I recently read an article in the New Yorker about a sex offender who had a

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I recently read an article in the New Yorker about a sex offender who had a preference for 13-14 year old girls. One of the things that struck me was when one of the psychologists noted that he was under the delusion that 13-14 were capable of consenting to sex. While I don't personally find 13-14 year old girls desirable it seems strange to say that they are unable to consent to sex. What makes them unable to consent to sex? Is it because they don't understand what sex is? What understanding of sex does a 13-14 year old not know that an adult doesn't? It seems like an interesting claim to say that 13-14 has a fundamentally different understanding of sex than am adult. Of course most have not had experience with sex but nobody thinks that it's wrong to have sex with a virgin. Most 13-14 Year old girls do fantasize about sex though. Aren't there some feminists who believe that the idea of an age of consent is oppressive to women because it treats young girls as incapable of consent? Afterall, we often see 13-14 year old males as capable of having sex with an adult if that adult is female. But if the adult is a homosexual havining a relationship with a 13-14 year old male "society" (The Big "Other") seems to be as offended which is probably explainable by residual homophobia despite societies considerable progress in that area.

So there are a few issues to clarify here, but first, a disclaimer: I am not an expert on the law, and will not be speaking from the point of view of interpreting the law.

That said, however, it does seem to me that an "age of consent" is an appropriate legal construct. The idea is that 13-14 year old children have simply not developed far enough, not just morally, but most importantly neurologically, to be very good yet at forecasting consequences of their actions. With respect to issues like sex, it is not unreasonable to think that if young teenagers are not yet capable of forecasting consequences of their actions--by which I mean not just being able to think or say, "I might get pregnant," or "I could catch some STD," but actually appreciate what such an outcome would mean for them--then they are reasonably thought not to have what it takes to give genuine (i.e. morally significant) consent. Of course, many girls that age know about sex, and some even have sexual fantasies. Some, given the opportunity to do so, would also agree to have sex with someone they were interested in. But such understanding, desire, and agreement cannot count as consent in the morally significant way, so long as they are incapable of really appreciating what they are (or might be) getting themselves into in terms of consequences.

This same reasoning applies to age-limits for signing legal contracts, drinking alcohol, smoking products, driving, enlisting in the military, and voting, just to name a few. The age limits are different for some of these, but the basic reasoning is similar in all cases: we think that such activities require certain levels of responsibility about consequences, and we think that below certain ages, it is not reasonable to think that young people can be responsible in the appropriate way.

By the way, I think what you say about boys is simply mistaken. An adult woman (no less than a man) who has sex with a 13- or 14-year old boy would commit statutory rape under the law. The issue is not whether or not 13- or 14-year old children are capable of having sex (physically). I assume most are. But that's not the issue and besides the point, which, again, has to do with being able to manage responsibility.

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