By Arvin Vohra | USA
Age of consent laws in America has major problems. The surface problems include bizarre unintended consequences, ranging from teenagers being prosecuted for child pornography for sending pictures of themselves, to people being prosecuted as rapists for having consensual sex with people two years younger, and people being added to sex offender registries after being lied to about a partner’s age.
The logical problems are even more obvious. Statists insist that there is some magical age at which every single person on earth is ready to give sexual consent, and seem unbothered by the fact that in America, this age varies from state to state. Logically, either that means:
- There is not actually a magical age
- Some states have set the age too high, and are prosecuting people unjustly
- Some ages have set the age too low, and are failing to protect kids
- Human nature somehow varies from one state to another.
At a philosophical level, the problems are even larger. We all know that different people mature at different rates. Biologically, people go through puberty at considerably different ages. The psychological variation, in terms of IQ, life experience, emotional intelligence, is even greater. One size could not possibly accurately fit all. And yet, out of fear of being called names, even many Libertarians fear to challenge this patent absurdity.
Thoreau suggested that perhaps the government should only handle questions of expediency, like choosing which side of the road to drive on, and let individuals handle questions of conscience. To me, consent is a clear question of conscience. It is a complex, personal, individual, and nuanced question. It is not a place where the hamfisted, simple-minded approach of the state has any useful place. Just as one size doesn’t fit all in education, as demonstrated by the huge expense and laughable results of government schools, one size doesn’t fit all in sexual maturity.
Just as I believe parents, families, and culture should be the only people involved in education decisions, I also believe that they should be the ones involved in decisions about sexual readiness. In Ancient Rome, parents determined when their kids were ready. It’s safe to say that parents generally care at least as much about their kids as the state does. They err on the side of being overprotective if anything.
Today, parents often believe that they do not have that responsibility. Why? They believe the state is handling it, just as they wrongly believe that the state is effectively handling their kids’ educations. At age 18, most parents completely abdicate responsibility and blithely send their kids to psychologically and sexually dangerous college environments. After all, they trust that the government has it all under control.
The predictable result: by their mid-20s, many, many women have felt coerced, pressured, or manipulated by more powerful men. They often feel guilt, shame, and anger at that experience. With family support and influence entirely removed through cultural dependence on government, young people are left easily vulnerable, an end up making major errors in judgment.
As an exact parallel, consider how we handle alcohol in America. Rather than letting families determine what kids are ready for, we let the state manage it. To see the results, you can see college kids vomiting up alcohol or getting taken to the hospital with alcohol poisoning every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at most major universities. On those days, unfortunately, many young people are making equally unguided sexual decisions.
This is not to say that I believe that everyone should wait until 25, a benchmark age of psychological maturity. I believe that people who are more mature than others have a natural right to the advantages of that maturity. In 1994, before the platform was massively reduced, the Libertarian Party’s platform had a children’s rights plank, indicating that any person who could provide for himself had adult rights: “Children should always have the right to establish their maturity by assuming administration and protection of their own rights, ending dependency upon their parents or other guardians and assuming all the responsibilities of adulthood.” You can read the full platform plank here: http://lpedia.org/1994_National_Platform#21._Children.27s_Rights
Suppose a 14-year-old boy starts a successful business. By the time he’s 15, he is living on his own, in his own apartment. Does he have the right to have consensual sex with a 25-year-old woman?
I would believe that he’s earned adult rights through adult behavior and responsibility. In fact, I would say that it would be borderline predatory for him to have a sexual partner his own age, given the vast difference in life phase (although I wouldn’t want the state to intercede, of course).
Why shouldn’t he prefer someone his own age? That’s not my business, or anyone else’s. He’s not a burden on anyone, and he’s making his own decisions. Our sexuality is part of our personal nature, not something that should be dictated by others.
That’s an area in which current culture has lied to us, telling us that emotional readiness is the only thing that matters in sex. But financial readiness also matters. Libertarians believe in personal responsibility. If you do not have money for birth control or childcare costs, including educational and medical costs, you aren’t ready for sex. Your school doesn’t owe you tax-funded condoms. Your neighbor doesn’t owe your child a tax-funded education. If you are not ready for all the consequences of sex, including the financial ones, you aren’t ready for sex. It doesn’t matter if you’re over 16, or 18, or 50.
Statist culture isn’t really asking when people are ready for a positive sexual experience. The subtext of these laws is, “At what age can people no longer be sexually tricked or pressured?” I doubt that such an age exists. Given the high rates of unreported date rape in college, the high rates of adultery, and the high rates of paternity fraud, if such an age exists, it’s well over 60.
Similarly, there does not exist some age at which sex is free of consequence. There are always consequences – emotional, medical, or financial. Even having “meaningless” sex changes how you understand and experience sex.
Sex and consent involve complex, personal decisions. The government is simpleminded and has proven itself ill-equipped to handle these issues. Families, individuals, and culture, not the government, should determine readiness.