This essay is a response to many questions I have been asked by people in the Minor Attracted Adult (MAA) community, as well as those outside who support us (and yes, such people do exist!), in regards to the age of consent (AoC) laws. Since much scientific evidence has emerged that make it clear that younger people do not receive severe emotional damage following sexual contact with a significantly older adult if mutual consent was a factor, and no scientifically validated evidence to the contrary has ever been gathered by any of the mainstream naysayers out there, what is the real reasons that contemporary society supports the continued existence of the AoC laws? Why does society generally feel equally dedicated to enforcing AoC laws in regards to adolescents in addition to children when it's empirically obvious that the former are actually young adults? What is the reason for all the negative stereotypes and assumptions directed at both adults who engage in relationships with much younger people as well as the young people who may reciprocate the interest? This essay will seek to answer those questions by explicating my thoughts and observations on this subject based upon my many years as a hebephile activist on the pro-choice side of the coin, and my many more years as a youth liberationist (the latter going back to my own early adolescence). Please note that this particular essay will not describe the specific circumstances that led to the creation of the AoC laws as we know them today back during the 1880s in England; that will perhaps be the subject of a future essay, and the circumstances in question are well documented in a scholarly manner in Judith Walkowitz's excellent tome about sexual dangers and hysterias running rampant in late Victorian London, The City of Dreadful Delight. Instead, this essay will focus upon the modern rationale behind the continued enforcement of these laws and the societal attitudes that back up these laws in the minds of the great majority of the general public in the present era, while still keeping the historical perspectives in mind.
The first reason for the widespread modern societal support for these laws and accompanying attitudes is a very simple one that most people are not willing to admit: intergenerational sexual activity is offensive to the emotional sensibilities of many people raised under the present day cultural milieu, much as homosexual acts are considered aesthetically repulsive to many of a certain ideological stripe (e.g., fundamentalist Christians and other homophobes). The advantage that mainstream gays had over the youth community, however, is that the heart of the movement was composed of legal adults who had their full civil rights, whereas people under 18--during the heyday of the modern civil rights movement as well as now--do not. Those whom the government legally designates as "minors" today are essentially the glorified property of their parents and helpless to resist the "protection racket" mentality of the State. Underage people in contemporary society also represent a strongly ingrained paradigm that people, influenced by the remaining remnants of the Victorian mindset, consider to be sacred to them. This is the idea that enforced ignorance about the world (our culture uses the word "innocence" to sugarcoat this form of ignorance) is somehow blissful and beautiful, and that the supposedly carefree nature of childhood and early adolescence that comes along with this blissful and beautiful ignorance implies a degree of inner purity that adults are believed to lose once they learn about the world. As such, our culture perceives such ignorance as immensely precious, regardless of how those younger people who are currently forced to conform to that paradigm may or may not feel about it. Due to prevailing negative attitudes about sex, sexuality is therefore considered "dirty" and the introduction of it to minors is perceived as somehow tainting that blissful ignorance, and our culture considers this perceived besmirchment of "innocence" to be a heinous act (e.g., "stealing" someone's childhood or "violating their innocence"). Thus, the introduction of sexuality into a minor's life is seen to cause them to "grow up too fast," thus undermining that perceived wondrous state of bliss and purity of spirit that our culture believes childhood to personify in a material sense. Of course, in actuality, the presence of sexual knowledge and the full freedom to practice it in a mutually consensual manner is correctly recognized as a liberating experience for adults that is important to their emotional health, which may cause many open-minded people to feel bemused over why we feel the exact opposite is true when it comes to sexual knowledge and experience being given to someone who has yet to reach the vaunted Magic Age. But the recognized liberating effects of sexual knowledge and experience is the very crux of the matter here, because the vast majority of people in our contemporary culture do not want kids to be liberated; they want them to remain legally, economically, and socially dependent on legal adults, and to stay within the parameters of the wonderful state of "childhood" for as long as possible. Society perceives the artificial extension of childhood for teens under 18 as being beneficial to their spirit because of the ideological glorification of our present day paradigm of childhood.
