At what age is someone mature enough to date/have sex? How much is too much of an age difference?

So this is a spinoff from the thread recently closed by Ellen Cherry ( concerning a Doper’s 17-yr-old daughter dating a 25-yr-old male.

The latter half of the thread turned into a Dio vs. all comers discussion of what the appropriate age for relationships/sexual activity is that totally derailed the thread.

So I’m re-opening the question over here as suggested–

What’s the appropriate age for a teenager/young adult to start having relationships, sexual or otherwise?

At what point does it become skeevy for an older person to date a younger person at or near the age of consent?

I feel like the list of permutations is too vast for a poll to meaningfully cover the expected range of answers, so it’s not a poll.

Personal opinion/answer:

I actually rather like the approach of my own state’s (PA) rules on the subject. In essence, the age of consent in PA is situationally somewhere between 13 and 18 depending on situation.

  • People over 18 can consent to anything.
  • People between 16 and 18 can consent, but leave an older partner open to a “corruption of minors” charge if their conduct is criminal as judged by a jury to the standard of “common sense of the community.”
  • People between 13 and 16 can consent, but only to people who are no more than 4 years older than they are, and even then the previous point still applies if the partner is over 18.

I certainly do not agree with all of these provisions (13 strikes me as marginally too young for a younger age cutoff), but they contain several provisions that I think are necessary to a sane approach to the subject:

  1. teens are legally allowed to have normal consensual sex.
  2. some age differences are permitted, up to a relatively normal degree (it’s plausible for a freshman and a senior to have a normal relationship, but not much further separation than that–speaking as a guy who had to shoot down a senior when I was a frosh =P)
  3. it acknowledges at least three milestones in growing “power” levels of teenagers where we as a society allow them to make some decisions beyond the complete control of their pre-teen and childhood years (and it puts them at reasonably smart places–the beginning of high school, access to drivers licenses, and legal majority).

In the context of the previous thread, too, it allows the best of both worlds–if the 17-yr-olds parents are unhappy with the relationship with the 25-yr-old, they can put him before a jury on a corruption of minors charge–which while not as serious as a full-blown statutory rape charge is still a way to apply legal judgement to a skeevy situation. By the same token, if the situation is non-skeevy, parental judgement can prevail.

I first had sex at 14. In retrospect, I would have picked a different guy, but the experience did not damage me in any way and I don’t regret it. I frequently dated guys who were quite a bit older than me when I was young, and I don’t regret that, either. I’m 30 now, married ten years to a wonderful man, and still have a very healthy, robust, fun sex life. People make too big a deal out of it, in my opinion. It’s just sex.

I think there are probably two pertinent discussions here. The first, which Zeriel addresses, is drawing a legal line. Pennsylvania’s laws strike me as a reasonable attempt at doing that, and until convinced otherwise, I don’t have a problem with any of those provisions.

The second part is what we might think is morally OK. And that’s where I just can’t understand Dio’s blanket statement that any adult male (I may be paraphrasing – I don’t know that he said this only applied to older male --> younger female) who flirts with a female below the age of 18 is a pervert/skeevy/scum (I don’t believe he actually used the term “scum,” but I don’t think that’s an unfair characterization of his opinion). I do believe it’s possible for there to be a dangerous power imbalance in a relationship, but I don’t think that every age difference or every relationship that involves one party being a minor-as-defined-by-law makes that an automatic.

Were I to be a parent (and I fully admit that I am not), I would hope that I could make a rational judgment about the maturity level of my child and his or her ability to make sound judgments when it comes to a relationship, and I’d want to know as much as I could about the other party if there was something that set off my alarm bells. But I can’t see what purpose it serves to judge a relationship by a date on a calendar when there are many more useful factors I can use to keep my child safe, should my intervention be required, under the limited factors of the specific circumstances before me.

I’m sort of an old geezer when it comes to this stuff. In general, I’m a liberal, but I believe it isn’t healthy to engage in sexual relations until you’re old enough to understand the mental and physical implications of the act. Because of that, I would say 16 is the youngest a person should be to do that, while a more ideal age IMO is around 18.

As for age differences, I’d have to say it really depends on the individuals. When I had just turned 18 I dated someone who was 25, and in retrospect he was too old for me. Now if I date someone seven years older, than me, though, it’s not as big a deal. I generally date younger men and that’s not a problem for me, either; the last person I had a relationship with was seven years younger, and the biggest age difference for me was 13 years younger and 13 years older.

But a teenager dating an adult–that seems problematic, although there are probably some teenagers who are mature enough to do that and some adults immature enough.

Chef answered this one already: 17.

I’m inclined to think 15 is old enough to consent with anyone anywhere, myself.

Morally I tend to agree with Dio.

There are exceptions to almost everything, but Id go with ‘skeevy’ as a starting point with 17 vs 25. It would take a fair bit of convincing for me to view it otherwise for a given individual.

We have similar laws to above, but no corruption option, just 16 up for open consent. I dont really agree that making this a criminal issue by jury makes sense with that issue, it would be hugely open to issues like racial bias in my view.


