Monday, June 18, 2012

Not just for kids anymore.

On our vacation, Rowdy and I stayed with his family.  His parents made us sleep in separate beds because we weren't married.  Gotta keep those frisky kids from having premarital sex, right?

Thing is: I'm 26.  Rowdy's 28.  We have jobs and apartments and sometimes we go to Home Depot and have long conversations about paint chips.  Using "not til you're married" as a lazy replacement for "not til you're ready" is getting a little ridiculous as we head toward our thirties.

This attitude isn't just a family thing, though.  It's coming from all over.  When I was a teenager, I felt like everyone--doctors, teachers, politicians, police, pundits--was trying to control and repress my sexuality.  Now that I'm older... I feel like everyone is trying to control and repress teenage sexuality, and I'm collateral damage.

So much of the discourse about birth control, about abortion, about sexually explicit media, about STIs, even about sex ed, assumes that everyone who has sex is a teenager.  Should we have subsidized birth control because it'll prevent teenage pregnancy, or ban it to discourage teenage promiscuity?  I don't know... let me ask my 40-year-old married aunt who uses birth control!  Should we allow abortion so girls don't become teenage mothers?  Yo, I can't afford to become an adult mother!

The other day I got a message from a reader whose ISP blocked her access to my site because she couldn't provide adequate "proof of adulthood" necessary to view "adult" sites.  She's in her 20s.



I know why this is happening.  Hell.  I know three reasons!  And they're all terrible!

1) Making things about kids makes it more shocking and gives it more emotional appeal.  It's easier to get people fluffed up about "teenage mothers ruining their lives" than about "women who can't or don't want to have a child for various, sometimes complicated reasons."  Or on the other side of the aisle, "teenagers having irresponsible, promiscuous sex" strikes a certain emotional chord that "people having sex" doesn't quite reach.  Either way, your politics sound so much more urgent if they're about the children.


2) A lot of adults don't fit the traditional narrative of how a person's sex life is supposed to evolve.  The narrative is along the lines of: attempt to be chaste until marriage, get married in your early 20s, start trying to conceive immediately after marriage, and stop having sex once you have enough children.

(It's a little silly to call it the "traditional narrative" when there have always been tons of people who didn't live that way, but tradition and actual history often diverge.)

Adults who have unmarried sex, adults who have sex but don't want kids, and older adults who still have sex, are sequence breakers.  It's beyond mere "bad behavior"--a teenager having unmarried sex is bad behavior, but a middle-aged woman having unmarried sex is unexpected behavior.  They just don't exist in the narrow sexual-life-history narrative that we use for political dialogue.


3) We take it for granted that we have the right to control teenagers.  Sure, telling a couple to sleep in separate beds is absurd when they're in their late 20s--but is it really going to help anything if they're teenagers?  I'm all for teenagers not having sex until they're emotionally ready and they've talked about safety and consent and expectations--but I don't think adults should have sex if they don't meet those conditions either.  It's important that adults don't sexually exploit teenagers*--but it's important that adults don't sexually exploit other adults.  I don't think teenagers should see porn without context and perspective on how it compares to reality--you know how this sentence is going to end.

It's probably true that it's harder for teenagers to follow the rules of good sexual conduct, because of their age and inexperience (although having to do everything clandestinely and with no support system can't help), but the rules aren't fundamentally different for them.

The way society tries to simultaneously micromanage and deny teenage sexuality, it's no wonder there's  collateral damage onto adults.  But the real damage is right where it was intended to be--and it is damage.




*Horrible fact: the majority of "teenage pregnancies" do not have a teenage father.

Is it possible for an adult to have a truly fair and consensual relationship with a teenager?  I want to say "theoretically, yes," but in practice, all the couples I've seen do it have been trainwrecks of exploitation, innocence-fetishizing, the teenager's unrealistic expectations being strung along, the adult's inability to behave in a manner acceptable to other adults, and straight-up abuse.  So I'm not super keen on finding that theoretical perfect adult-teenager couple.

152 comments:

  1. After I'd been with my (then) fiance for a few years (we were also in our early 20s), I stopped caring about my mom's separate beds rule. For god's sake we were sleeping on a pullout couch in the living room; it's not as if we were going to start going at it with two people on the couch next to us and another two in the bedroom next door! And I have a friend, who is 22, whose mother "won't let her" stay the night at her boyfriend's house, even though that's basically the only way for them to see each other. And my friend just goes along with it, because she's living with her parents for the summer and she has to "follow their rules." This crap just drives me bonkers!!

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    1. *because they live so far away from each other, driving back and forth isn't feasible.

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    2. For god's sake we were sleeping on a pullout couch in the living room; it's not as if we were going to start going at it with two people on the couch next to us and another two in the bedroom next door!
      Yeah, the most annoying thing about Rowdy's parents separating us is that we weren't going to have sex anyway! Rowdy knew they didn't want premarital sex in their house and we were already intending to respect that. We honestly just wanted to cuddle and sleep together.

      We're not teenagers who sneak around because it's our only option--we're adults who can have sex whenever we want in our own homes--so we have absolutely no problem honoring his parents' wishes. Physically separating us seems like an insulting lack of trust.

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    3. Physically separating us seems like an insulting lack of trust.

      Yes! This.

      My parents let my boyfriends sleep over, same room and everything. The most my mom ever said about it was "I don't ever want to hear...stuff going on." I was like "Yeah...contrary to what you might think, having my parents right down the hall is not actually a turn-on. There won't be any 'stuff'."

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    4. My parents have let cousins who were dating sleep over, along with their S/O's...but if you weren't married, you were sleeping in separate rooms. Even if that meant that I or my brother had to share a bed with said cousin (depending on the cousin's gender, of course).

      I can't help but laugh at this, because when you've been driving all day to get to your uncle's house, the LAST thing you have energy for is sex.

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    5. Okay, it's one thing for a parent to tell a grown child who is living with them that they can't have a boyfriend stay the night. It is their house and they get to choose who gets to spend the night (though as soon as they say yes, separate beds is a stupid requirement), but not allowing your grown child to spend the night elsewhere? That is a ridiculous level of control.

      I just don't understand it. My parents always let my boyfriends sleep in my bed when I've been visiting with one (or over summer vacation when I was in college). Same goes for my brother, in fact based on when he was born my nephew was likely conceived when my brother and his fiance (now wife) were visiting for the holidays.

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    6. I also think that sometimes people comply to easily with such wishes rather than "rock the boat." And I'm guilty of it, too. But maybe at some point you just need to say "Look mom and dad, we need to talk." And tell them we're well-adjusted, educated adults and that we're insulted and hurt by their lack of trust in our judgement.

      They'll either compromise or not, and at that point you can decide whether you're going to put up with it or not. We ARE adults. We don't have to do something just because our parents tell us to anymore.

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  2. This is a great post about a topic that really doesn't get talked about much. I'm still technically a teenager (one more month) but I met my boyfriend at college. We sleep together every single night we're together at school,bu when we're home we have to sleep in separate beds per parental instruction (or rather to hide the fact that we have a very healthy cuddly and sexual relationship from our parents). It's just fucking ridiculous that we're both well-adjusted adults and we have to sneak around like teenagers to cuddle on the couch.

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  3. Actually, I know a younger-older couple and they seem to be pretty okay. The girl's in her late late teens, about to turn twenty, and the guy's in his mid-thirties.
    I'm pretty sure the guy's the only one who worries about it anymore. xD

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  4. It's times like this I'm really happy I have sane, reasonable parents. My boyfriend and I got an apartment together. We've been together for over a year. My mom's only concern was to make sure we got a two bedroom so if we broke up, a replacement roommate could be found. No lecture, nothing. Hell my mom can recite the birth control history for both my sister and I (mostly because it's a prescribed medicine and that can have effects). My dad hasn't said a damn thing accept to tell me I can be bossy or messy, but not both or I'll drive my boyfriend insane.

    I'm pretty certain that when we go to visit my boyfriends parents, we'll share a bed. We're their children, but we're ADULTS. I wonder if the fact that both of our parents got married really young (mine 20/21 and his 18/early 20s) has something to do with it.

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    1. Sane, reasonable parents are a treasure. I just spent a week at my boyfriend's parents' home, and it was the most natural thing in the world for us to share a bed there. No questions, no shame. Just lots of snuggling and some sex. =)

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    2. My mom told me when I was a teenager that I should live with a guy before marrying him to make sure we could get along. I just moved in with my boyfriend a few months ago and my parents congratulated us and helped me with the move.

      My parents are pretty sane and reasonable, something I've always known but didn't really appreciate until I met my boyfriends parents. He's 38 and they still treat him like a teenager and were all concerned about how much younger I am (9 years) and his mom even said "I hope this one lasts longer than the last one" (of course the "last one" lasted nearly 5 years and he was married for 10 years before that).

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    3. I'm glad my parents were accepting too. I really, really am.

      My biggest thing with my mother was that my mother made me respect her. Not forcefully, but by being an understanding adult that didn't treat me like a child that couldn't make her own decisions about her body and life. She understood that people have to make their own mistakes and that as a parent she really couldn't do more than prevent me from doing the REALLY bad stuff, and giving me the education and information I needed to make informed decisions by myself... The biggest reason I really respected her though, was because the numerous talks about sex. Her usual stance was "when you decide you're ready... I just want you to know that i may not like it, I may think you are too young.... But I will respect your decision. Here are the consequences, and here are options to prevent these for when you decide you're ready. All I ask is that it's not in my house and you get on birth control, with or without me there, before you have sex, and that you understand the potential consequences of your actions." So when it came to the ground rules she set involving boys and sex, she had instilled such a respect in me that I respected her rules in turn. And look at me now. I'm 22 years old, I'm following my dream, I live with my absolutely amazing boyfriend... And I'm the only one of my friends that isn't already married or with a kid...

      The only thing my mother ever stepped into my sex life for was when I chose to lose my virginity to a 24 year old... And later after I was 18 and I brought it up finally and asked her why she did it because she had always promised to respect my decisions, she even admitted that she knew it had been consensual and that I liked the guy (more than just a puppy crush. We'd been dating for 4 years before I decided to say yes and never once had he brought it up or pressured me into it, and was always very respectful of my decisions)... But that she'd been pressured into pressing charges by his friend's mother, who's son apparently had a huge thing for me and had gotten pissed off about it when he found out and decided to apparently "get revenge".

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  5. I've actually been the teenage boy in a relationship with an adult. It ended badly, but not in any special age related way, it just ended badly in a totally generic way for relationships to end badly.

    I do wonder if the bit about most teenage mothers not getting pregnant by teenage fathers has anything to do with the generally continuously rising use of condoms/birth control of various types by intra-teenage couples.

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    1. I do wonder if the bit about most teenage mothers not getting pregnant by teenage fathers has anything to do with the generally continuously rising use of condoms/birth control of various types by intra-teenage couples.

      I think it has more to do with the fact that the older partner has too much power to demand they not use condoms, more confidence that he can just disappear when she gets pregnant, and that being able to manipulate a partner into things like that is a big part of the appeal for adults who have sex with teenagers.

