What is the right age for sex? This is a topic that has no doubt been debated for many years, by countless people around the world, and the pros and cons of `under age sex’ have probably been well argued from all sectors of society. Under current UK law, it is illegal for a heterosexual person under the age of 16 to participate in full sexual intercourse and the same law applies to a homosexual man under the age of 21. But why does such a law exist. Hopefully, the following examines the commonly voiced arguments for and against `the age of consent’. Whatever the law passed in any country, there will always be upporters and opposers of it.
Opposition can be for a number of reasons ranging from a sense of lost liberty to outright anarchy. The subject of sex however, is one that affects different individuals differently and amongst the popular arguments for under age sex are: that some young people might be mature and mentally as well as physically ready for a sexual experience a lot earlier than the prescribed age of 16; it may be the platform they need to progress from childhood to adulthood; it is a potentially enjoyable experience that they are being denied; it enables people to express themselves nd their feelings early in life and not feel ashamed or inhibited about sex or sensitivity as they get older.
It is a wonderful, mutually pleasurable pastime that in the main, does not cost money to perform; keeps you out of trouble and off the streets; it takes away the feeling of guilt and the need to sneak around behind your parents back; there is less peer pressure on you to `do it whilst at school’; you can, through experimenting, decide on your sexuality and an early age;…. and no doubt the pro-arguments go on. In contrast, there are many compelling arguments to not only keep the ge of consent where it is, but possibly to have it raised.
Many of these have sadly been based upon unfortunate consequences of under age sex, but nevertheless serve to reinforce these arguments amongst which are: teenage pregnancies – requiring many girls to drop out of school, give up their education and `rob’ themselves of their youthful and social years; on the back of this, an early loss of innocence – which many young people are not yet ready for, particularly when they are suddenly expected to transfer from child to adult overnight; peer pressure – which again forces a child to effectively progress to nother stage of life that they are not necessarily ready for.
Isolation and expulsion from the family unit for `bringing shame upon them’; this could lead onto homelessness, potential drug abuse and prostitution as a `way out’, in addition to unwanted attention from paedophiles; a lack of sexual education and protection could lead to sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS, Hepatitis or other health problems later in life like cervical cancer; child abuse resulting from a lack of maturity or responsibility for a teenage couple coping with sudden parenthood;…… and again the list goes on.
So let us examine some of these popular arguments for and against the current `age of consent’ a bit more closely. Perhaps one of the stronger arguments from above for lowering it was “some young people might be mature and mentally as well as physically ready for a sexual experience a lot earlier than the prescribed age of 16” – here it is quite true that you may take two young boys or girls of the same physical age, yet in terms of their build, maturity and mentality they are `years’ apart. It may even be true to suggest that whilst one boy or girl could quite confidently deal with the subject and practice of ex below the age of 16 or 21, the other boy or girl may still not be ready to cope with the issue at 16+ or 21+.
Other popular anti-age of consent argument were: “it is a potentially enjoyable experience that they are being denied” and “it enables people to express themselves and their feelings early in life and not feel ashamed or inhibited about sex or sensitivity as they get older” – these statements may well be true of a lot of young people who are eager to rush into the experience of having sex with another, based upon all they have heard or seen from others. The flip side to this argument in some cases owever, is that sex and particularly first experiences, rarely live up to expectation and are often disappointing some times to the point where a young person may, through a bad experience, be put off the act of sex for many years afterwards, because they were simply not yet ready.
There is also the resulting stigma or name calling, that can have devastating consequences on young girls in particular, when it becomes common knowledge that she is having `under age sex’. E. g. Sarah Platt on Coronation Street Amongst the popular arguments for keeping the age of consent where it s were: “teenage pregnancies – requiring many girls to drop out of school, give up their education and ‘rob’ themselves of their youthful and social years” – of course having a child, particularly in your early teens would alter your lifestyle. After all, you would suddenly be responsible for another human being. However this doesn’t necessarily mean the end of your life or freedom. Today there are many resources available that young or single mothers or fathers can tap into for help and assistance, such as school cri??ches, parent groups, further education, careers guidance and financial advice.
With ervices like this available, in addition to the support of a young person’s family, he or she could just as easily turn their lives around and make something of it. Another pro-`age of consent argument was: “a lack of sexual education and protection could lead to sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS, Hepatitis or other health problems later in life…. ” – yes this is indeed a concern, a big concern, where the consequences could be devastating. But on the other hand one may argue that aren’t these issues being faced by everyone who is sexually active? Furthermore, has the reported statistics for ases of sexually transmitted diseases in recent years suggested that those beyond the `age of consent’ are any more careful or responsible?
There may well be a strong argument to suggest that many teenagers today are indeed more careful about the effects of unprotected sex through having it drummed into their heads via their parents, the media, television etc. In debating the pros and cons of lowering the age of consent, all of the above scenarios should be put under the spotlight. We then need to decide in modern day society how many of these arguments directly ffect young people, for instance has the number of underage pregnancies increased in recent years?
Likewise, the number of young homeless people; the number of STDs; the number of young drug addicts; the number of young prostitutes; the number of child abuse cases and see how many of these cases are a direct result of initial under age sexual activity. The results of this research would indicate the scale of the problem and whether it has improved with the help of sex education, the law etc, or worsened through an increase in cases. The results would probably allow society to gage how effective the urrent law and its application on young people is, but not necessarily reinforce it, as no matter what laws exist, certain people will break them if they do not appreciate why they are there in the first place. Like adults, young people are made up of cross-divisions of society and their backgrounds, personality, experiences and maturity can often determine whether they are old enough to handle sex and more adult emotions or not.
For instance, on the one hand you may have a young girl who has been brought up in the security of a loving family unit, had the full range of access to family values, and the influence of er parents, siblings and friends include knowing `right from wrong’ and upholding the law’. Typically one would expect such a child to take full advantage of her childhood and participate in sexually activity after she became a legal adult or women. On the other hand you could have a young girl who had received very little love or affection as a child, denied guidance or interest from her parents, lacked self-esteem and confidence around others. Typically such an individual could grow into her teenage years yearning for the love and affection that she was denied as a child and unwittingly participate n sexual activity as a means of substituting this. I should point out that either of these cases could end up with dire or pleasurable consequences.
The former girl could well turn out to be too overprotected and unable to fully commit to someone emotionally outside the family, or even rebel from what she has been brought up to be the `norm’ – digressing into anti-social behaviour. By contrast, the latter girl could possibly meet and have a child with a man who would love and look after her for the rest of her life, although there are many examples to suggest that the likelihood is that the former ole would probably have the more happy or acceptable ending.
In conclusion, I believe there are individuals that can cope with teenage sex and those that it is simply not right for and the law is there to strike a balance between the two. As it is not possible to vet each person individually to see whether they are `ready’ or `mature’ enough for sex, the law must intervene and say, base upon society’s experience and other precedents, that it is acting in everyone’s collective interest in keeping the age of consent to 16 for heterosexuals and 21 for homosexuals, until society can demonstrate otherwise.