Naughty Teenagers

by Charles Platt

Since “protecting our children” became a reliable mantra for DAs seeking re-election at some time during the Reagan administration, the horrors of statutory rape and child pornography have justified countless legislative excesses. Unfortunately such laws conflict with the inconvenient biological fact that most young people become capable of reproducing around the ages of 12 or 13.

Age-of-consent laws used to recognize this. (In the text below I am talking primarily about teenagers having sex with each other and taking pictures of each other, not adults taking advantage of children, which is, or should be, an entirely separate issue.) Here’s a site that tabulates international laws on the subject. In Chile, for instance, the age of consent still appears to be 12. Many other nations used to share this permissive attitude until the US and the UN leaned on them to shape up.

Even in the United States, the situation is confusing. Suppose a 17-year-old girl starts giving oral sex to her 17-year-old boyfriend while he drives their car west across Texas (not a safe practice, but, it happens). As they cross the state line into Arizona, they magically turn into sex offenders.

During my lifetime, liberties for young people have been progressively eroded. To see how extreme the transition has been, just take a look at the movie of Woodstock. Two explanations come to mind. From a sociobiological perspective, adults benefit by delaying the reproductive activities of young people for as long as possible. From a political perspective, those under 18 cannot vote, so legislators can trash their rights without reducing their chances of re-election.

Adult backlash against teenage sexuality has been far worse in the United States than in some other countries. The Japanese, for instance, see nothing wrong with cute 15-year-old pop stars in tight sweaters and micro-skirts, flaunting themselves as sex objects. The notorious Saaya Irie, who started modeling lingerie when she was 11, is pictured here at the advanced age of 16. She has appeared in several movies and is promoting herself as a serious actress.

Since this seems to be an area of fear, denial, and repression, I suppose it’s inevitable that laws relating to it should be a mess. This, however, does not excuse their existence. I tend to think that if we really want to stop teenagers from fornicating (and taking salacious pictures of each other), parental guidance is a far more benign remedy than arrest, conviction, jail, and subsequent stigma as a sex offender.

4 Responses to Naughty Teenagers

  1. Two and a half hours worth of drive from Texas to Arizona, assuming there’s no road construction. To me that adds a new element into your scenario: “lockjaw.”

    Not that I disagree with you — if it’s okay for those kids to thusly fool around whilst in Texas, it really doesn’t seem to matter if they go to Arizona and do it there, too. I’m not a criminal lawyer so I don’t know if the Model Penal Code addresses this kind of sex act, but if it doesn’t, it should, or at least the states ought to get together to figure out how to handle the issue since the matter is inherently one for state governments rather than the Feds.

    • Sean F. says:

      “…since the matter is inherently one for state governments rather than the Feds.”

      I disagree. I don’t think it is a matter for any government, state or federal. Putting regulations on sex is like putting regulations on urinating.

      Education is the answer to this so-called problem. Rather than put silly laws on the books, simply teach the youth of America about the pros and cons of sex and let them decide for themselves if they’re ready.

      I think that the real problem is that parents care too damn much and are making a big deal out of nothing.

  2. John Burgess says:

    Sean F: “Putting regulations on sex is like putting regulations on urinating.”

    Many states have already done that. Pulling off the side of the road to take a leak can, if viewed by the police, result in your ending up on a sex offenders list for public lewdness/indecency.

    • Sean F. says:

      I would argue that such laws have much more to do with the fact that you whipped your willy out in public than what you do with it. However, I meant simply that: saying to someone “YOU can’t have sex because WE say that you are not ready to” is basically the same as saying “You can’t pee because WE say that you don’t need to”.

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