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  6. Let's see here:

    I know one girl right now who's 19 in a relationship with a 26-year-old. (I'm pretty sure she started dating him when she was still under 18, though.) Nothing about that relationship seems at all bad to me.

    I also knew a guy who dated a 19-year-old woman when he was 16. That went exactly like almost all his other relationships, which is to say badly, but it clearly wasn't because of the age difference. Also it ended quickly enough it's pretty clear she wasn't stringing him along or anything.

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    1. I'm not sure a 19-year-old dating a 16-year-old really counts as an adult/teenager relationship. I guess technically a 19-year-old is a legal adult, but they're also still a teenager themselves in many respects, and that's only a 3-year age difference. When I was 16, I dated an 18-year-old, and the relationship imploded because we were both passive-aggressive idiots but there wasn't any kind of serious abuse or power imbalance or anything like that. But I don't think an 18-year-old is really that much more experienced than a 16-year-old most of the time.

      I think the real problem comes in when 21+ adults try to date under-18 minors. Maybe someone has managed to do that in a healthy way, but I've never seen it, and it strikes me as vanishingly unlikely.

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    2. I have huge trouble thinking of my relationship with my partners (Who are both 29) as being an adult/teen relationship because I'm 19. To a degree I don't act particularly like my age, though. It may also be a matter of perspective, because the gap seems a lot less striking as the 15-19 age gap of my first relationship. That lasted about three years, we broke up because we wanted different things out of life. That said, experience and maturity don't necessarily go hand-in-hand, so that might be one of the things that define a functioning younger/older relationship. Which would explain why they seem so rare. :V

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    3. When I was 15 I was dating a 24 year old. We'd actually been dating for a while and I ended up losing my virginity to him when I was 15... But I definitely wouldn't say the relationship was unhealthy. Out of all of the relationships I had, actually... Aside from my current relationship, that was probably one of the healthier ones I had (I have a long history of choosing the abusive ones from about 16-21). He was always really respectful of me. The most physical we got was a chaste kiss here or there, and cuddling on the couch watching movies, or holding hands. He never pressured me into doing anything. Never even asked, actually. And when I finally said I wanted to have sex when I was 15, he made me wait a couple months to make sure I was ready, took me to get on birth control, we waited the 3 weeks I was advised to wait after beginning it... And he kept asking me "are you sure" all the way up until we finally had sex. Even used a condom, I didn't even have to ask. He was a very respectful guy who just genuinely liked me and it lasted all the way until I was almost 17 and we decided to part ways because we both had different goals in life. It was a mutual agreement and understanding and we even still talk and catch up with each other over facebook occasionally... So I think that healthy relationships like that are possible, but as someone rightfully pointed out: They're few and far between because the general consensus seems to be that they like their ability to manipulate younger women/men and then disappear when everything gets "too serious", etc.

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  7. Two thoughts.

    On teenage/adult relationships: My only hesitiancy to "NO THEY ARE BAD. END OF LINE." comes from the fact that the teenage/adult distinction is a legal or cultural application of an arbitrarily binary and universal division to a bunch of processes that in reality are continuous and variable in timing. But that's how rules work, so as long as any relevant law has the so called "Romeo and Juliet (this is a terrible name for this, didn't they commit suicide? Jon Lawmaker next time name your exception better)"* exception I'm cool with it.

    On seperate bedrooms: For my girlfriend and I with both our parents we were expected to sleep in different rooms until in each case a situation happened where there were not enough beds for this unless we shared beds with *other people* but then didn't go back. It's really weird.


    *The parenthetical is actually pronounced as an aspirated "h".

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  8. I'mma just hit one thing here, because I agree with the majority of the post:

    I was 17 (nearly 18) when I started dating my then 20 year old husband. We had our first child a month and a half before my 19th birthday and just before his 21st. A lot of friends of mine who had kids young had a similar age difference (under 5 years) so I don't know how that plays into the whole 'most teenage pregnancies don't involve a teenage father' thing. No, he wasn't a teenager, but her was not by just barely, ya know? Basically, I just dont know how much I trust that as a sweeping statement, I might like it more if it was specific, ie, 'sad fact: X% of teenage pregnancies involve a father at least 5 (or whatever)years older than the mother.' As the statement stands, it really doesn't mean much to me, and is actually kind of biased against the males in the relationships.

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    1. From the link:
      A review of California's 1990 vital statistics found that men older than high school age fathered 77% of all births to high school-aged girls (ages 16–18), and 51% of births to junior high school-aged girls (15 and younger). Men over age 25 fathered twice as many children of teenage mothers than boys under age 18, and men over age 20 fathered five times as many children of junior high school-aged girls as did junior high school-aged boys. A 1992 Washington state study of 535 adolescent mothers found that 62% of the mothers had a history of being raped or sexual molested by men whose ages averaged 27 years.

      I think it's pretty clear this is not just about innocuous "she's 19, he's 20" situations.

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  9. I think a huge part of the reason that adult-teenager couples often are so harmful in our society is because of the ways we treat teenagers. If we didn't treat younger people as lesser beings, we might not see as many problems. I see some parallels with the fact that abuse is so unfortunately common in male-female relationships - but this doesn't mean that male-female relationships are universally a bad idea or that men interested in women are inherently evil. It arises because of the fact that women are disadvantaged in our society and therefore certain abusive dynamics are prone to being played out.
    I am NOT saying that these things are exactly the same. I'm just suggesting that I see some similarities that I think might be worth considering.

    It's important to make sure that *people* do not take advantage of other *people,* no matter what categories anyone involved might fit into. I think this can be done while still respecting young people and without excluding them. The boundaries are far from clear and I'm not claiming that I nor anyone else has perfect answers, but that's the case with anything to do with sex and agency and rights.

    I think all of this is relevant to the status of young people throughout society, and not just as it relates to sex.

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    1. This, so much. I know I was a very different person at 16 than I was at 8, yet my parents treated me exactly the same as they always had--as if I were a young child. Sure, they helped me through the expected milestones--"you're 15, time to get your learner's permit and start learning how to drive"--but they still acted as if I had no say in any important decisions, and often waited until the last minute to tell me things. I continued several paid-for hobbies long after I'd lost interest, simply because I got strong vibes of Your Parents Will Disapprove If You Stop Doing This.

      And of course, there's the implication that parents can completely control their kids' religious beliefs up to that magical 18th birthday. I didn't even consider the possibility that I could be something other than Catholic until I was in college and encountered people who didn't follow the religions of their parents. Because for me, it wasn't an option. Even after gaining majority, I had to go to Mass EVERY Sunday as a condition for remaining in my parents' house until I found my own place.

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    2. The flip side of that, sadly, is treating teenagers as adults when they really aren't. This is exactly what predators count on: oh, you're so much more MATURE than other boys/girls your age.

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    3. I think that, as parents, we can find an equal balance if we put our minds to it. And I think that balance is mostly about understanding that your children ARE older and more mature and can handle more things now and that patronizing them and using the "Because I said so" line doesn't work anymore and after a certain age they're going to question you. The perfect balance IMO is to teach them practical real world things (like how to make complex decisions based on fact, etc, and how to balance what you want with what is necessary, and how to balance facts and education on something with personal desire for that thing, etc.) while still allowing them JUST enough freedom to discover who they are, to make their own decisions, learn to deal with the consequences of those decisions, make their own mistakes, etc.

      IMO, Treat them too much like a child when they no longer are, they'll rebel and do things out of spite and it sets them up for disaster... Treat them too much like an adult when they aren't, and they won't actually learn anything and it also sets them up for disaster. It's all about that balance.

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  10. When my girlfriend and I planned to move in together (I was 22, she was 24), my mom wrote me a very long and heartfelt note about all of her reasons why cohabitation was wrong.

    Chief among those reasons? "You might be tempted to have sex."

    :facepalm:

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    1. Isn't that one of the major appeals of cohabitation?

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    2. Oh my god...that's taking parental naivity/denial to a whole new level. :O

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  11. "Son, we repaired the shower in the guest bathroom in case you want to have some clean fun with your girlfriend when you stay here." I don't think my mother has a problem with us sleeping in one bed. ;)

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  12. I'm kinda thinking I'm lucky having been born and raised in a Northern European secular society where pretty much everyone is EXPECTED to have premarital or nonmarital sex and teenage pregnancies are a relatively rare problem.

    Our society has its issues but at least majority of people will be rolling their eyes in disbelief if someone tries to insist that only married couples should have sex.

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    1. Yeah, I think it's pretty clear from the evidence these days that America's attitude about Teenaged Sex (It doesn't happen! And if it does it shouldn't! Don't ever talk about it as if it happens!) is actually driving our problem with teen pregnancies.

      If you can't talk about something that's happening, how can you possibly ameliorate the consequences?

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    2. Yeah, as I wrote in a post lower down, there are apparently four times as many teenage pregnancies per capita in the US as in Sweden, where teenagers are more or less expected to have sex.

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    3. That's it, I'm moving to Sweden.

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  13. I once visited a boyfriend's aunt and uncle with him while he and I were living together. The uncle said he considered telling us we couldn't sleep in the same bed (we were both 21) but then realized that meant he'd have to make up two beds and to hell with that.

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  14. The other day I got a message from a reader whose ISP blocked her access to my site because she couldn't provide adequate "proof of adulthood" necessary to view "adult" sites. She's in her 20s

    Say what? US ISPs do that? I can sort of understand parents setting up filters for their (smaller) kids - having or not having a filter on the kids computers is certainly a decision I as a parent have the right to make. But and ISP? The mind, it boggles.

    The thing I don't get about the "not in my house" and "not until you're married" idea is the message it sends to the kids. Some parents may believe it says "wait - don't have sex", but everyone knows that not how teenagers work. No, the real message is "I don't want you to start exploring sex with a nice partner you're comfortable with, at your own pace, when you are ready, in a safe environment. I want your first explorations in the world of sex to happen on the backseat of a car, rushed, while intoxicated, with someone you afterwards wish you never see again". And also, "I want it such that if you have any concerns, worries, or questions, you have no access to adults who can comfort and help you".

    Why is that? Why is it parents want that for their kids?

    Me, I'd much rather my daughter have sex in the comfort of her own home, with a kids I've met and who will also join us for dinner, that she feels safe and know she can talk to me. And, no - I don't think it's for me to tell her when she can or cannot have sex. I can give her advice, and talk to her about being ready and about doing it for the right reasons, but at the end of the day she's the only one able to tell when she's ready. D

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    1. Say what? US ISPs do that?

      I twitched at this too. Man, I would fire that ISP so fast their modems would spin in the racks.

      ------

      And I'd just like to give you a thumbs up from a random internet stranger about your attitude regarding your daughter and sex. I don't have and won't be having kids, so it's not something I'm likely to run into, except I have a huge number of nieces and nephews so I might, by proxy. We'll see. But your attitude seems way healthier than what I had to put up with as a teen.

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    2. It was a UK ISP, I don't know what the deal is over there.

