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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How young is too young?

So I was browsing around on Youtube yesterday and came upon some vids by Jacqueline Mannering, a London-based guitarist who plays a lot of shred stuff. Now, I do like a good shred solo now and again, so I checked out some of her vids. My first thought was "Damn, she's talented; look out, guitarists, this girl's going to eat your lunch", followed closely by "Damn, she's a cutie! Look at that face, look at that goth chic thing she's got going on...yeah, she's a hottie, all right!"

Then I looked at some of her other vids  and I realized that she was only fifteen when they were posted. First I panicked. "Ouch," I thought. "I'm getting the hots for a fifteen-year-old. What the hell's the matter with me? Am I getting to dirty-old-man territory before I even hit my forties? Are people going to throw stones at me for being a horrible pervert?"

I did some more hunting, and elsewhere on her Facebook fan page I found out she was born in July 1992, so that makes her eighteen now. Crisis averted, sort of (we won't discuss whether it's still uncool, or worse, ridiculous, for me to be getting the hots for a girl who's still nearly twenty years my junior). But it did get me thinking -- how young is too young?

I've talked to women who had their first sexual experience at fourteen, and thought it was fantastic. I've talked to others who were in their mid-twenties before they had sex, and thought it was still too soon. Some cultures ritually deflower virgins at a certain age, whether they've got the sexual and emotional maturity to deal with it or not. Others arrange marriages before the girl's even had her first period. Others keep women's faces covered at all times when they're in public, regardless of age. It makes me think we've got some pretty fucked-up standards out there as far as sexual maturity goes. Every culture's different.

There aren't many things that I think have NO place at all in human sexuality. Taking a page from Spider Robinson, I'm firmly against anything that involves former food or former people. The other thing I can't and won't condone is sex with pre-sexual people. That, to me, has always meant "sex with people who feel they aren't ready for sex", whether they're fifteen or fifty. The problem comes when you start trying to define "pre-sexual". Then you start going back to the "how young is too young?" question. Is the kid who got seduced by his high school English teacher too young? Is the girl who goes to her neighbor and asks him to teach her about sex too young? What if she's fourteen? But then again, what if she's ten? It's a slippery slope I don't much care to explore, so I hide behind the "pre-sexual" tag.

The problem is that everyone's different, of course. You can look at people who're clearly sexually mature, but emotionally there's no way at all they could handle sex (think Carrie from Stephen King's debut novel). Yet on the other end of the spectrum you've got people who've grown up much faster than anybody expected, and are dealing with adult emotions and feelings (think Natalie Portman's character Matilda in the film "Leon: The Professional"). Is it wrong to deny them a little exploration if they feel they're ready for it? If they can have adult discussions about what they're thinking and feeling and have real, solid, concrete reasons for wanting to explore the mysteries of sex? Or should we just slap a big "Not until you're sixteen" label on them all, hoping that by that time everybody will be able to handle what they want so badly? And who decides on the label? Twentysomethings or teenagers who still remember vividly how they felt when they discovered sex, or middle-agers who have twenty years' experience to look back and temper the fire they were feeling then?

Yeah, I know there are no easy answers. I just can't stop thinking about things like this. I think it's unfair that we don't have any real concrete way of knowing when somebody's ready, really ready, to have sex, ready to make their own decisions. And I don't agree that generally the first time is absolutely crucial and can scar you for life if it's not done properly; like any bad experience, people can get past just about anything. But....on the other hand, I think about rapists who lie in wait for children in parks. I think about men who prey on young girls who are just looking for some approval from someone, anyone, and will do anything to feel loved. I think about people who really ARE pedophiles and don't care about who they hurt as long as they get what they want. And that kind of garbage horrifies me on several levels, and then I start thinking a "Not till you're sixteen" label isn't so bad.

How old were you when you first had sex? Would you have done it years before if you'd had the chance? Or do you think you should have waited till you were older? If you had the chance to go back and do it again, would you change things?

How young do YOU think is too young?

-- PB


Petri Dish said...

Anything under the legal age is too young. Sex is the closest two people can get to each other. Literally(hehe). It shouldn't just be a fun new way too get a thrill. It's so intimate, think of the body fluids, being inside someone else in more than just one way. Under sixteen just screams, "Issues" and under eighteen doesn't seem any wiser.
I think most cultures that got girls married off early had early dead rates(don't quote me) and were eager to keep the population up with their most fertile females. Young girls should use those extra years to build up their self esteem and get familiar with their bodies and older men...well there's always fantasy and Japanese school 'girls'.

The Panserbjørne said...

Petri Dish: Interesting comments. I do tend to agree that overall it's just a good idea to stay inactive till you're past legal age. But who decides the age? Sixteen is legal in some states, while others make it eighteen or even twenty-one. Just food for more thought. Thanks for dropping by!

-- PB

Naughty Lexi said...

Because we see sex as something that shouldn't be discussed unless you're ready, that means that it's hard to tell when you're ready. Society seems to feel that talking about sex will pressure you into having sex. Think of all the people who are against sex ed because they're afraid it will make the kids want to do it before they're ready. And that just makes it harder for kids to make an informed decision about their readiness. Which means they make a decision that they're ready, then later regret it, even if they actually would have been ready given the right information. It's a Catch-22.

I think society tries (sometimes successfully) to establish a lowest common denominator for most age-related issues. We pick an age which seems safe and assume that people who aren't ready at that point will wait, while people who were ready before will be more assured in their readiness when the default age rolls around. An argument could be made, I suppose, that what actually happens is that everyone is propelled into "readiness" by a default age, and the people who were ready before feel stifled, the people who aren't actually ready feel pressured.

