might even consider calling a doctor not affiliated with a clinic like Planned Parenthood known to welcome teens their age. And because mid-teenage adolescents have less ability to make free choices in an economic sense of the social environments they are in and the health care providers they might go to, they have less of an ability to make relationship choices and sexual health choices than they will when they are a few years older.
    None of this necessarily means that age-of-consent laws are consistently and reasonably enforced, but it does suggest good reasons for their existence beyond protecting minors from truly predatory and abusive relationships. 
    It’s a great exercise though, as you know as a pro-choice youth organizer, to help young people better understand laws like these and critique them.  In states with laws requiring parental consent or notification for abortion for women under 18 but with an age of consent laws allowing women under 18 to legally consent in some cases to have sex, minors falling in that age gap face conflicting definitions of agency in that they are somehow by default considered by age mature enough to choose whether or not to have sex, but not by default mature enough at the same age to choose whether or not to have an abortion. Groups like PEP have in the past done a great job of considering these issues in their work, and it’s great to see you helping them continue to do that.


    –southern students for choice, athens