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    3. The UK has a majority of ISPs using a content-blocking service for anything "obscene". It's the usual "don't worry, this is meant for bad things no one should see" that has crept across basically anything deemed pornographic.

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    4. OK, thanks for the clarification. Glad I'm not loaded with that.

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    5. The thing I don't get about the "not in my house" and "not until you're married" idea is the message it sends to the kids. Some parents may believe it says "wait - don't have sex", but everyone knows that not how teenagers work. No, the real message is "I don't want you to start exploring sex with a nice partner you're comfortable with, at your own pace, when you are ready, in a safe environment. I want your first explorations in the world of sex to happen on the backseat of a car, rushed, while intoxicated, with someone you afterwards wish you never see again". And also, "I want it such that if you have any concerns, worries, or questions, you have no access to adults who can comfort and help you".

      Why is that? Why is it parents want that for their kids?

      Me, I'd much rather my daughter have sex in the comfort of her own home, with a kids I've met and who will also join us for dinner, that she feels safe and know she can talk to me. And, no - I don't think it's for me to tell her when she can or cannot have sex. I can give her advice, and talk to her about being ready and about doing it for the right reasons, but at the end of the day she's the only one able to tell when she's ready. D

      My mum told me all through middle/high school that if I was going to drink, she'd rather me do it at home, if I was going to have sex I should do it at home when I'm ready and using proper protection, and that she'd prefer that I didn't smoke/do drugs but if I did to do them at home so that she could make sure nothing bad happened. Until I graduated high school..actually until I turned 21, my parents had the rule of no persons of opposite sex are allowed in any room with the doors closed nor are they allowed to sleep in the same bedroom(which kind of seems quite a bit contradictory but since I wasn't paying rent I didn't have much of a say. Now that I'm paying rent to them, I couldn't care less if they don't want someone sleeping in the room I pay for that the person doesn't even have to walk through the house to get in or out of. My room is basically an addition to the house and in the backyard, just a matter of opening the gate and coming to one of my 2 doors I have that go out there. I do them the courtesy of letting them know when I have someone sleeping over so they don't get a surprise of "who the heck is this person" when they're getting ready for work in the morning(it happened once...never again). I can understand however where my parents were coming from of the no opposite gender/persons in relationships and unmarried in the same room. It was more setting the example for my autistic younger brother.
      I think it should be more about safety and being ready than not.

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    6. So putting 2 and 2 together, what she was saying is that if you were going to have sex, she wanted to be able to watch.

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  15. Y'know, this paranoia about teenage sexuality (and behaviour generally) is especially annoying when you're a teenager who ~doesn't want to be going about sexin' people. Case in point: me. I'm nearly 17, and I've never felt any need to be sneaking out of nights and having any of these drug-fuelled gay orgies like I apparently should.
    My friends are, for the most part, similarly 'dull'. But still the paranoia is levelled at us, because who would trust a teenager!? Of ~course we all want drunken promiscuous sex, we're only acting stealthy and doing schoolwork because we're ~deceptive!
    Honestly, I do think teenagers (girls, anyway, I can't speak for fellas) are a lot more sensible that we're given credit for. Which makes the moralising ridiculous from yet another angle.

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    1. I have three daughters, and one was just like you--calm and rational about the whole business. I, however, don't even remember my teenage years except for the constant, pulsating, aching horniness.

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    2. It's not necessarily either/or. I was pretty darned horny in my teenage years. I also wasn't ready for sex until college, and I knew that. At least in my day we got told it was okay to masturbate.

      Though for me, up until fairly recently horniness had a rather different character -- a lot less of the want-it-now scratch-an-itch feelings and a lot more of the sensual mmmmm, it's a really nice day, would be even better in bed, glowing kind of feeling. So that was a bit easier to take. I'm sure it's not that way for everyone.

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  16. When I was in collage I took a girl to my grandmothers house 100 miles away and she put us in the same bed. My family must be weird.

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  17. I'm from the UK and I would love to know what the attitudes are about the 'same bed' issue here. I can't really go by my own perspective because I grew up in a Christian household where me and my siblings have always known that we would not be sharing beds with any of our partners under their roof. But going by my understanding in the US more people follow these 'Christian values' (though when people say that, it always seems to be about sex does it not? I seem to remember Cliff wrote a good post about that a while ago XD) even when they do not otherwise live their lives in a Christian way.

    When I was 18 and had a serious boyfriend, I would always stay over at his house and share his double bed, which his parents were totally fine with. At the time I wondered why and thought it must have been because they only had boys, and maybe parents of boys felt they had to worry less because boys can't get pregnant (This, now I come to think about it again, is really dumb reasoning). But now I'm sure the actual reason is that his parents weren't Christian, and had an entirely reasonable attitude to their overage children's sex lives. Most people of my age I know didn't grow up in a religious household. I can't help wondering how many of them were not allowed to have their partners share a bed under their parent's roofs.

    Luckily for me, my mum is ok with me having sex and no longer being a Christian, I know a lot of people with Christian parents are not so lucky. :( But I'm now 22 and living with my parents again for the foreseeable future, and my future sex life prospects will entirely rely on being able to use my future partners' beds, until I move out.

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    1. The whole "parents need to worry about their daughters more because they're the ones who could come home pregnant" is soooo irritating to me. Firstly, would you be any less upset if you found out your son impregnated a girl?? I dislike how it's just assumed the the girl will have to take responsibility. Of course, it has more of an effect perhaps on her physically and somewhat more emotionally/hormonally BUT I don't like putting all the responsibility of "pregnancy" and all the "need for protection" on the shoulders of young girls.

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  18. Great post, I really agree. Horrible fact at the end is pretty horrible, alright.

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  19. Thank you for the statistic on teen pregnancy. I have never heard that before, and it really changes the entire conversation.

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  20. My mom the Second Waver had a weird double-standard on the bed sharing issue: my sister always had to have separate beds, right up until she got engaged.

    Me? I'm male, and my girlfriends always slept in my bed, it was never an issue. Go figgure.

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    1. Maybe your mother didn't worry too much about you getting pregnant? ;-)

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    2. Who is older? You or your sister? I ask because I have noticed that the oldest child almost always has stricter rules than younger siblings, because the first time around their parents are more paranoid and relax a bit after that. So it could be a gender based double standard but it could also just be because you are the younger child.

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  21. *shrug* I feel like quite a few people my age (17~) aren't ready for sex/relationships. But I also feel like this isn't going to change for them once they hit 18 or even early twenties. The problem isn't age, it's lack of good relationship/sex ed + toxic attitudes about how relationships work sponged from damaging cultural tropes.

    This certainly will not stop them from having sex, of course.

    The hysteria surrounding teenage sexuality is based on the premise that we aren't prepared, while simultaneously refusing to take any sort of meaningful action to get us there. I mean, what the fuck?

    I think part of hesitency about educating teenagers about relationships is discomfort. It may discomfort you, for example, that I credit you and other sex-positive spaces on the internet for the fact that the first sexual experience I had was with two people (girl and boy), and it ended in a positive way. (Thanks to lots of talking, clear negotiation and stopping when one person felt it was going too fast. And awareness of poly-specific dynamics/issues, of course.)

    I think that's pretty awesome, of course, but I'd understand why an adult -- especially with a teen of their own -- wouldn't be so happy.

    However, I also feel personal discomfort is a really shitty reason to deny me access to the kind basic education I feel I have the right to, past a certain age. That is all.

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  22. I had a pretty solid experience in teenage-adult relations. I was 17, he was 38 (I'm male and gay, BTW). We met on a BDSM personals site, and he was my first time. The relationship was pretty much only physical, and we were both okay with that. The first time we met I was so nervous zi was shaking, but not really mature enough to know that I should cut things off immediately; to his credit, my partner backed off unilaterally and gave me some space. We tried again anew weeks later and it was one of the best nights of my life. We eventually broke it off because I was looking for a deeper emotional connection, but he taught me a ton about myself, my sexuality, how to negotiate in a BDSM context (and was also pretty great in bed).

    I wouldn't advise any youngsters to follow this path; I obviously found one of the few people looking for teenage ass on BDSM sites who is a pretty upstanding guy. But it worked out pretty well for me, so I can't categorically condemn such relationships (it is worth noting that the relationship was legal in my state, and dating at 17 is a lot different than 13).

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  23. After I moved in with my boyfriend (we were in our mid-20s), my folks wanted us to sleep in separate rooms. They knew we were living together. But they still wanted us to stay in separate rooms during visits home. I told them this: "Look. Your house, your rules. I respect that. But M is my family now, too. If we make you uncomfortable (we weren't making out or anything), we can stay in a hotel. Or not visit at all." Problem solved. In fact, a few years later, we lived in their basement while we both went to grad school. No one has the right to meddle in the sexuality of consenting adults. We can debate who is adult (I know some 60-yr-olds who don't quality), but I am the only one who gets to choose who I sleep with and when--with the consent of the other adult partner(s).

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  24. I stayed in the hospital with my ex for a week a few years back, while he was waiting to have a surgery. I was 20, he was 21. For the most part, I slept on the window seat/bed/storage unit thing next to his hospital bed - but the night before his surgery, he was so scared and nervous that I cuddled up with him so he could get to sleep. His parents came in the next morning, and his mom was freaked. Like we were going to be making the sexytimes the night before surgery, six feet away from his ten-year-old hospital roommate. Oy. U_U() (We were in the pediatric ward, as the only doc who could perform his procedure was a pediatric neurosurgeon.)And like we couldn't be getting it on all we wanted in our dorm rooms. And like we weren't sharing an apartment the next year.
    Relatedly, the look I got from the pediatric waiting room receptionist when he was in the OR was priceless. "So this is dad and... mom?" "Girlfriend." *look of horror* "No, no, it's okay, he' 21!" *sigh of relief*

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  25. Individuals under age 18 are presumed not to be competent to vote or enter into binding contracts, why should entering into a sexual relationship be exempt?

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    1. That's a little silly--obviously individuals under 18 are allowed to have relationships, we don't say "sorry, no friends or dates until you can vote."

      I'm far from friendly to the idea of teenagers having sex with adults, but "because they can't sign contracts" is not a great reason.

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    2. Seconding Cliff. While a sexual relationship between a teen and an adult is usually a Very Bad Idea (much easier to take unfair advantage, simply because adults have more power than teens in our society), a teenager who wants to have sex with someone zir own age should be allowed to.

      How else are teens supposed to learn about relationships if they don't date or experiment with sex? Heaven knows I was clueless until I was well into my 20's (mainly because I couldn't get a date in high school)!

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    3. Well, believe it or not, there are laws against fornication, which though not much enforced essentially send the message "No sex until marriage". And of course, there are minimum age requirements for marriage. Maybe you think those are silly, too?

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    4. In the U.S. at least, there are no laws against "fornication" or "sodomy" (and if any still exist on the books, then they've been rendered unconstitutional since Lawrence vs. Texas, 2003). In many other western countries, this was never illegal to begin with.

