I was a late bloomer, losing my virginity at age 20 (to a woman; guys came later). At the time, I felt like a loser, but in retrospect I don’t regret the delay.
Later, as a court reporter, I covered several trials involving sex between adults and people under 16. One involved a 16-year-old female and her uncle. Another that I found particularly upsetting involved a university lecturer and three boys who were aged 12 to 13 when the sexual encounters began. The lecturer was one of the most manipulative people I’ve ever encountered. The whole case creeped me out.
All this is to say that, on a purely subjective basis, I would have no personal problem with 19 as the age of legal consent. If it was good enough for me, it should be good enough for today’s youth, shouldn’t it? There are bad people out there, aren’t there? But good government is not produced from the evidence of a couple of personal experiences, or else a bike-riding mayor would be justified in banning automobiles from city streets — as we all know, it would save lives.
I’ve heard lots of stories from men who love to talk about their teenaged sexual encounters, some with peers, some with older men and women. They usually tell these stories with great pleasure; they’re the kind of happy memories that help people get through old age. (I can only guess why I don’t hear so many of these stories from women, but I acknowledge that men and women often have different responses to youthful sexual encounters. Teenaged pregnancy is but one example.)
The one common denominator in these youthful sexual adventure stories is that the tellers considered themselves to have been in control of the situation. They usually pursued their partner. Or, discovering there was interest, nurtured it. This sense of control is a crucial part of the debate the Conservative government is about to initiate about raising the age of consent in Canada. How are young people — judging by rumblings from Ottawa we’re specifically talking about 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds — best protected from manipulative creeps while allowing them the power to have what are for some people the best times of their lives? Remember that this debate is about consensual sex — nonconsensual activity at any age is covered by myriad assault laws.
To the old law setting the age of consent at 14, the dying Liberal government has already added a new exploitation law that allows a judge to deem any sexual relationship between a minor (under 18) and an adult to be exploitive and therefore illegal. So already, Canadians under 14 can’t legally give consent to sex with older people, no matter how badly they want it, nor can Canadians between 14 and 18 if their relationship attracts the attention of cops and judges who seem to have unlimited flexibility in interpreting the exploitation law. We therefore live in a country where a 27-year-old could be charged for having sex with a 17-year old — it’s a 10-year age-gap, after all.
So yes, the existing laws are a bit of a joke, but not one told by rightwingers. Statistics show us that most people have their first sexual encounters before age 18. They do so because, well, the law doesn’t mean much to horny teens.
Who does care about the law is the parents of horny teens, and there’s the rub. Parents might put up with their 15-year-old son having sex with a 19-year-old woman, but when the 15-year-old son is having sex with a 19-year-old man, prejudices and homophobia are more likely to see the police called in. That’s the last thing young queers need — police telling them they don’t know what’s best for them. Actually, it’s the last thing any teens need.
The nasty child exploitation we fear is already covered by the old laws; in my two court examples, the three youth were under 14 and the niece did not give consent — convictions all around.
Treating a 15- or 16-year-old like a 10-year-old benefits no one. Protecting (and respecting) young people and their sexual decisions, good and bad, remains an exercise best left to educators, family, peers and teens themselves, not the long arm of the law.