That seems reasonable to me. Saying that it’s impossible to be legitimate or appropriate without exception is something else altogether.

13 to consent to intercourse with a minor partner, 16 to consent to intercourse with an adult partner.

When I was about 13, I knew a girl whom I’ll call April, because that’s what month it is now. We were classmates, so I assume she was 13 too; she might have been only 12. I don’t really know.

April was okay looking, as I recall: not spectacular, but not hideous. But she had no self-esteem whatsoever, for reasons I could not guess at then but suspect now. Anyway, April was sort of the butt of cruel jokes & exploitation by the kids at our school. I was one of those rare kids who wasn’t routinely mean to her; not because I was especially nice (I wasn’t), but because I restricted my bullying to boys. Anyway, at one point I was asked to help her with some subject or other; probably math. I did, mostly for the sake of my vanity. I was reasonably nice to her. This surprised her, and a week or so into the tutoring, she spontaneously offered to fuck me. Actually, as I recall, it was more that she said I could take her to the little wood in the back of the schoolyard during lunch, and fuck her if I wanted to; she really seemed to see it as something that’d be done to her rather than something she would do to another, or share with another. She didn’t really seem to conceive of any other way to show gratitude; for that matter, she didn’t seem to think anybody would be nice to her for any reason other than wanting to fuck her.

I cannot prove, but I am quite sure, that April was not a virgin when she made this offer. Do you think she was old enough, mature enough, wise enough, to have sex? (Assume she was 13.)

Yes. Sad situation, though. I’ve known girls of 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and on into adulthood who were the same way.

I guess the question there is how much is the issue one of abuse vs one of age.


Does that yes mean she was old enough to have sex alone? Or that she was also mature and/or wise enough?

Because she wasn’t any of those things, in my view. She had no idea of what sex really meant in an emotional or spiritual way; she only knew it as either a way to get boys to [del]like[/del] simulate liking her, or (I suspect) a way to avoid physical abuse, verbal derision, or so forth–whatever that first asshole who fucked her did to her before achieving that first fucking. I’d been nice to her, in a limited way, and so she wanted me to continue to be nice to her, and she couldn’t imagine any other way to make that happen. The fact that she was physically capable of engaging in the act doesn’t mean she was mature enough or healthy enough to do it.

15 is normal, but individuals may wait a lot longer if they so desire, for religious or any other reasons.
As for differences in ages between lovers, I couldn’t care less. Other people’s sex lives are uninteresting.

Guess it depends upon the topic of discussion. Personally, I believe that there has to be a definitive line between minors and adults, and most (if not all) states establish that to be 18. Which means no adult (even 18+ a day) should be having sex with any minor (even 17+ 364 days). But that wasn’t the original discussion. Originally, it was about parental objection to a 17 year old making her own decisions, and no law is going to change that. The age of the guy, while pertinent, was not the subject of the discussion, but the relationship between the daughter and her parents.

As for what’s “too young”, the law makes that decision on a criminal basis. and it’s not what a lot of people think. Pretty much, you have to decide for yourself based upon your own values. I may or may not agree with those values, but it doesn’t matter. It’s what’s important to you, not me. Unfortunately, we can only pass on those values to our kids and hope they stick. But they’re not little programmable robots. Each has a personality of its own, and will follow its own set of values, but at least they can be influenced by our own.

I dont think thats being questioned, its more ‘what age could you set where April couldnt occur’.

A person with no self esteem is a person with no self esteem. There may be particular ages that reduce this issue, but there will never be one that eliminates it.


Age of puberty and physical development is pretty important to this question. It’s fine in my book for fully developed 13-year-olds to be having sex; but I didn’t even get my period until I was coming up on 15 years old, and I really only got any secondary sexual characteristics after I was 17 or 18. I was a virgin until I was nearly 20; because I didn’t want to have sex at all until then. Makes sense considering my growth curve.

‘Yes’ meant that I think she was old enough to have sex with her peers.

Obviously she was not mature, wise, emotionally equipped to handle sex, or benefiting from having it in any way. These are things that many people who have sex for decades never achieve however.

This, to me, is the absolutely critical question. I don’t believe it’s prima fascie abuse to have a sexual relationship with one partner in the teens and one in their twenties. I certainly believe the potential for abuse is high, and (as you said) the bar is higher the more the power/social standing discrepancy.

Someone needs to summon **Dio **over here, since this was essentially his discussion that took over the thread. Especially in light of his claims that none of “us” had ever described a line beyond which it was too young to have sex…which I think everyone in this thread has.

I know someone who suffered serious sexual abuse before the age of ten, and has, by choice, been sexually active since the age of 12. Whilst this is obviously an exceptional case, making it illegal for someone who’s suffered that to have sex is pointless.

My point - age of consent laws are meaningless, if someone gives their informed consent to sex there should be no problem. Age shouldn’t be the issue, informed consent should be.

Would you or would you not agree that age is an important part of informed consent? It certainly is in other aspects of law: contract law, for example, where the conditions under which a minor can be bound to a contract are practically speaking nonexistent.