      As for marriage, the age of marriage is the same as the age of consent, plus or minus a few years (varying considerably depending on region; on the occasions where it's lower, there's an exception where married people are considered to be "of consent" regardless of their actual age.) Regardless of what one makes of that, marriage is a form of legal contract, and it says nothing about one's right to have a relationship - indeed, in most places you can get married solely for the legal benefits, to someone you don't know well and don't have much to do with, though that's kind of stupid.(Though on rare occasions people have exploited this for tax reasons.)

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  26. I think part of the reason of the focus being so intense on kids and teenagers is because it allows people to repackage a lot of sexist arguments, now that "Women are so vulerable and fragile and can't be allowed to make their own decisions!" is so much less socially acceptable.

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  27. On a semi-related note, I took issue with this from the wikipedia article:
    [Women] "...had a history of being raped or sexual molested by men...".

    What does it mean to have "a history". This sounds like more than a one-time event. Sort of like if someone has a history of "falling down stairs", it sounds like it's an occasional (if infrequent) event.

    Somehow, I see getting raped as being a really unfortunate -- yet mostly random -- event. I suppose there are things a woman could do to increase chances of being raped. But having "a history" of it implies that it's a occasional (if infrequent) event.

    Maybe I'm just reading it wrong, and they mean that "a large number of the women in the study have been raped (possibly once)", rather than "a large number of the women in the study have been raped multiple times."

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    1. The phrasing is vague, but unfortunately, a lot of the time, and especially with kids, it's not a one-time event. There may be someone they can't get away from (because that person is an authority figure or family member, or that person is their only refuge from a terrible family life, or that person is manipulating them into staying in an abusive relationship) who is assaulting them on a regular basis.

      The majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. "Random event" is the exception.

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    2. No, sexual assault is not a mostly random, unfortunate event. A substantial amount of people who get assaulted (the majority of them are women) get or got raped repeatedly over the span of their life, especially their youths. This has to do with many rapists being relatives or friends (and thus regularly around) as well as with the mindset that many rape victims are manipulated into by our culture which makes them more vulnerable to repeat assault (making them feel that they deserved it, making them feel that fighting it is pointless, making them feel that this is how life works).

      Welcome to reality, John.

      And no, there is nothing, absolutely nothing a victim (I'm pretty sure that's what you mean with 'a woman') "could do to increase the chances of being raped". That's victim blaming. There is only rapists being more or less opportunistic.

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    3. John, I think you mean well, but how you see rape is incorrect. The way you phrase it, perhaps unintentionally, also shifts the focus away from the agency of the rapist. "Getting raped" implies that rape is an act that the victim somehow engineered, and "random event" implies that rape is just a thing that happens without any human actor, like getting hit by lightning or developing a rare form of cancer.

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    4. Hmm, indeed, I could see how rape by family or relatives could be an ongoing event that isn't isolated or one-time. The wikipedia article didn't mention how many of the fathers were relatives.


      "a victim (I'm pretty sure that's what you mean with 'a woman')"
      Indeed, the women raped in this study are victims. However, I assumed that none of the mothers is the study were male. Hence my use of the word "woman". I suppose you could argue that they should be called "girls" instead, since they're young.


      "'Getting raped' implies that rape is an act that the victim somehow engineered, and 'random event' implies that rape is just a thing that happens without any human actor, like getting hit by lightning or developing a rare form of cancer."
      Well -- As far as being an engineered event, I think of it more like "getting hit by a car." I really don't think this phrase implies that the victim engineered getting hit by a car. Similarly, I don't think that getting raped is any more likely to be engineered by the victim. It's more like something which is done to a person against their will. Like "getting raked over the coals", or a bunch of other similar phrases.
      Similarly, these are not done without human actors. There is still someone driving the car (tho in that case, the incident is probably unintentional).


      As far as "random event" goes -- I can (upon further thought) see that this is quite incorrect. However, my intention was more like the following: assuming a person is raped by someone they decide to associate with (friend, date, whatever), that the chances of the friend or date being a rapist is fairly random. Sure, there are things a person might be able to identify, something which sets off red flags, etc. But I'd guess there's no "I'm a potential rapist" flashing neon sign over the heads of the offending person. Similarly, there's no "I'm a nice guy" sign for the safe ones. So the chances of the association being with a rapist is fairly random.

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    5. I think your heart's in the right place, John, but mixing pedantry with discussions about rape tends to end badly. Even when your pedantry isn't arguing anything offensive, simply the feeling that you're trying to make the discussion about precise language rather than about human experience is going to rub people the wrong way.

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    6. FWIW, I am involved in cycling advocacy and one of the things that pisses off people who've seen far too many bicyclists hurt or killed by careless/aggressive drivers is news coverage in the passive voice like "the bicyclist was struck by a car" or "injured in a collision with a car" throughout the whole article with no acknowledgement that a PERSON was driving the car, often in an illegal manner, and is responsible for the cyclist's death or injury.

      Because cyclists are often seen as second-class road citizens and victim blaming is very very common when cars run us over, we tend to be hypersensitive to passive language that lets criminal drivers off the hook.

      So maybe your analogy is more apt than you know.

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  28. My bf's religious parents make us sleep in separate rooms when we visit, solely because we're not married.

    What I'd like to know is this: does the Bible say that unmarried people can't sleep in the same room together, or merely that unmarried people can't fornicate with each other? I'm fairly sure it's the latter. In which case my bf's parents must think we're such horndogs that we can't be left in a dark room together without fucking each other's brains out.

    I kind of want to sit them down and go "Guys? Your son and I have been living together for two and a half years. I have access to his penis basically any time I want, and frankly, the novelty wore off a long time ago. We sometimes go for weeks at a time without having sex, even though we live together, sleep together, and are naked 99% of the time that we're at home. We can go one night at your place without humping like rabid badgers."

    The fact he's 28 and I'm 39 adds just that much more ridiculousness. As does the fact that his parents will leave us unsupervised behind closed doors for hours at a time during the day, but if we accidentally dozed off in front of a late movie and they found us asleep together on the couch, fully clothed, in the morning, there'd be a shitstorm of epic proportions (it happened once with my bf's ex).

    We follow his parents' house rules (and don't even sneakily fuck when they leave us alone in the daytime) but we don't understand them.

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    1. Technically, the Bible only says that you can't commit adultery (which is cheating on your spouse), and that prostitutes are a bad idea. Premarital sex is mentioned, but in the context of a society where girls were engaged pre-puberty, and thus "belonged" to a future mate already. An unmarried woman was either engaged, divorced (and thus shamed so that no man would touch her), or a widow, and the only case in which widows remarried was Levirate marriage (in which a childless widow was married to her brother-in-law, in order to produce an heir to her dead husband).

      There is nothing in the Bible about the morality or immorality of people who are neither married nor engaged having sex. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

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    2. Adultery is actually a married woman cheating. It's technically not adultery (in the Biblical definition) for a married man to sleep with an unmarried woman. /pedant

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    3. Where I grew up, there was a baptist church where most members believed that it was wrong to have sex before marriage. Most, but not all. I used to go there for a while although I was technically not a member, and I thought they might be right about the sex thing, but then changed my mind when I realized the Bible doesn't actually say so. It's just tradition.

      I remember there was actually an article in their magazine where a woman argued that the church ought to change their majority view on pre-marital sex because she thought church member might get married for the wrong reason (i e because they were horny rather than having true love). I think she had a good point. Lots of baptists got married really early. In Sweden, the average marriage age is 35, and I'm not saying everything below 35 is wrong (obviously not, since I got married myself at 24). But I think it's pretty rare for people to have found their true love as early as I did. And many baptists got married even earlier than that.

      Although I want to defend them a bit as well, because at least they weren't sexists. They thought sex is tempting for both men and women and both have a responsibility to abstain from it outside of marriage. While the majority view in the village where I grew up was that when a couple start dating, the man is gonna push for sex from day one, and the woman should say "no" until it's been a couple of months, then she can go "yes". If she goes "yes" too early she's a slut, but too late and she's a prude. I think that view sucks MORE than simply "no sex before marriage".

      (Then I moved to the big city where one-night-stands was completely accepted and everyone was a slut.)

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  29. I wonder if maybe a large part of the reason why adult-teenager relationships are usually bad is *because* people consider them bad.

    Consider, for example, facial tattoos. In most modern societies, it's mostly criminals and "outlaw" types who get them. Therefore, most people who get them are considered to be untrustworthy and dangerous until proven otherwise. Therefore, people who don't want to be considered as such mostly avoid getting them - and if they don't, there's a chance that they'll have to become criminals anyway in order to survive, due to the way people act towards them (employment discrimination, for example). So basically it's a social feedback loop, where it's consistently bad just because people believe that it's bad, even though facial tattoos don't inherently mean anything.

    Likewise, it could be something like this: Adult-teenager relationships require a greater-than-average level of maturity and responsibility on the part of at least one of the two (most often the adult). And people who are greater-than-average in that regard generally won't do it because society paints it as irresponsible at best and criminal at worst... so the ones who end up doing it are mostly the ones who really shouldn't be... which reinforces society's image of it.

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    1. It's not just that. A lot of it is simply the size of the power differential. You've got one person who can earn and save their own disposable income and one who's lucky if they have forty bucks. You've got one person who can drive and one who's stranded without them. One who may have a lot of experience with relationships (and, perhaps, how to take control of relationships) and one who may have very little. One who's likely to take a role as authoritative, unquestionable "mentor" and one who's likely to fall for it. It's not a small imbalance.

      Then again, all of these imbalances can exist between two adults, too. Sometimes adults can make that work and sometimes they can't, but it's definitely riskier and trickier than a balanced relationship.

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    2. Well, yeah, but isn't one aspect of "greater than average level of maturity and responsibility" being aware of the power differential and trying not to abuse it?

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    3. @Not Me: Very much so. I once fell really hard for a guy who was literally three times my age, and I think it must have crossed his mind that if he'd really wanted to he could have gotten me into bed, and that he was at least a little tempted (we never openly spoke about any of this). But I was really worried about the possibility of hurting him, of a scandal (whether deserved by either of us or not) threatening his marriage, his job, etc., and he was not the kind of guy to take advantage of me. Instead he found ways in which he could be appropriately supportive of my emotional needs, including helping me work through some weird shit with my parents that was probably at the root of a lot of this. He's always stood out in my mind as one of the kindest and most honorable men I've ever known.

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  30. Every relationship I had with an adult when I was a teenager had a similar dynamic. They were interested in me for my youth, and I was chasing sophistication. One situation definitely verged on exploitation. Even when there is nothing sinister going on, teenagers and adults are at completely different points in their lives and development.

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    1. This. When you're a teenager it's easy to be convinced you're so mature and worldly that you're equal, in life-experience and emotional maturity, to a 30+ year old. Then you get to be 30+ and you think "Wait, why on earth would somebody my age be interested in a high-school student? They're kids!"

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    2. What Mythago said. When I was 15, I had a relationship with a guy in his 20s and thought it was because I was so awesome and mature and our love was special.

      Then I got to be his age, and I looked at 15-year-olds, and I was like oh holy shit no.

