Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Kids and Sex

Over a century after Freud unveiled the theories based on children being sexual beings, we have developed a schizophrenic cultural view.

Simultaneously, we vehemently refuse to accept that kids are sexual beings whilst cheerfully buying primary school girls thongs and padded bras, equipping them with pencil-cases adorned with the Playboy logo.

This obviously needs some unravelling. My focus will be the age of sexual consent, which at least has the merit of having relevance to crime and punishment.

At what age are we capable of giving consent to sexual activity? The law says 16 years. Our bodies, the biology, have it that we are ready after puberty. What our individual psychology says seems to be a moot point; no one ever asks the question. Anyone who opens the door to the discussion is automatically assumed to be on the path of attempting to legitimise paedophilia.

We are held to be fully responsible for any crimes we may commit from the age of 10 years. Until the Bulger murder, the law held that, up to the age of 14, the law had to prove that the child defendant understood right and wrong and appreciated the consequences of their actions.

In the popular panic that heated society and politics around the Bulger murder, this qualification was removed. From then on, ten year olds were assumed to have the moral reasoning of fully fledged adults.

So I can be held to be capable of assuming full legal and moral responsibility for killing a person. This isn't an issue I care to deny in my own case. However, if I had decided to have sex, it would be unshakably asserted that I was incapable of making any sensible decision. After all, children can't, can they...?

Is this not problematic, both in principle and legal conception?


  1. Shouldnt the age of consent be scrapped and consent by means be employed? By that i mean that if you are going to have sex then you should be able to care for and support any resulting child as no contraception or even combo of contraception is 100% effective.
    This would make sense and would also mean that the people would have the physical and mental maturity to have fun responsibly as a ten year old probably wouldnt have a job etc.

    Seem fair? Or am i too idealistic?

  2. If we are talking about post-pubescents under 16 then to me the issue is that adults should not be taking advantage of children, using them for their own gratification. If a fifteen year old consents to sex with a seventeen year old for example then fair enough, I think, all things being equal. A thirty year old having sex with a fifteen year old seems potentially abusive, not because the fifteen year old isn't physically mature, but because they are mentally and emotionally less mature and experienced and, although they wouldn't want to hear it, are more vulnerable than a mature adult. It seems as unfair for an adult to have sex with an adolescent as for an adult to get a young person involved in financial dealings without advice. Individuals and circumstances are so different that any age of consent is arbitrary, but I think a law should be in place to protect the young, though enforced with a degree of discretion as I believe it is currently.

  3. Agree with Sphinx, who has easily illuminated a defect in Ben's reasoning. I enjoy his blog but his periodic use of parallel arguments to make a point on an unrelated area of criminology is a bit tedious. We don't live in a black and white world, but a world where lines are drawn and judgements made. Its fluid. Sometimes its hypocritical.

  4. Lines are often drawn in odd places, for example at 16 I am deemed old enough to have explicit sex however I'm not deemed old enough to watch other people having explicit sex in a film until I'm 18. Go figure. All kids are different and so a more sensible way of judging the issue would seem to be to take each case on its individual components, including the age of each participant, the circumstances in which they got together and the maturity level of the younger party, rather than just employing a blanket 'age of consent'.

  5. There are some good points made by Camila Batmanghelidjh and Juliet Lyon in a letter to The Times today, regarding setting the age of criminal responsibility. I couldn't find it online to give the link, sorry.

  6. I remember i had the body of a woman, and the mind of a child, when i was about 11-12. I overheard my dad once, telling a friend that he had to poison our minds, it was drummed into us, not to go off with strangers etc.

  7. Benn, i think ben raises a fair point, even if you do find it tedious! If in terms of crime kids are said to have full moral development and responsibility, then how is it they don't in sexual matters? Perhaps kids have two brains, or two centres of moral reasoning? Or does bens post illustrate an incoherent hypocracy we prefer to ignore?

  8. I absolutely take Ben's point that there is a national schizophrenia about both the age of criminal consent and paedophilia in general. Some of the arguments around the age of criminal consent, if they can be called that, are truly vile and I think the much more urgent debate must be in this area. I second Alex: thank goodness for people like Camila Batmanghelidjh.

    However I also take Benn's point that in an area where there is variation, in this instance physiological, we have to make seemingly arbitrary decisions and draw a line. Simply having the biological capacity to produce a child does not necessarily equate with being fully physically developed. This can go on for some years afterwards, and the physical demands of pregnancy could limit that development. This is much more the case in poorer nations. How can we say to them, don't marry off your daughters at 13, if we have no such similar safeguards? And of course there are factors such as having educated mothers which can so improve the chances of a child. But society has realised there is no way biological urges can be contained until all the conditions we would like are fulfilled, and so draws a line, says to adults, if you engage in sex with someone under this age, you are irresponsible. I'm fine with that, personally. Judges have the capacity to interpret surely? Perhaps the current public mood makes this impossible.