Right now there are two GD threads going on the subject of teenagers having sex:
“Okay for a 14 year old boy and 23 year old woman to have sex?”
“Should the Age of Consent be lowered?”
I would like to address this issue from a slightly different angle: In terms of mental health, and the health of society, is it good or bad for teenagers to be having sex at all?
Whenever the subject of teen sexual conduct is discussed, there always seems to be an unspoken assumption – an assumption not shared by all persons participating, but certainly by many of them – that it is somehow immoral, or unhealthy, or both, for teenagers to be having sex at all.
This attitude carries over even to masturbation. Remember how Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders lost her job for suggesting that teenagers should be taught it’s all right to masturbate? I never could understand that. Teenagers will masturbate, or they will fuck, or both. The idea that they will do neither is preposterous. Yet it seems to be an ideal to which many adults hold. I once looked in an old copy of The Boy Scout’s Manual – dating from the 1930s or '40s – which contained a brief section on masturbation. It spoke of a boy’s “manly fluid” and how it must be kept in the body to ensure a boy grows properly tall and strong. The authors of this manual were actually trying to tell teenage boys – and might even have believed themselves – that semen is some kind of a growth hormone, and that it is more healthy to retain it than to release it! Well, I don’t know how it is for girls, but I’m pretty sure that if any teenage boy does not masturbate at least several times a week, there must be something wrong with him, physically or psychologically. I’ve also read that boys who consciously restrain themselves from masturbating, for moral or religious reasons or sheer embarassment, inevitably will have a lot of nocturnal emissions. That stuff has got to get out, one way or another.
Please remember that humans are designed to have sex from puberty onward, and especially in the years just after puberty. It’s not the same for both sexes, of course. I’ve often heard – no cite – that a female’s sex drive peaks in her 30s, while a male’s peaks in his teens. But females are designed to start getting pregnant and popping out babies in their teens – biologically, those are their prime breeding years. Which probably is why men seem to be hard-wired to find young women more attractive than older ones – it’s a sociobiological imperative. Remember, also, that for most of human history, in most cultures, people typically got married in their teens. This was the case in the United States throughout the 19th Century and well into the 20th.
It also has been a general rule, throughout history, that the higher you are in the social scale the later you will marry – because the higher you are placed, the more complicated effects your marriage will have on your economic and social prospects in life. Modern Americans are generally very prosperous, by historical standards, and generally marry at an astonishingly late age, by historical standards. And it is still generally the case that poor and working-class people marry younger than middle-class and upper-class people – defining “marriage” as a relationship contracted with the intention of producing and raising children. We also have invented a new social institution of “living together,” which is essentially a childless trial marriage. If you’re working class, you will probably get married right after high school and start having children right away. (At that, your behavior still would seem odd to your great-grandmother who got married at 15 and visibly bulged under her wedding dress.) If you’re middle- or upper-class, you probably will engage in nonmarital serial monogamy – cohabit with several partners in your college and grad school years, and not settle down to get married and have kids until your mid- to late 20s, or even your 30s.
So in our society today, nobody over the age of 18 really has to be sexually deprived – or at least, social norms do not cause adults to be sexually deprived. But what about all those horny – perfectly naturally horny – teenagers? We certainly don’t want to encourage them to get married, but what exactly do we want to encourage?
For purposes of this thread, let us run a thought experiment in an ideal world where the most important unintended consequences of sex – unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases – have been completely eliminated. All girls get a contraceptive implant at the age of 12. An equivalent device has been developed for boys, and they all get implanted too. A perfectly effective broad-spectrum vaccine for STD’s has been invented, and everybody is inoculated at the age of 12. Under these conditions – is it still important to encourage teenagers to keep their virginity up to a certain age? And is it important to discourage them from masturbating? In terms of mental health, should teenagers be discouraged from fornicating and/or masturbating, or encouraged? I have never heard any psychologist address the question in these terms.
(This is, for the moment, leaving aside the question of whether it is psychologically damaging for teenagers to have sex with adults, in a way it is not damaging for them to have sex with other teenagers – an assumption implicit in statutory-rape laws. Also, leaving aside the question of whether the sex is heterosexual and homosexual, and whether either is more psychologically damaging to a teenager than the other.)
Let’s change the conditions still further: It is not difficult to imagine a sort of teenage sexual utopia where prostitution is not only legal but socially respectable, there are inexpensive brothels in every neighborhood which are permitted and even encouraged to serve the youth trade, and in consequence it is as unusual for a teenage boy to go a day without fucking as it is for him to go a day without eating – even if he’s an ugly, smelly, socially awkward pizza-face and none of the girls in his class would touch him with a fork. My guess is, if every boy grew up in that environment, our average level of mental health would be much better and sex crimes committed by adults would be much rarer. How it would affect the girls is a more complicated question, but let us also assume the brothels have male prostitutes, just to make things fair.
What do you think?
(Oh, for a horny, drooling smiley!)