You're right; ideally there would be some blood test one could do, not just for sexual maturity, but for driving, voting (some people would never pass that one), drinking, and all the other age-limited activities. But there isn't. The law, in this case, operates with much the same philosophy that it does in guilt and innocence: it's better for a bunch of ready people to have to wait a bit than it is for one person who isn't ready to do it. In the case of sex, the law protects children who are believed to be less capable, not of judging readiness, but of resisting the advances of others. That is, I suppose, what the law should ideally do; protect people at greatest risk.

It's always difficult to judge the effectiveness of preventive measures. You can't judge statutory rape laws in a vacuum. Most countries that don't have some kind of child rape protection also lack other basic protections and the rule of law tends to be slim to nil, which means that even if there were laws on the books, they wouldn't be enforced. Thus, it's hard to say whether the removal of age limits to sexual activity would cause an epidemic of child rape. We have a fair amount of it as it is.

In summation (as I move from comment into dissertation) I don't believe that the fact that children are raped frequently makes all underage sex rape, and I don't share (not with you, just with people who hold it) the paternalistic view that children can't know for themselves when they're ready; they need to be educated in how to judge, but given guidance, they can make decisions. And I share your pain on the subject of discovering that you find the underage attractive; it's happened to me many times. All you can do is be careful. That goes for everyone, and not just because you want to avoid being arrested.

The Panserbjørne said...

Oh, god, sex ed, there's another fucking can of worms. If more people spent more time to see to it that kids and teenagers were educated properly about sex, maybe there wouldn't be so damn much confusion and terror associated with it when said kids start becoming sexually active.

Overall, I do think it's better to err on the side of caution -- as you said, better for a bunch to have to wait than to have one person get into it before they're ready. Besides, there's always masturbation even if the ready ones aren't having sex with a partner. :)

Thanks for chiming in.

-- PB

Anonymous said...

I wish I had something witty and brilliant to say, but I don't. Lexi made a pretty good comment!!!

I've known a 10 year old kid who has more maturity and common sense than a 40 year old guy.

If children are not educated by their parents anymore, if they are only seeing what is on the internet and such, left on their own, I doubt they have the right information to make a sound choice.

I feel I was ready at 19 and I don't think I'd do it differently either. Was I ready way before that? I don't know. I started masturbating at 14, but it doesn't mean I knew what I would have gotten into!

Anonymous said...

Lexi did make some good comments.

From my perspective, sex happens when people are ready. Being informed and aware is a huge benefit in making a proper decision on the part of the individual.

Far too many kids have sex because of peer pressure. They mistake lust for love and sex for acceptance. Most teens have sex for all the wrong reasons, and usually because someone told them it was cool. neat, 'can't die a virgin' etc. These idiotic reasons often carry on into adulthood.

I have kids. Lots of them. Three adopted, four naturally. (yeah, just get over it! They faint because their mum writes erotica!) However, I chose to follow the standards my parents set. As soon as they were about 10, we started talking biology. By 12, we had the first of many 'sex' talks. If nothing else, I wanted them to be informed. All of them knew that they could ask me whatever questions they had and that I would give them a real answer. And yes, they asked some really intense questions.One son tried the game of let's shock Mum by telling me all about his dates... stroke by stroke. sigh... I won.

So far, it has worked out well. They knew what they were getting into with sex, and for the most part made informed decisions. I'm proud of them. They have healthy attitudes towards sex, and don't mind telling others if asked.

Sex should be when you are physically and mentally ready. In many ways, it is a sacred thing. Too bad too many of us go out the door of life with the manual half read.

The Panserbjørne said...

Spring Flower: That's the sad thing, really -- that so many kids aren't getting the info they need to decide when they're ready. Physically they may be ready a lot sooner than the "legal" age in their country, but mentally and emotionally, it helps to get a bit of REAL knowledge instead of just "I heard it on the internets".

Then again, there's so much info available on the web that at least they can find out about physical logistics a hell of a lot more easily than they did in my day. "In my day", he quavers, shaking his cane at those damn kids. :)

Rozewolf: Folks like you give me hope that a few kids might actually be brought up properly nowadays. I think that's one of the best things a parent can do, is teach their kids a healthy respect and interest in sex. Maybe not always quite the way Lexi's parents have done it, but hey, whatever works for each individual. :)

Thanks, both of you, for chiming in.

-- PB

Anonymous said...

Going back to your surprise when you realized you were attracted to someone who was 'underage'... I think there is a difference between being attracted to someone because they look like an (attractive) adult is very, very different from being attracted to someone because they look like a child. It's not the chronological age of the person one is attracted to that would make it wrong... it's the reason for the attraction. You are no pedophile, my dear... only someone who mistook someone's age. I've certainly seen what I thought were attractive young men, and then realized they were younger than I thought. That means I'm attracted to people who look like young men. If they looked like children, I would not have thought of them in a sexual way.

Now... acting on that attraction is whole different question. As you say... because no one, not even the teenager in question, can be sure about when they are really ready, it's better to stay well away. I was 16 when I first had sex, and it was with an 18 year old... someone close to my age and maturity level. For both of us, we felt ready to explore. I think if it had been with someone much older and more experienced, I might look back on it as someone taking advantage of my youth and lack of knowledge. No adult should want to risk taking advantage, even if the 16 year old thinks they are ready.

Personally, I find experience much more attractive than the apparent physical perfections of youth anyhow.

That's my quickly-formed and ill-prepared opinion for today. :)

The Panserbjørne said...

Marianne: Can't believe I omitted replying to this until now. Thanks for the insightful comments. I don't know that I ever REALLY thought I was a pedophile because I thought she was cute...but I am so violently against the idea that even a LITTLE bit made me uncomfortable. I guess that's the proof that I am definitely not a pedo. :)

-- PB