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    3. I had a brief sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl when I was 21. That's not a huge age difference, but it's still a pretty big difference in terms of majority. And well... I thought she was super-hot and I think she was "chasing sophistication" in going after me.
      I broke it off when it turned out she had a boyfriend (her own age) in the small town where she lived whom she hadn't told me about. I think she just wanted a lesbian adventure in the big city, that that would be cool.

      I don't really think I exploited her or did anything morally wrong, since she was the one initiating the whole thing... and well, she had her lesbian urban adventure so I suppose she was happy. But I thought already at the time that, well, this is a bit CREEPY. She's still in BASIC SCHOOL while I was in university. (In Sweden, it's nine years of "basic school", three years of "gymnasium" which I suppose could roughly be translated as high school, and then university or a university college.)

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    4. Cliff/Mythago: this is what also bothers me about these types of relationships. It's not that the teenager is incapable or that it wouldn't even be enjoyable for them potentially, it's that I can't understand why someone so much older would be interested in someone developmentally much younger than they are. Granted, I am slightly biased because I have almost always preferred my partners to be more mature, however I find it difficult not to feel that the older person simply IS attracted to some sort of innocence/dependence dynamic.

      I have known relationships with large age gaps to work out well, but not involving high-school or younger aged people. Especially if there is a junior-high schooler with someone over 18....having worked with lots of junior high schoolers and knowing their levels of maturity, even at their most mature, I would be extremely uncomfortable with that.

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  31. My parents' objection to my and my then-bf sleeping in the same bed while visiting them was religious. They're mormon. My response was, "Fine. We're in our late 20s and already living together, so I don't exactly see what your big issue with preserving my virginity is. But to save your delicate sensibilities and to preclude conversations with your friends at church (what WILL the neighbors say...), we'll just shell out the money and stay at a motel across town, and you can fret over me having sex of which you don't approve from across town instead of across the hall."

    They were really nasty and self-righteous about it, too. So I got nasty and self-righteous right back. I held that extra expense over their heads like the sword of Damocles until my mother slipped me a few hundred dollars (we HAD traveled to New England from Hawaii to see them, not cheap or easy for a couple of enlisted sailors making shit pay). I figured if they were going to play the uptight fundie christian religion card I'd play the poor-enlisted-sailor-visiting-at-her-own-expense card and see whose guilt won out first.

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  32. Hell, before my (primary) husband and I moved in together, if my father and step mom went out of town, my daddy would say, "If you're going to do... stuff, keep it to your bedroom and bathroom. No where else, please." :D So, we did.

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    1. When my boyfriend's dad recently found out that I was visiting often (bf lives in his parents' old home but they don't live there anymore), his response was, "If you two use our bed, be sure to change the sheets."

      I thought it was hilarious, but bf was squicked.

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  33. I was typing and I don't know what happened... let me start again.

    I am a cis woman from Spain, and I'm 22. I've been having sex since I was 14 (I had some sexual contacts before that). Throughout my life I've had sex with about 60 people, mostly cis guys, even though I'm pansexual. I admit that some of my early experiences could have been better in terms of negotiation and etc, but my sex has always been consensual, respectful and absolutely non-abusive.

    When I was 15 and 16 I had sex with a guy who was (and still is, of course) 22 years older than I am. We didn't "date" but we had sex several times, we became good friends and we remain to be so today, and we still have sex sometimes when I'm not out of the country (which is most of the time). This guy, by the way, has been in a stable and open relationship since he was 19 and his female partner was 16 (he's now 44), and now they have a 3-year-old daughter, whom he loves and cares for very much. He has a stable job and he lives a happy life, even though his lifestyle might not match up with "traditional" expectations for a man in his forties, for a man with a family.

    He didn't like me because I was young (and definitely not because I was innocent, because that sure I wasn't). Most of the time he has sex with people not far from his age; I was the first person under 18 he was with (btw, the age of sexual consent in Spain is 13, in case anyone cares), and the one with whom he has the largest age difference. He liked me because of who I am. And he says (and so do other people) that I am way more sexually and emotionally mature that many people much older than me. Oh, and I like him because of who he is. As I said, we have a good friendship: he's a person I can trust with my worries and troubles in life.

    My two céntimos!

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    1. I guess I should make clear I know I'm an uncommon case. I'm definitely aware that not every 15 year old can have perfectly consensual and non-abusive sex with anyone, especially someone more than twice their age. It just pisses me off when people just assume that an age difference (especially if the young one is a cis woman and the older one is a cis man) implies abuse or a power-differential. As has been pointed out, such things can occur even when the people implied have the same age. I just wanted to share my experience because, hey, I exist! And my story is real!

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    2. Not entirely similar but when I was 17 I had a short relationship with a man who was 46. He made it pretty damn clear it was fun and not going to last, although I was so in love with him I a. ignored that and b. binge-ate a lot when he left.
      However - he introduced me to some of my favourite books, music, and kink. He is a great and a very generous, kind, caring friend - last year he paid $1000 for me to fly across the country to go to a funeral.
      I am in my thirties now, been married for over a decade, separated, had kids and I still love him to bits and consider him a really, really good friend. I don't think he exploited me.
      I made it really damn obvious in actual, consensual words that I was sooooo up for it.
      All my friends were in their 20s-to-40s so I was somewhat outside the usual social circles of a 17 year old. His 'usual' type were women either older or within 5 years of his age.
      Anyway I think I would likely be horrified in a hypocritical way if a young female relative started seeing someone 29 years older, but what the hell. People make their choices and I am still proud to call him my friend.

      Two things - One -I am tired and emotional so apologies for my rambling incoherence.
      Two - Thanks for a wonderful blog, Cliff Pervocracy. I am so pleased to have found it. It's fabulously enlightening and just plain great.

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  34. I'd also note, regarding teenagers that there is a fourth major reason. Adults are positioned well to fight back. It's not just that it is taken for granted that teenagers can be controlled, it's taken for granted that anything teenagers say can be dismissed. Targeting teenagers leaves the "they're just teenagers, what they say doesn't matter" response open to large amounts of potential backlash. It also leaves wonderful* euphemisms for that concept, such as "I thought the same way when I was your age", and "Well, these opinions are just a phase".

    The thing about dismissal is that it is much easier than actual argument, particularly when your arguments aren't sound to begin with. The only real problems with it as a rhetorical tool are that it is viewed as condescending, and that ideological opponents have a tendency to call people on it. For teenagers, neither of these really apply.

    *Not actually wonderful.

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    1. *shudders* I'm past the quarter-century mark, and I still get "justaphase"-ed.

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  35. MAYBE way back in the day, when lifespans weren't so long, it was acceptable for those in their teens and those clearly not in their teens to shack up.

    But as we live longer, there is naturally going to be a bigger and bigger emotional and experience gap between adults (especially 30+) and teens. I always wonder with these adults and teen lovers: What do they actually TALK about? What could they possibly have in common besides sex and showing each other off (the teen to look older, the adult to feel younger) to their friends? They are at completely different places in their lives.

    Changing topics! As for my current relationship, though we are both in our early 20s, my partner and I are both female, and she is completely sterile. So, lacking a leg to stand on in that department, my parents and hers are perfectly aware we sleep in the same bed. Awkwardness from our straight-white-bread families keep questions about what we DO in bed from coming up, mercifully...but I also know that the only reason we don't get crap is because it's beyond physically impossible for us to get pregnant.

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    1. Hi Jenna,

      My initial comment is just a few above yours, so maybe you wanna read that... but I just wanted to say that an age gap does not necessarily imply an emotional gap. I'm aware that there is a correlation for many, even for most people. But it's not inherent to human nature. Ever since I was 14 or so I felt like there were emotional gaps between me and many people my age; and obviously there were emotional gaps between me and many people little, somewhat or much older than me. But I insist, when I was 15 and that guy was 37 we had many things to talk about, and that's why we became the good friends that we are today (friends that sometimes fuck, too). And btw, we didn't show each other off to our friends, really. In general, he doesn't like to show off whom he's having sex with; and we were extra careful back then precisely because we knew people would assume fucked up things about us.

      Now that I'm 22, I have/have had friends and sexual partners and emotional partners that have been both close and far to me in age. For example, just last saturday I went to a swingers club (yes, I'm into the swinging, sexually-liberal and polyamorous communities) and had a threesome with a 41/42-year-old straight couple, and a foursome with a 37/39-year-old straight couple and a 23-year-old female friend of theirs. And believe me, I connected sexually and emotionally with those people more than I connected with *some* people my age I've had sex recently.

      To give another extreme example, I have a very good friend who is 74. People could ask: what do a 22-year-old and a 74-year-old have in common? Well, many things. And we don't have a mentor-mentee relationship, we have very intelectual and emotional conversations where we're both debating as equals.

      And then there might be someone my age or close who might try to patronize me and execute power over me in a debate or general life interaction. But that's someone I'm obviously not gonna bond with very well.

      So I guess I'm a sequence breaker when it comes to human interactions. But I exist! So please don't generalize too much :)

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    2. I'm 26. My co-workers in my office are in their 50's and 60's. We still have quite a lot we talk about--TV, weather, politics, mathematicians...

      I fail to see why this should be so impossible if you subtract 10 years from everybody's age.

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    3. Laura, that's kind of silly. Subtract 20 years instead, and the "math" argument says that a 6-year-old has a lot in common with a 30- or 40-year-old.

      Age gaps aren't this linear thing. I'm concerned about the gap between "powerful adult" and "powerless child," not how many numbers are between them.

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    4. @ Laura: My perspective may be skewed because I work with teenagers and am therefore, in whatever way, an authority figure to them. However, I'm 25 and my young students are still kids to me. I try to treat everyone I tutor, regardless of age, with respect, engage with them on subjects they find interesting, and forge a genuine bond with them. But the fact remains that I am a grown woman who works full-time, pays rent, and generally am allowed to take the direction in my life that I choose - and my school-age students are, well, not. They are interesting and bright and talented and I am fond of them, but none of them is in a place where they can be an equal partner in a relationship with an adult. As Cliff says, maybe there's rare individuals who can make it work, but they're just that, rare.

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    5. My best friends are a married heterosexual couple. He is in his 40s, she is 24. They have plenty in common because they are BOTH adults.

      As Cliff says, it's not the age difference, it's the power difference. And I am not saying these relationships can never work. I just think the potential for damage to both parties is huge and, frankly, rather likely.

      Imagine the teenage partner displeases zir adult partner in some way, and the adult partner is not mature about it. You think the drama and abuse between teens gets bad! I shudder to think what an adult could do.

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    6. I agree with Cliff. My sister is married to a man sixteen years older than her, and I sort of reacted to the age difference at first, but then I realized they really had a lot in common and made a great couple (they met through work btw). But she was 25 when they started dating, and that's pretty different from 15.

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    7. I would like to point out that I was ONLY responding to the "how can they have anything in common" part of the argument, not the "this relationship dynamic is probably unhealthy" part. Being members of different generations does not preclude a healthy friendship, or the ability to relate to one another.

      It is possible for a healthy teen-adult relationship to happen, but 99.999% of the time, that power dynamic makes things go very, very wrong.

