20/20, Age of Consent—and Me

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Last night, 20/20 did an hour on various aspects of Age of Consent laws. I’m pleased to say they really got it right.

I was on screen for almost a minute (that’s a year in TV time), pointing out how fear of sexuality is driving public policy about teens—who society trusts to drive and to work, but not to have sex. 20/20 showed the cover of my current book, with a voiceover describing the War On Sex. Very cool.

The program interviewed a number of teens who were arrested for having consenting sex with “underage” partners—that is, other teens who can’t legally consent to sex. The boys’ punishments ranged from probation to jail to lifetime registration as sex offenders.

Host John Stossel was appropriately indignant about this horrible injustice. The show gave airtime to lawmakers, the fathers of teen girls whose boyfriends had been arrested, and even vigilantes devoted to publicizing the home addresses of people busted for consenting sex with teens.

Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council said the solution to teen sex was for people to not have sex before they marry. It’s an idea rejected by virtually all Americans (who now typically marry for the first time at 25), but various policy-makers on the show said that criminalizing sex that isn’t wise may deter a few young people from making mistakes. As for the boyfriends and fiancés who can’t get jobs or housing because they’ve been busted for sleeping with their girlfriends, one state lawmaker described that as “a necessary evil.”

That’s probably not the phrase he would use if it were his son whose life was destroyed for having sex with the girl who loved him.

ABC’s article about this is pretty thoughtful, and even quotes me with facts about how rates of rape and teen pregnancy are declining—contrary to the predictions of those terrified or enraged by the increasing sexualization of our culture.

Some say you can judge a society by how it treats animals. Maybe we should also judge a society by how it treats human beings with adult bodies acting on adult feelings in private—who happen to be under 18.

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