Very young children and even fetuses can experience physical arousal, and sex play among youngsters is common across cultures. But sex involving young people has never been more fraught with difficult legal and social questions. Despite media sexualization of teens and tweens, existing legal strictures fail to allow for huge variations in contemporary individuals and relationships.
The volume in Greenhaven’s At Issue series focuses on the age of consent for marriage and legally sanctioned sexual behavior, seeking to make sense of inconsistencies with regard to variation in the ages designated for consent to have sex as compared to those for other adult behaviors, such as gambling, smoking or drinking. The volume also discusses the uneven enforcement of laws prohibiting statutory rape and the sharing of sexual images via text or e-mail.
One first-person essay describes a girl’s infatuation with an older man as she worked as his artist’s model, acknowledging that a relationship between a teen girl and an adult man would not be possible in today’s predation-wary climate. But the average onset of puberty has dropped dramatically over the past century, and passages in this volume suggest that the biological imperative to procreate starts rearing its head earlier and earlier.
Though many states have sliding so-called "Romeo and Juliet laws", which consider the differences in ages of the couple rather than their individual ages, many teens are clearly vicitimized by adults. In Michigan, 31% of teens ages 15-16 giving birth indicated the father was older than 20. Whatever the difference in ages of the victims, there is a lingering taint associated with a breach of the age of consent. One article describes how conviction of statutory rape meant one New Hampshire man remained on the sex offender registry despite his long-term marriage to his alleged victim.
The articles are punctuated with interesting historical background, tracing ideas on consent to common law concerns about property and inheritance. The most valuable portion of the book insofar as social-issues research might be the section on "sexting", particularly the exploration of the unintended legal consequences of laws designed to protect children from exploitation. One article describes a Florida boyfriend and girlfriend who recorded images of themselves, and whose subsequent criminal conviction for creating and distributing child pornography was upheld in appellate court. Larry Magid’s piece on sexting describes the phenomena as an inevitable but probably short-lived side-effect of digital photographic technology.
The protections afforded minors varies from state to state. The book features several cross-cultural pieces about the legal morass that seems to universally surround the legal age of consent, and the U.S. perspective is contrasted with the United Kingdom and Australia. One Canadian piece describes a notorious case where a photographer was charged with statutory offenses more than 20 years after the fact.
Chapters are taken from publications including Newsweek, The Village Voice, and National Review, as well as Slate and a number of other, mostly organizational, Web sites. One article is published anonymously, but the author is described as "staff writer for a conservative student publication" (77). The 13 articles are supplemented with an organizational clearinghouse, bibliography of books and periodicals and an index.
This book will be a resource for teens looking for research on sexting and other issues that, on the Web, would be blocked by most school Internet filters. Recommended for school libraries.