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    8. I do remember a certain 17-yo I discussed classical poetry with... (we were not in a relationship, I was engaged).

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  36. my mom was very open when it came to sex. she was a nurse, so she had tons of horror stories of men and women who weren't educated about sex. she told us about women who only thought they could get pregnant if they were married and men who couldn't figure out why they had rashes and sores on their penises. she even took care of a gay man who had to have his improvised sex toy surgically removed. she didn't want her children going through the same thing. she wanted us to wait until we found someone that we felt comfortable with, and use birth control. she didn't mind that my siblings shared their bed, as long as they were quiet.

    my dad, on the other hand, did not want to talk to us about it. he said that we shouldn't even think about it until we were older. when my sister and i came across his playboys and then asked him why he was looking at naked women, he got very angry with us. mind you, we were young and didn't really know about that yet. but giving us a beating insted of just answering the question in a way two young girls would understand was going way overboard. plus, when we would go to visit and my siblings would take their SO, they weren't allowed to sleep in the same room or even cuddle on the couch. i always found this hypocritical since he had sex with my mom and step-mom before marrage.

    as for teenagers having relationships with adults, i only know of a few girls at my school having relations with older men. now the only ones i had an issue with were the ones who were 13 or 14 having sex with 20 or 30 year olds. and the only reasons i have issues with that is that the girls were being taken advantage of and the older men ended up in jail for it...

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  37. Lurker de-lurking to have a bit of a ramble.

    In Australia the age of consent is 16 and I'm not saying we don't have teenage mothers because we do but a) they're not negatively sensationalised in the same way they seem to be in the US and b) there seems to be more open and honest support for girls who find themselves pregnant here and yes sometimes that support helps them get an abortion.

    We have the whack jobs here who picket clinics that do abortions but while most people agree that abortion shouldn't be taken lightly every time I've encountered discussion about it it's always been agreed that sometimes it's the best option and more than that, the right of the woman, even if she's a teenager, to decide.

    We also have some pretty awesome sex ed in the public schools or at least we did 12 years ago when I was in the school system, and do you know who taught sex ed in my school, the school Chaplin and she was awesome. By the age of 13/14 we'd been taught what sex is, the biological how to, what happens biologically, what happens during and after conception, what birth entails, how to have safe sex and how to avoid getting pregnant, we even discussed abortion. We also discussed being emotionally ready and peer pressure and consent. I'm not saying it was perfect, I knew girls who got pregnant before their final year, some who dropped out to have the child but it certainly wasn't endemic. It's also fairly easy to get condoms and birth control here, if you're under 16 a little harder but still doable, especially condoms, a lot of youth oriented centers provide condoms. One that I went into a few years ago while I was researching such places during my studies (youth work) had bowls of condoms that kids could just walk in and take handfuls of, set ups like this are not uncommon.

    The other thing is our foster care system which I can't really compare to the American system because I know little about it is very much based on educating the parents so that children can be returned to home. Obviously cases of abuse are different but when the problem is lack of education in child care or the parent not being ready to look after a child, time, help and education can rectify the problem and in the mean time the child is in the safe care of a foster family.

    Finally child support in Australia is nationally governed and nationally enforced so fathers (and in some cases mothers) are financially responsible for their children even if they do not want to be. So in the case of teen pregnancies the father can not walk away and spend the next 18 years of his life as if he did not have a child, even if he wishes to have nothing to do with the mother and/or child he will remain financially responsible for that child until it reaches 18, this helps foster the attitude that it is both parties who are responsible for creating that child and not just the girl who ended up pregnant. Again like every system it is not perfect (and boy do I know how not perfect it is, my partner works for child support) but it is recognized as one of the best child support systems in the world.

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    1. Also because my comment was too long here's another one :P

      And somewhat but not really unrelated, I've been reading your cosmocking for a couple of years now and I have to say the Cosmo (and/or Cleo) I remember reading from my late teens/early 20s were remarkable different. I remember stories about how to choose the best sex toy. An interview with a sex shop owner who told the story about a little old lady that kept bring her vibrator back every couple of month saying was broken again and he'd change the batteries and sen her on her way. Interviews with people in the the sex work industry from prostitutes, to brothel receptionists. Sealed sections that were sealed because they had naked people in them. An interview with a bisexual model talking about strap ons and how generally if she wanted cock she's go find a guy, that she fucked girls because they were girls. Tips on how to give god blows jobs, that were actual tips talking about the physicality of putting his cock in your mouth. Articles on how to ASK for what you want in bed, sometimes with pictures and stuff. I could probably keep listing stuff from specific articles to general stuff I remember but I think you get the picture. I'm sure there was stuff that made me go 'really?' and they were mostly something I got to pass the long train ride between where I went to uni and my home town. I pretty much stopped reading them when I stopped taking that train but I don't remember them being terribly bad beyond normal magazine standards of beauty crap.

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    2. Aussie Cosmo, US Cosmo, and UK Cosmo are 3 different magazines. US Cosmo has sucked for years.

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    3. In Sweden, it's assumed that if you get pregnant either you keep the child or you have an abortion. Adoption is technically legal, but it's not really considered an option. And that sucks. Women should be allowed to decide for themselves what to do when they get pregnant, and for some women giving birth and then adopting away the baby IS the right choice.

      I remember reading about a girl in our newspaper who got pregnant at seventeen and was convinced she wanted to give birth and then adopt the baby away, but she really had to FIGHT to get things her way. I also read about another pregnant teenage girl - the sister of a guy who frequent the same internet community as I do. He told me that she wanted to adopt the baby away, but the authorities in charge assumed that she deep down wanted to be a mother because otherwise she'd have an abortion. So they totally pressured her into keeping the baby. That just sucks.

      But overall the USA has four times as many teenage pregnancies as Sweden per capita (I just googled this). I think most teenagers here are pretty good at protecting themselves against unwanted pregnancies. The problem is rather that people don't take STD:s seriously, so if somebody is on the pill they may have sex without a condom without checking the medical history of the other person first. Clamydia is pretty common here, but HIV has always been very rare... and clamydia is curable. Maybe that's why many people isn't as bothered as they should be about STD:s.
      So time and again the ministry of health will have these big USE CONDOMS campaigns plastered all over the city.

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    4. Any idea why adoption is such a taboo there in Sweden?

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    5. Well, this is just speculation from my part. I haven't seen any sociologist who's really investigated the matter. But I think we might sort of glorify biological parenthood more than many other countries. Like, really, really terrible parents will still legally be the parents of their kids... Now if one parent is terrible and the other one okay and they're not living together, the okay parent will get custody. But if there's no okay parent in the picture, the kid will be placed in a fosterhome. And then as soon as the terrible parent, say, temporarily seems to clean up their act a little bit the kid goes back to terrible parent. Until terrible parent falls apart again, and the kid is back to foster home. To actually take the kid from said terrible parent and let somebody else adopt the kid never happens. There was a bit of a debate about this some years ago, that maybe our current system isn't in the best interest of the children, but it just died away again with nothing changing. So there seems to be some glorification of biological parenting.

      Some people adopt kids from poor countries where there's a surplus of orphans and a shortage of adoptive parents, but that's heavily debated. Like, will these children really live good lives when they don't have their BIOLOGICAL PARENTS. There have been weird comparisons between the well-being of adopted kids and biological kids, and it turns out there's a slightly higher suicide rate for adopted kids. Very few people really considered the fact that the relevant comparison would be between kids adopted to Swedish parents and corresponding kids on an orphanage in their country of origin.

      I think it's also the case that we're all SUPPOSED to be TOTALLY okay with abortion. The USA is held up to scare people: Look, at the other side of the Atlantic there are complete nutcases who questions women's right to their own bodies. But we're not like that, are we? In Sweden, we're enlightened and non-religious. So we're all TOTALLY OKAY with having abortions, right? No need for adopting away a kid, if you don't want to have one, just have an abortion. And if you didn't have an abortion, that just goes to show that you wanted to be a mother after all.

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    6. I'll put my two cents in for Australia...

      I magically missed out on any good sex education. In year 6 mix year 7 class, public school, apparently they watched a birthing video but I never did. I'm guessing sex ed was involved.
      I then moved to a different suburb and school with another combined class and had no sex ed.
      For high school I was in a private Christian college where I only ever got the science end of how genitals, periods and babies work, and the 'sex is between you and god' crap. Plus the year group's health classes were constantly changing so it only ever covered drugs and the like.

      Oh sure, condoms I knew about, I knew about the pill later when I got prescribed it for acne, but when I first got sexually involved, that was the first time I saw a condom. Didn't know how to effectively put one on until I read the packet pamphlet. Never got any sex ed from my parents and even when they tried to they backed off with a 'oh, but I'm sure I don't need to tell you'. And they only suggested it after I was active for a while.

      But I still got chewed out for not using a condom but being on the pill first time I had sex. OH YEAH. I trusted my partner when he said he'd never had sex so I didn't think STDs would be a problem.

      Either way, now that I know have the means (the internet) I have taught myself and taken an active role in my sex ed. Knowledge is power right?

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  38. When I was in my earlier 20's my parents would try the same thing. Sometimes with very entertaining results. I had a set of friends (one male, one female) who were coming from out of town to visit me.

    I had a huge crush on the girl! We'd originally figured we'd all take over my room for the sense of saving space.

    My dad flipped at the thought of a boy spending the night in my room. Put his foot down and insisted that if my friends were to be staying girlcrush and I had to stay the night alone in the bedroom.... because if it was a boy I might have .... s-e-x.

    Luckily they have relaxed a fair bit now that I am in my late 20s. When my boyfriend and I visit them we get to stay in the same bed.

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    1. Heh. I used to work with a lesbian who told me that when she was growing up, her strict Catholic parents would never let boys stay over...but her female friends could crash in her room any time. So, unbeknownst to her overprotective parents, this chick has been sexually active since she was fourteen years old. :D

      This sort of thing is exactly why it's better to educate your kids about sex and relationships than to try to keep them from happening.

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    2. I pulled this same scam on my hardcore Lutheran parents. Although I'm bisexual, which just added an extra bit of silliness to the whole charade in my opinion

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    3. Can't say I never pulled this one lol. My mother would always allow the females to stay the night, but never the boys because of that whole assumption that everyone's automatically born straight and what-not. Unbeknownst to her though, for the most part from 6 to 17 I was mostly interested in females (Pansexual/Omnisexual) and Trans-females (most of which hadn't managed to get corrective surgery yet)... There was a lot of "hanky-panky" going on after lights out in my bedroom because of this lol.

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  39. I really like this site and lots of the discussions are completely relevant even if you're not an American. Not this one though. I live in Sweden. Everybody assumes that everybody's gonna have sex way before they're married. The basic assumption IS that people start doing this in their teens. Only a very small minority of religious people hold up "no sex until marriage" as an ideal. It might be, I don't know, one percent of the population that thinks that way or something along those lines. And most people in my generation just live together and have kids without being married. I'm the only married person in my generation at my job (and I don't have kids, ironically), while all the parents are unmarried. And this is totally normal.
    Suddenly the Atlantic feels pretty wide.

