Better to have sex with boys than girls?

Are we too prudish about woman/boy sex?

Kate Zernike's Ideas & Trends piece in the Times poses the possibility that while it may not be all that savory for adult women to have sex with teenage boys it shouldn't be illegal -- or rather that we should re-examine the age of consent.

Fine, I'm all for that, and it's a refreshingly uncomfortable piece (with curiously fake-sounding names: Dr. Shakeshaft? Dr. Finkelhor? Are you kidding? Am I too immature for sex?)..

But why just woman/boy sex? Why is it only okay to broach the subject when the genders are arranged thus (and just forget about gay and lesbian age gaps...)?

When it comes to consensual sex of differing ages the variables and attitudes splinter off into a thousand pieces. I won't speak to all of them, obviously, but the whole concept of "consent" breaks down as you roll the biological/cultural clock backward. Few would argue that a "yes" from a 5-year-old carries much weight in the sexual arena, while a 13-year-old's "yes" is debatable. After all, it wasn't too long ago that 13-year-olds regularly married -- even the concept of a "teenager" is relatively new.

Granted, married 13-year-olds were nearly always women and nearly always married to older men -- sometimes much older. But I'm not arguing for a return to this social norm, far from it. I'm merely questioning why the discussion of "consent" in this context is confined to the woman/boy configuration...

If I may make a few statements that risk revealing too much...

When I was a teenager I was terrified and giddy about sex. To my friends, I appeared as giddy and excited as they did, though no doubt they were as terrified as I was. Terrified about what it meant, how well we'd do, what it would feel like. You know, everything.

We were supposed to want it. We were teenage boys. Movies, books, jokes (Q: what does Adidas stand for? A: All day I dream about sex...), and not least of all our bodies told us this was so.

Messages to the girls, I suspect, were chiefly about waiting until someone pledged something to them. Love or some nascent form of it. Going steady, whatever. But it wasn't something they were meant to crave, meant to feel in their unmentionable parts.

Why go here? Because this debate over whether adult women should or shouldn't have sex with teenage boys surrounds the obvious fact that teenage boys dream about sex. That they want it. That's why they're not "harmed," as the article says.

But why isn't the same question being asked about adult men sleeping with teenage girls? Don't they "want it" just as badly? Isn't this ostensible urge to "protect" girls actually just another effort to remove agency from maturing girls, to retain some Puritanical notion of female sexuality?

In fact, we're constantly told that girls mature faster than boys, physically and emotionally. So why the taboo?

I suspect we just don't want to believe that girls of a certain age could or would consent and G-d forbid enjoy it. And emerge unharmed. By the same token, I think we're just as reluctant to believe that the mythic red-blooded American boy may not be ready for sex. May be harmed by it.

An honest discussion about the age of consent, with the great variations in human sexual development, shifting cultural norms and unexamined biases is going to take some serious work. But it could be fun.

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