Well, Professor John Ashton, you have caused quite a stir. And all because you made quite a sensible suggestion. Ashton wishes to have the legal age of consent lowered to fifteen, but this has angered others, sparking comments about giving paedophiles the green light to molest children and how it will encourage kids to have sex younger. You want to know my opinion on why they don’t like it? People just don’t like to think there’s a possibility that their children are fucking.
There are many good arguments for lowering the age of consent. For starters it would bring the UK in line with a lot of other European countries, including Poland (which has the age of consent set at fifteen), and maybe it would shake off this stereotype of us Brits being fucking prudes. In Spain it is thirteen (although this is about to change) and in a lot of countries it is set at fourteen or fifteen. The countries which do have a lower age of consent all have lower rates of teenage pregnancy than the UK. But is the age of consent the reason for it?
It’s well-known that sex education in a lot of other countries is far better than in the UK. I’m pretty sure that it’s worse in some countries too (not sure what it’s like in Poland – anyone want to enlighten me?). In my school days sex education was pretty much all about the mechanics. There was nothing on contraception or STIs. I’m sure it’s changed now, but surely the fact we still have so many teenage pregnancies shows that whatever is happening in sex education in schools proves it’s not doing the job properly?
There’s also the huge issue that, it being illegal to have sex under the age of sixteen, teenagers have no access to contraception. Of course girls can be put on the pill before sixteen for various hormonal conditions. But this means, if they want to take the pill for the reason it was designed, they have to lie to their doctors. And of course under sixteens can’t walk into shops and buy condoms. And if doctors give condoms to under sixteens, they are committing a crime (of course some doctors do, and good for them, actually thinking about the patient rather than themselves).
I once had a discussion with a friend regarding a similar issue about ten years ago. We were talking about whether girls between twelve and sixteen should be able to get the morning-after pill in school, without parental knowledge. I said they should, as it would help with lowering the rate of teenage pregnancies. My friend said they shouldn’t be having sex in the first place. Which I believe is what a lot of people think. If they’re kids, they should just not have sex. Bullshit. There are many things that people shouldn’t do, it doesn’t stop them from doing it if they want to. I’m all for lowering the age of consent: if kids want to have sex at the age of fourteen or fifteen, or even younger, they will do regardless of any law imposed, and we might as well accept it and offer them the access to contraception which means they can do it safely.
But of course this is difficult, isn’t it? No parent wants to think of their child having sex. And people are talking about the over-sexualisation of the music industry, sex scenes on TV and in films, images in magazines and, of course, easy access to pornography on the net. People say this is causing teenagers to have sex younger and younger. What bollocks. Biology and chemistry is what makes people want to have sex. Adolescence is a time when hormones are raging anyway, sex in the media isn’t going to change that. And what do we mean by ‘kids’ anyway? I would hardly call a fifteen-year-old a young child. And yet apparently the age of consent is there to protect them, as, according to one quote I read, fifteen-year-olds are not mentally ready for sexual activity. Well, neither are a lot of sixteen-year-olds. Or eighteen-year-olds. But they can still do it. Whether someone is ready to have sex or not is nothing to do with age, it’s to do with maturity.
The strangest thing to come out of this debate is that it will apparently give paedophiles legitimacy to have sex with minors, and that if we lower the age of consent it will be sending out a message to adults that it’s ok to have sex with fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds. Well, duh, if it were legal then it would be OK. Bit creepy, maybe, but legal all the same. What I don’t like is the insinuation that if an adult wanted to have sex with a fifteen-year-old, that makes them a paedophile. It does not. Paedophilia is defined as finding pre-pubescent children attractive. If the kids are (approximately) eleven to fourteen, this is hebephilia, fifteen to nineteen is ephebophilia. Get your fucking facts straight.
This is an issue which will probably run on for a while, and at least the government seem willing to do something about it. OK, they’re not in agreement about lowering the age of consent. But as Nick Clegg said, we need our sex education curriculum modernising, we need kids to know where to go if they need advice, and this advice needs to be non-judgemental and confidential. There’s no point in suggesting that teenagers shouldn’t have sex: if they’re going to shag, they will.