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    1. Huh. I did not know Sweden was like that. That's kind of awesome. (Also, not trying to offend/exclude by having an Americacentric perspective, just sometimes I don't know what it's like other places, so I write what I know.)

      90% of everyone has unmarried sex here too, but we still have this weird social fiction that this is bad behavior not to be encouraged. Teachers and politicians aren't supposed to acknowledge it as anything except a tragic societal ill. It's one of those things that everyone knows happens, that they might not even disapprove of on an individual level, but no one in a position of power wants to officially endorse.

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    2. Yeah, most of NW Europe is like that. Most German parents will happily let their teenagers bring home a partner at like 16, but they expect to meet their kid's new partner, all share Sunday morning breakfast, have the right to discuss birth control options with the couple, etc. The basic philosophy being that it's better for a young person to start having sex under their parents' roof with partners of whom the parents are aware, than to have sex in the back seat of a car, a park etc. where nobody has an eye on them.

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    3. That's always struck me as really, really weird, especially in small homes. I can't imagine wanting to have sex for the first time (or anywhere close to it) next door to your parents and your kid sister and so on (and what if you share a room with a sibling? do you kick them out, or what?).

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    4. Well, you obviously try to be quiet enough so that your parents won't hear you. But then again... I once had a party at my parent's house when they were off vacationing. I ended up sleeping in their bed and some couple ended up fucking in MY bed, and I could totally hear them.
      So my parents have probably heard me having sex.
      I just choose not to dwell on that.

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    5. Irene, I have to admit that the whole "but maybe they can hear you!!!" thing just never really bothered me, and I was raised in the US. Shit, my room was always right next to my parents' room, and though to my knowledge I never caught them having sex, I definitely heard stuff. In my childish way I put it down to them having a funny conversation and giggling under the covers, or tickling each other. And once I was old enough to know what's what, I just kind of shrugged and figured it was a good thing that my parents still have a spark after 30+ years of marriage.

      From what I've heard of my friends' upbringings here in Germany, the rules were basically the same as they are in the apartment-share arrangements where I now live. People in the house have reached the age of sexual maturity, sex is maybe happening, if you hear something it's time to politely ignore it or turn up your music. And in turn, your own sexcapades will be politely ignored. Within reason of course.

      If sex is just a fact of life, sex noises aren't that disturbing.

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    6. Yeah, hearing people having sex in adjacent rooms is really no big deal here (Germany). Since our culture assumes you become sexually active around your midteens (14 is our lowest age of consent, 16 is the general one), but that people only move out of their parents' houses when they are done with school (between 16 and 20), the logical assumption is that you will have sex in your parents' house, and that therefor at some point, someone else who is likely related to you will hear you.

      I remember once when I had my partner over and we went at it a bit too drunk to have good control over the sounds we made, my Mother asked us the next morning what we had done all night, we 'were so silent'. With a shit-eating grin. Years later, my partner and I are still amused by it.

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    7. I didn't say anything about people hearing you. It's the idea that they know what you're doing that would put me right off -- combining that with first-time jitters would make sex pretty well impossible as far as I'm concerned. I might have been able to let the guy do something to me, but I wouldn't strictly speaking have been able to be truly involved. And I was the youngest of a big family during some pretty wild hippie years -- I would have preferred a LOT stricter boundaries around me, to be honest.

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    8. Irene, I must've misconstrued something - but "strict boundaries" is the key here imho. As a young person you have to be able to trust that you can bring a partner home without the adults in the house obsessing on it, wanting to ask inappropriate questions, or otherwise make the situation uncomfortable. Plus, there's a lot of trust in the partner involved, and culturally I think that's a difficult thing for young people in the US who have been taught that sex is dirty, that first-time sex is "giving it up" and "losing your virginity" etc.

      I did end up having my first sexual experiences in my bf's parents' house in Germany, and it was a major culture shock to realize that they simply didn't care what we were or weren't up to, as long as we were safe. The adults' sense of boundaries meant that staying the night wasn't OMG YOU'RE FUCKING OUR SON! or even just "have fun kids, heh heh heh", any of which would've deeply disturbed me for sure.

      I absolutely didn't mean to accuse you of prudery - a need for healthy boundaries is something that's often confused with prudery, and that's some bullshit right there. The whole point of the European model is that teenagers should be allowed to have private lives and private sexualities, and that the others in the house should mind their own business. Whole thing falls apart if boundaries are lacking.

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    9. Thanks, f. But to clarify, I also didn't say anything about other people's reactions or lack of same. I was talking about MY feelings about not having sufficient privacy. While I'm sure those feelings were affected by my upbringing in various ways, I also think they were partly down to my temperament and would have been that way to some extent regardless. It was just much, much easier to save that part of my life for when I was in college. I will admit that I sometimes wish I had been even more adventurous before I was married, but I've never yet seen reason to regret that I didn't have sex during high school.

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    10. I do think it depends on the individual. I am a shy, self-conscious person, so even though my mum was always very open and even kept condoms in the house when I was a teenager in case I ever needed them, I never did. I lived in a small town and I would have been way too shy/embarrassed to have someone over when my family knew about it, even if they didn't actually notice or care. Even now, as an adult, I can't stand to have sex in my mum's house. So I think it just depends on the person, too.

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  40. That's definitely a cultural difference. When I was a teenager and my boyfriend stayed over, we slept in the same bed, and it was just like this obvious thing. Like we're a couple, obviously we have sex.

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  41. When we all travel together or at there house, my parents were a lot less keen about having me share a bed with my XGF than my current.

    Differences that may contribute: I'm older. Current girlfriend is older relative to me than XGF. My sister is an adult now. XGF was a teenager when we got together (17 to my 21, there's your adult-teen relationship that works).

    Also, current girlfriend likes my parents, but I don't know if that's all that relevant.

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  42. "Is it possible for an adult to have a truly fair and consensual relationship with a teenager?"

    ^^ Yes. I was 19 (okay, so only just still a teenager, but a teenager nontheless!) and my partner was 34 when we got together. It was truly fair and consensual in that he was very very careful and respectful of my boundaries, and only made a move on me after I'd made it extremely clear I was interested so as not to appear predatory. Also the fact that I wasn't particularly inexperienced (I wasn't a virgin, for example) helped.

    Funny story: when I was 15, and my first serious boyfriend came to stay over at my parents' house the first time, they wouldn't let us share a bed (or even a room.) BUT they went out for the entire evening, leaving us alone in the house, and said we could help ourselves to an alcoholic drink if we wanted. I.... still, seven years later, cannot get my head around that one. (Incidentally, we didn't have sex that night or for another year.)

    Also, one time _after_ they knew for a fact we were having sex, when I was of legal age, they took us on holiday and wouldn't book us a room with a double bed, but were fine booking us a room with two singles and letting us push them together.

    My family are weird.

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  43. My mom's super against ANY nonmarital sex EVER. She gets angry at even the SUGGESTION that I might have it (I'm eighteen and have never even kissed anyone) despite the fact that I've explained, among other things, the biological facts of how daily birth control and the morning-after pill work and how it's possible to have anal sex without blood and pain ("Lubrication, mom. It exists. So do condoms to prevent urinary tract infections.)

    Recently, I went to a party and talked afterwards about a twenty-year-old I'd befriended. I got absolutely GRILLED about "this girl you barely know and I've never met." (And okay, I am kind of hoping this girl's not straight, but that's irrelvent here.) She's perfectly okay with the friends I made in high school who are two years younger than ME, though....

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  44. I'm from Ireland and we're still heavily steeped in Catholicism. Even though the numbers of practicing Catholics here are steadily dropping, there are some things the older generation just can't let go! One of them was the whole sleeping-in-the-same-bed rule. I had a serious boyfriend most of the way through college. I have a great relationship with my mother, I've always been able to talk about sex frankly with her and she always checks in with me about health and safety stuff. Obviously, she knew me and my boyfriend were having plenty of sex and didn't have any kind of issue with the act itself. BUT, whenever he came to stay at our family home, sharing a bed was just out of the question. It's like this weird (very Irish) Not Under My Roof mentality; "I don't mind knowing it's going on, but I don't want to have to acknowledge it on any real level."

    Which, up to a certain point, I think is fair enough. What used to annoy me, however, was mother's explanation for why we weren't allowed. Rather than just admitting that she had an irrational objection to us sharing a bed and she'd rather not think about her daughter having sex (which I would have acquiesced to, because honesty is legit) she told me she didn't want us to "freak out" my little sister, she though my sister would be uncomfortable at the idea of me and my boyfriend sharing a bed. My sister is only three years younger than me and not exactly naive, but I hated the idea that I was contributing to this ridiculous mystification of sex that is inflicted on teenagers.

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    1. And really, the mystification aspect just makes things that much worse. I basically expected my first time to be this wonderful, mind-blowing, life-changing spiritual experience....and was deeply disappointed when it consisted instead of awkward fumbling, painful stretching*, and some vaguely-pleasant-but-in-no-way-mind-blowing friction.

      Granted, I have had awesome, mind-blowing sex, but by making loss of virginity into a Major Moral Marker, a lot of weird baggage gets dragged into the event that makes it horrible for those of us who make the mistake of losing our virginity to a fellow virgin.


      * I honestly thought that hymen-busting was the only way a woman could experience pain during sex. That, and I am a very petite woman who'd never stuck anything up there wider than a tampon. I honestly thought that vaginas were automatically stretchy, like a rubber band.

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    2. by making loss of virginity into a Major Moral Marker, a lot of weird baggage gets dragged into the event that makes it horrible for those of us who make the mistake of losing our virginity to a fellow virgin.

      I dispute that this is a mistake. It's awkward, sure, but sometimes that's how it works out, and what can you do? "I really like you, but we're both virgins, so I'm going to go fuck someone with more experience and then come back, okay?" The mistake is expecting everything to work right the first time.

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    3. I don't think it's necessarily a mistake at all. I think someone who's truly ready to have sex, really likes you, and has any common sense can be plenty fun the first time. That was certainly the case for me (and actually I had sex with a couple of different guys for whom it was their first time).

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    4. Yah my frist partner was skeptical that I was a virgin because I did not "bleed." Talk about awkward.

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    5. I had my first vaginal intercourse (haven't tried anal), with my first boyfriend, who had also never done it before, when we were both 21 and unmarried (we've broken up now, are still good friends and are still both unmarried), we were in love, we made sure I had an orgasm first and used plenty of lube, it wasn't mindblowing physically but it was a very enjoyable emotional experience and neither of us had any pain from it (and we're both autistic/aspergers too), he was gentle, didn't try and make it really athletic and hard-thrusty. Admittedly it probably also helped that he's not really big in the trouser department (seriously, if you've got a small penis, be happy for any partner you have who's first you are!), maybe there would have been pain if he was bigger, but I would never want to trade it for a different first time experience, it was lovely.

      My two cents.

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  45. "The adult's inability to behave in a manner acceptable to other adults" - um, what? Having a sexual relationship with a teenager tends to not meet this criterium by definition.

