Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ages of consent

Something that I am rather uncomfortable about has happened recently. A 16-year-old boy posted on (which has a very explicit over-18s only policy). He posted there asking for people to read his blog as he felt no one was reading it. At the same time, he also said that he knew he'd probably be thrown out for being too young.
Today, though, his post on has completely disappeared. No clue that he ever wrote it.
I caught the blog address before it went, and logged on... His blog is sexually unexplicit, talks about how he feels, his yearnings towards a boy and his ex-girlfriend, and how his father reacted when he said he was bi. It is also very articulate, far more so than most blogs, but perhaps that's down to the fact that he goes to a private school.
What are teenagers meant to do? He needs support, just like people two years older than him do. But they can get it. Of course, young people do need protecting. But they are also sentient beings, raging with hormones, obsessed with sex and love. Dizzy - the boy concerned - is actually full of yearning, rather than "up for it". He hasn't even had sex yet, although intellectually he is certainly mature.
If you are under 18 and want to talk to someone who's not your friend (or presumably those old chestnuts - teachers, priests, parents of your friends) your sexuality has to be mediated by youth workers, part of whose remit is, presumably, to stop you "doing it". Also, I suppose, to protect you from predatory adults. At 17 years and 364 days, young people are seen as innocent flowers who need protecting from dirty-minded adults. But one day later, they can join swinging and hard core porn sites. How is that not daft?

Coming out at 16
I came out to myself- and no one else - when I was 16, so I feel for him. At that time, where I lived anyway, there was no gay scene, no queer people, no feminist movement that might have offered support. But no one thought that 16-year-olds were completely incapable of judging things for themselves either. If I had wanted to write about sex, anonymously or otherwise, being 16 wouldn't have been a problem. The world at large didn't think that 16-year-olds were helpless. I could have gone to adult gay or feminist groups and no one would have stopped me. They would now. And, certainly in the UK, people are infants for longer and longer periods, reliant on their parents for money, support and housing in ways they weren't in the recent past.

But at the same time, have done the only thing they can and banned him - for their protection, as much as his. According to the United Nations, people are children until they are 18, which seems unneccessarily patronising to me but I am sure has its uses in terms of stopping young people being forced into marriage, the army and so on.
Sexual sites of any and every sort, everywhere in the world, have 18 as their lower age limit. I imagine that's because no countries have a heterosexual consent limit higher than that (although homosexual activity may be illegal, or you may have to be married for sex to be legal).
Investigating, I see that the highest age of consent for gay and lesbian sex is South Africa at 19. I wonder what their thinking is? As far as I can tell, all European countries have lower limits: Austria, 14; Denmark, 15; France 15; Germany 14/16; Greece 15/17; UK 16 etc The info is here.
However, I feel that their response Teens, Sex and the Law is very patronising.
But it's no-one else's business. Why do we have these laws?
Although many young people are mature enough to know how to deal with it if someone tries to get them to have sex, some teens are not grown up enough to know what to do. Age of consent laws are there to stop young people from being exploited by adults.

Yes, but... for instance, why would someone be considered not old enough to fight against that exploitation at 15 in the US, but would be in Denmark? What about those differing ages of consent for straight and gay sex? And, while of course people should categorically not be exploited, what about those many people who aren't being? The answer is they will carry on ignoring the law just as people have always done and do more and more these days.
And, of course, one 16 year old can be so much more mature than another. My own son at 16, for instance, had his feet firmly on the ground. He did all the teenage stuff - exactly what is none of your business! - but he always came home, did his homework, and went to school on time. At 22 he is a fine young man.

Nevertheless, I feel uncomfortable reading Dizzy's blog in a way that I probably wouldn't have done 10 years ago. There is so much - frankly - hysteria about both young people having sex and predatory sex on the internet. Much of what I see about teenagers on the internet in the press is about protecting them from the dangers. I do think that Dizzy has done one thing wrong, though: called his blog Just another British Schoolboy. It's the schoolboy bit I find tricky; that's the bit that might attract weirdos. I think I would probably have been unhappy about my 16 year-old son doing this.
In fact, a lingering sense of unease prevents me linking to his blog. It's not hard to find though. But I do long for an adult discussion on this - one that involves people who are not necessarily legally adults yet.


Anonymous said...

The *age of consent* concept has always boggled my mind (though I understand the reasoning behind its origin, I suppose). I remember on my 18th birthday a friend said to me, how does it feel to be a consenting adult? And I thought to myself, oh good, now I can legally consent to something I've been doing for 3 years? Oy! Furthermore, the legal age differences in different countries and for different acts (signing up for the military and drinking are 3 years apart in the US) seems to me, well, odd...

Dizzy's blog is well-articulated and represents what so many kids his age go through...the questioning, the emotional turmoil...I hope he does have someone to talk with about everything he feels, and I may even find myself commenting.

And though I am legally an adult, I'd love to continue this conversation with you!

Sue George said...

Thank you lovestrong.

We will discuss this further, later. But one thing that does whack me over the head with its obviousness... you can consent to being killed at 18 in the US, but you can't consent to having a glass of fine wine with dinner until you are 21.

Anonymous said...

Well I must admit I am very glad to hear such words of wisdom and encoragement, despite all the age-sensitivity that plagues our world today. I certainly take on board your comment about the title; I did deliberate for a while on that but decided on this one because it highlights that I am almost certainly just one of a huge number of boys (as I admit I am), who feel like I do. But again I do see your point, knowing the nature of the internet there will undoubtedly be 'weirdoes' out there; but I shall attempt to wether the storm!

Once again thank you for your kind words, and food for thought. I look forward to reading more of your own thoughts very soon!

Sue George said...

I hadn't thought of that Dizzy, and you're absolutely right - there are plenty of boys in your situation who want to know they aren't alone. In that sense, as far as I know - and I am constantly trawling the blogosphere for bi people - you are the first.
There might be people on My Space and similar sites, though, if you are interested. But that is very different from anonymously posting your very lucid thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Hi I need to know what to do, My son came out telling me that he likes boys and girls but he never been with neighther yet. I think he is just confuse because almost all his friends are bisexual, tell me what you think please

Sue George said...

Hello Anonymous,
Well first of all don't panic! It's very encouraging that he's talking to you about it - and before he has acted on his feelings.
I think the friends thing is complicated: he might be unduly influenced by his friends or he might have chosen his friends precisely because they are bisexual and he has something in common with them. Maybe he is confused and maybe he isn't: only he can know that.
It's a bit hard to give you any more advice or information without knowing more about you and his circumstances: which country are you in, for instance, and how old is he? If I know those two things I can direct you to some sources of support (I hope). And he does need some age-appropriate safer-sex advice well before he is sexually active.
But as for what you should do, well nothing other than what you are already doing: talking. If he can confide in you, then you are doing great!