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I have been sitting on this post for quite a while, but the Roy Moore accusations really bring the lie to our stupidity when it comes to teenagers, sex, and consent. In many ways, this involves many issues. It has been my contention for a long time that treating teenagers like kids makes them ineffective adults. Why do we treat teenagers like kids? Because their brains are going through huge developmental changes.
Yet those huge developmental changes don’t keep us from saturating in-utero fetuses, babies, toddlers, and preschoolers with a smorgasbord of information and education: classical music, books, mathematics, languages … you name it, we throw it at them. Why? Because some insane amount of the brain is developed by the age of three or four. Neural plasticity thinks that what’s baked into the process makes kids more likely to succeed in those areas later in life.
Ok, but teenagers can’t? When we talk about what happened to our young adults, maybe it shouldn’t be too hard to show that this concept of adolescence has had a huge detrimental effect on them. They aren’t children. They are adults in training. And everyone knows this. How do I know everyone knows this?
Because when someone brings up teaching teenagers abstinence, we think those stupid fuddy-duddies have their heads in the sand. “Don’t you know they are doing it anyway?” we say, derisively. Hmm … do you think its ok for children to be having sex with children? What’s your limit? When is it to early for kids to have sex with kids? Can we get all Brave New World and go with three-four year olds? Or does that offend your sensibilities a little too much? The Germans did it. We like emulating Europe, right? Oh, but its Germany. They disqualified themselves on moral uprightness with Nazis. So maybe eight? Eleven?
According to one of our members, pediatricians comment with complete neutrality on how she should expect her 11-year-old daughter is having sex. Really? I could have sworn the age was 15. At least it was when I was a kid. I was still playing with dolls at 11. My sex fantasies at that age involved dreaming of a girl in the 1860s, sleeping by the fire in a heavy dress, with some cowboy cuddling her. Everyone is fully dressed, FYI. Boom, pregnant. How’s that for 11-year-olds and sex?
Oh, I had it all figured out by the time I reached puberty. Don’t let my innocent, childlike fantasies fool you. I most certainly was a child at 11. And I’m quite certain I was a child at 13 and 14, too, albeit a pretty mature one. When I was 15, I had a crush on my softball coach. I remember my sister confiding in me on how hot Coach H was. Oh, absolutely, I agreed (I was 16, by then … my sister had just started high school). “Which one do you like?” she asked. <Blush> You see, the coach I had a crush on was the 50+-year-old history teacher who had been coaching softball and teaching for nearly 15 years. My sister was talking about his college-aged twin sons who helped coach.
But I didn’t hit on him. I didn’t flirt with him. I had myself together. Does that mean I didn’t know other students who did flirt with teachers? Oh yes, I did. I also knew girls in high school dating much older men. Willingly. You see, if you accept that they are old enough to be having sex, then you are expecting them to be old enough to make life-changing decisions. But we, the real adults in the room, don’t actually think that. But that is the message you give teenagers.
What exactly is the benefit to making life-changing decisions with a fellow teenager stuck in high school and still having to complete four to six years of college to get a decent job? Are you seriously telling me you think girls (who carry the majority of the risk in sexual relationships) are going to be ok with that dynamic? No. Seriously. Tell me. You really think girls are going to be okay having sex with someone who isn’t financially secure? Girls think guys in high school are stupid and not worth their time.
<Insert a Clueless movie clip here.>
So we came up with these laws of legal consent. We knew young, sexually mature girls would be interested in having sex with older people. So we told the older people, the onus is on you — you can’t do anyone under this age. Different states, different rules. My state is 18, with some Juliet laws at 16. Some states have 16.
So for that moving target of adolescent sexual maturity, we have a legal age. Roy Moore allegedly took advantage of that legal age. And in three out of four cases, he engaged in a chaste relationship lasting several months (according to the girls). The fourth one (with a 14-year-old) is the problem, but the people who are out to burn Moore* (who I know nothing of other that the 10 Commandments and this episode) think all four are the problem.
Some of those people who think all four are the problem would be totally cool with their 16-year-olds having sex with their irresponsible 16-year-old boyfriends. Heaven forbid they share a kiss or two with a 32-year-old man!
These are some weird, bizarre, and completely inconsistent views on sex. And I’m not going to claim any kind of moral superiority here — I’m confused as hell, too. On one had, we have teenagers reaching physical and sexual maturity who haven’t a clue how to be mature because we don’t think they are capable of it. On the other hand, we have cultivated an idea that it is ok for children to be having sex (if you are ok thinking teenagers are children and that teenagers have sex, you are good with children having sex).
I understand the point of these “age of consent” laws — at least I think I do. It’s to protect children who reach sexual maturity at incredibly insane ages, like five to eight. But our teenagers are getting mixed messages. Ask me how I know. (I grew up in it!)
So, figure it out. Do age of consent laws mean anything?
*This isn’t about Moore. It’s about how we talk about each of these cases. Three were perfectly legal, but we want to claim that there’s something wrong with them. He wasn’t their teacher, so you don’t get to fall back on that tired line. Either they are old enough to consent or not.