    On that note, I had a sexual relationship with an adult at 15-18, and it's up there with the least damaging relationships I've ever had. Of course I don't know what was happening in his head, but I know his behavior towards me was never anything but perfectly decent and respectful.

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    1. Okay, obviously there's a bit of a tautology there, but what I mean is more that people will date teenagers because they can get away with shit adult partners would call them on.

      My "it's okay, our love is different" older boyfriend did things like ask me to skip class to be with him, or throw shitfits when I didn't want sex, or be egregiously rude to my family (and his), or ignore me for hours to play Everquest while I was stranded with no transportation away from his house, or make me sleep on the floor so he wouldn't have to share his bed.

      Whether he was doing it intentionally or not (and I actually think not, but maybe that's residual romantic delusion), the fact that I was 15 let him get away with all kinds of things that most adult women would have "we need to talk"ed him for.

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    2. Sure, I know of one successful relationship that started when the girl was 15 and the boy was 19. In this case, the boy was my little brother, a shy, taciturn young man. Jolene pursued him and was always the boss of the relationship. They married after she graduated and now have three children and are happy together.

      But that, like your example, is not a typical case. The typical case in my hometown were all the girls I knew in high school that ended up pregnant to an older man, who were then unceremoniously dumped while the guy pretended to have had nothing to do with the pregnancy.

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    3. I can find this 'mythical' perfect relationship easily: Madison and Cathy Floyd. She dumped him, too.

      Not to mention that "innocence-fetishizing" is not even in the near field as some of those other things you listed.

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    4. Not to mention that "innocence-fetishizing" is not even in the near field as some of that other stuff you listed.

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    5. This goes to Cliff's account of their teen relationship with an adult: I think your point here is that an adult should know better than to pull shit like that, and they do it on purpose because they know they can get away with it. I had a boyfriend two years younger than me who pulled a variety of shit which I didn't protest as much as I would have now - that was because it was I who was inexperienced. The fact that he was younger than me, does it give him an excuse or something? He had more experience with relationships than me. But maybe his young age can account for some of his immaturity.

      My point is - if you don't have good boundaries, which I did not, (and inexperience , young age may be a reason for that, but in my case I also was stupid because I really wanted to have teh boyfriends no matter what), then if you meet an asshole,no matter their age, bad relationship happens. Is that maybe what you could get out of your experence, instead of, 'teenage-adult relationships are bad'. I mean, did you put up with those things because he was older and knew better, or because you didn't?

      Essentially, this sentence: 'the fact that I was 15 let him get away with all kinds of things'
      So, if it was a person near your age pulling this shit, you would've told them to fuck off back then? And maybe this friend of yours would have been able to pull those things on other people close to his age that had a boundary issue.

      I am genuinely interested in your answer. I sometimes wonder ,if things had been different, if I would have been able to build healthy relationship boundaries without them getting torn up so badly with my first one - just by being with good people who respected me instead and friends who gave me non-shitty advice.

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  46. My first comment here. Thank you, Cliff, for putting things so awesomely into words where many others would struggle.

    All the mystification of teenagers having sex (or in my case, premarital sex, too) also left a mark on me. I remember being 17 and just having broken up with my boyfriend of two years. I remember my parents (I have Eastern European origons but grew up in Switzerland, by the by) preventing me in any humanly possible way from being alone with my then-boyfriend, from insisting on open doors, to barging in every 5 minutes to "get sth out of the drawer" etc. Sexuality was a huge, big, enourmous taboo in our household. I remember looking at my older sisters, one of which (then-aged 26) had a boyfriend but had to endure many insults from my mother and fights with my parents due to it, while the other decided to cope with the taboo by completely shutting herself off sexually (and in other ways, too), so that she suffered nervous breakdowns and regular hyperventilation by the age of 24).
    It seemed to me quite urgent and logical to lose my virginity as soon as I had the possibility to (i.e. while going to a language summer school in france), so that I wouldn't be tempted to hyperinflate my first time with romantic-mythical-maind-shattering expectations and therefore be hugely disappointed by it (->lifelong complex); be (hormonally) forced to do it with some drunken stranger behind the bushes; or end up like my neurotic forced-to-be-virginal sister (-> lifelong complex).

    So I did just that. On a summer weekend in the French city between language classes, I went out, had a mild buzz, met some guys, one of which I liked and whom I dated two or three times (to make sure he was not a psychopath) with the goal of having sex. He lived in a rented a nice apartment, and although I was shaking like a leaf before we got to business, the fact that he had picked up a small kitten from the street to care about won me over. That, I remember fondly. (Also, it was nice to have something furry to stroke in the morning.)

    Now that I think about it, I am still convinced that I could not have made a better decision, regarding the circumstances. Still, I wish I could have had my first time under less pragmatic and more romantic circumstances. But, ah well. At least I'm mentally healthy : D

    D. Squirrel

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    1. It seems like a lot of people lose their virginity on those swiss language school trips. ^^

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  47. Thank you for putting into words my endless frustration with the "But What About The Children" argument. If allowed to go on about how much I hate the "But What About The Children" argument with regards to sex, I would surely break the comment form's character limit.

    But, anyway, and maybe I'm one of the few who can say this, but I have something of a different situation. I'm in my mid-20s and am not having sex (for logistical reasons and even if I was single, I wouldn't fuck anyone I knew on account of having grown up with half of them and that would put me in a weird headspace). It is assumed, therefore, that knowledge of sex is beyond my reach and that I am a "good girl" (which would be another character limit-breaking rant) who would blush and turn away if someone says "penis" in my vicinity, as though I was a shy, blushing virgin of fourteen. Which gripes my cookies for a few reasons. One, even when I was fourteen, I was, while a physical virgin, not "pure" in the sense that no sexual thought crossed my mind. And two, the idea that I'm supposed to remain sexually clueless until I'm married, at which time, the wedding ring will transfer all sexual knowledge to me (which explains why wedding rings can be so expensive. I'd rather have a ring that translated all languages, allowed flight, or shoots lasers), creeps me right out for lack of a better word. I grew up in a subculture that really believed like this, too (Pentecostal Christian, Assemblies of God flavor). That until I received the Wedding Band of Power, I was to remain clueless and (more than) a little afraid of sex, well into my adult years, unless I found my soul mate at eighteen. But my rant about my ire with regards to encouraging virginity until marriage leading to wildly short engagements and people marrying just so that they can finally have sex would also break the comment form.

    Sorry for getting ranty all up in the comments.

    --Rubyfruit

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  48. As a teenager (for less than a year longer), THANK YOU for speaking up. Ageism is rampant in American society in many ways. Unlike other forms of oppression though, ageism is something you grow out of being the victim of, so it seems like most people stop giving a shit about it once they turn 18.

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  49. Its interesting that the drive/can't drive dynamic comes up a few times in this discussion. I'm 29, my partner is 19. For medical reasons she can drive and I can't. We both work the same job, we are both attending the same school, (I'm a grad student, she's an undergrad, different programs) and we started dating after a year of continuously running into each other at games, events and similar social activities for our respective departments. Does the car thing close the virtual age gap?
    I don't think our power dynamic is particularly off kilter but privilege is the hardest to see when you're the one that has it. We both, oddly enough, read your blog and I hope I'm being sufficiently respectful, kind and communicative that there are no particular power disparities or other dominance issues. Now you have me worried, and there's no way to error check. Anyone I mention this relationship to either by knee jerk response says "age is just a number," gives me a nudge and a wink and a clap on the back, "or looks at me like I'm a pedo. Not a single human being I have spoken to seems to actually engage in thought about the potential power dynamic issues and how one can best work on them (actually repair a stair if there is in fact one missing rather than work around).
    Finding out if something is wrong using my judgment is biased. If what you are saying is true then all of the communication and respect in the world invalidates her judgment because there is too great a power gap. I didn't know personhood could be revoked in certain social contexts but that seems to be the thrust of what is being said. Even if its not meant that way, the idea of an unequal balance of power giving a viewpoint less authority has merit so lets take it as read that you're right and she doesn't get a vote either as to what is or is not acceptable. As previously mentioned I don't get one, too biased. Where can I go to get data that is helpful and is actually the result of someone insightful and empathic thinking about the circumstances in specifically and not merely going by rote response.
    I've met and spoken with her parents, we both know and hang out with all of each others' friends and did before we dated. There are so many confusing metrics here. For example out relationship hits every one of your green flags you mentioned (both she and I need a fair amount of emergency room hand holding, that medical thing again). If I somehow came to the conclusion that I was in some way measurably causing harm I'd be out in a flash. Herein lies the problem. How is what I'm saying in any way different from what every other older cis male with a younger partner says? I have heard the things I'm now saying said by people who were real scumbags, including "this case is different" but then again Stalin ate sugar too. Just because scumbags say something doesn't mean it can't ever be right. Help? Fearing that you are a monster is emotionally exhausting.

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    1. I think 19 is almost 20. When someone is in college and has a car and a job, that's very different from being a teenager in high school. So if you're both happy, you have my stamp of approval at least based on what you've said here.

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  50. .laughs.

    Just to toss in a sleeping arrangement story... After my husband and I were married, we hadn't quite moved into our house. I stayed with my grandmother, who wouldn't allow my husband to stay overnight. Nope, not even if we were married!

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  51. As far as near-ideal situations go...

    I was 16-ish when I fell in love, properly, the first time. Sex never entered into it, so it may not count for your purposes, though we did kiss (when I was 19, I think). It was IMO one of the most positive relationships I've had, speaking not even in terms of romantic relationships but just... relationships. The guy in question is still one of my best friends. He was in his mid-20s, and was seriously worried about the age difference, which is one reason things never got too far (also, there was distance involved, also... long story). I still feel that was pretty near the best introductory relationship I could've had, though. He was always super-respectful, and mature enough to provide, to some extent, a sense of perspective I lacked. And -I- was mature enough to think seriously about things like safety and my own inexperience, and make sure I knew him pretty well before getting into potentially problematic situations... which, given what he was like, were not -actually- problematic.

    Long-term, we worked better as friends. But... I was definitely a teenager. And IMO, it was definitely a very positive experience. Which is one reason I get frustrated by "You can't have a relationship with someone much older!" Sure you can. It just depends on the circumstances, like any other relationship.

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  52. So, I'm late to the party, but... Yes. This. Thank you.

    The little tidbit about teenagers doing everything "clandestinely and with no support system" rang especially true for me. Clandestine in my case meant "nobody, not even my best friend, can know we're doing this," and no support system meant "nobody I trust has ever talked to me about what sex is and what it means, nor what the potential pitfalls may be,"... and that all culminated in years of abusive, consensual-rape-type relationships.

    Which is a large part of what frustrates me about all the hyperbole surrounding the hot-button issues like birth control, women's rights, and marriage equality. Strip away all the "But think of the children!!" arguments, and the agenda seems to boil down to: keep people uninformed about their sexuality so the people in power can continue to exert control over it.

    And really, if that's the case - why not borrow a page from history's book, and require all literature on said subjects to be published in Latin? =/

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