If an adult has consensual sex with someone who is underage (i.e., legally a child regardless of their individual level of biological or emotional development), he may not be harming a person in a demonstrable or objective sense but he is harming a very sacrosanct idea in the eyes of culture, and thus demeaning what our society believes to be a blissful and beautiful state of being that children (anyone who is legally a child, of course) represents to our ideological mindset. As such, people raised in this society take huge offense to such an act.
Also thrown into the mix to rationalize such attitudes are the beliefs that young people under 18 are inherently incompetent and prone to bad decision-making. In other words, they are stereotyped and their supposed lack of competency to make such "emotionally complex" decisions are assumed on the arbitrary basis of chronological age rather than judged according to individual merit. The justification to have this same attitude towards teens as towards actual children is bolstered by common societal myths that teens have inherent biological misfunctions that render them very prone to making "bone-headed" decisions. An earlier biological myth described how teens were supposedly subject to hormonal swings that caused their behavior and decision-making abilities to be erratic, but more recently we have seen the development of the belief that the teen brain is inherently "defective" and thus causes them to have an extreme propensity for making incompetent decisions (these beliefs have been challenged quite well over the past decade in scientific studies conducted by clinical psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein in several of his articles, beginning with "The Myth of the Teen Brain" [available online] and in his two excellent books, The Case Against Adolescence and Teen 2.0). As a result of this thinking, teens, like children, are seen to be in a perpetual state of "not knowing any better"...until they reach their 18th birthday, of course, where they officially become legal adults and as such are assumed to be competent to make their own decisions regardless of individual merits. Legal adults have their full civil rights, so they must be given the benefit of the doubt and allowed to take emotional risks regardless of perceived individual merits, and this is the way it's supposed to be in a democracy. But people under 18 do not have these civil rights because they are not recognized as "adults" (according to current legal definitions), and thus the very important democratic right to take risks and grow as a person at their own pace--and to judge the rapidity of that pace for themselves--is not recognized.
Also add this to the mix: people in general are often reluctant to give up any power that they have over others. Why should either the majority of parents or the State willingly give up control over an entire class of people? Both see the civil liberation of people under 18 as a threat to their ability to mold young people to fit whatever paradigm our culture wants them to fit during their formative years, and these two entities therefore consider it to be very important to leave younger people in no legal or political position to resist such molding. This is why youth liberationists continually stress that it's vitally important to grant people their full civil liberties during their formative years, and why it's ridiculous for opponents of youth liberation to claim that kids cannot be considered a true oppressed minority group simply because they will be automatically awarded their full citizenship once they reach their 18th birthday. The powers that be in our society seem to feel that 18 years of pre-citizenship is a long enough time for the "molding" or indoctrination effect to have a good chance of "sticking" (and most often, it does).
The reason many liberal-minded people (or, as some of my friends may prefer, "libruls") believe that it's okay for teens to have mutually consensual sex with each other but not with adults is because some people take a stab at being "open-minded" and "sex positive" in their own eyes by grudgingly accepting the fact that teens, including young teens, are sexual beings and that attempting to deny this completely is not only futile, but also counterproductive to their well-being (which is, of course, true). However, having been raised in the same culture as the rest of us, they will only allow their open-mindedness to go forward to a limited extent, with a level that is considered politically "safe" to hold among "reasonable" people on the Left of the political spectrum. Hence, though they do not believe that consensual sexual activity between two teens of the same general age group is automatically going to have emotionally negative effects on the participants, they are still repulsed from an aesthetic standpoint by the idea of an adult engaging in sexual activity with someone that young regardless of the issue of consent. Simply put, such age disparate pairings are "icky" to them. So they justify this attitude by the stated belief that adults automatically have "too much worldly experience" for teens under the Magic Age, and this is believed to enable the adult in question to easily control the teen and manipulate them into doing something that these "libruls" do not want to believe any teen would willingly do unless they were manipulated into doing it and therefore only thought they wanted to do it or that they enjoyed the experience. Of course, this is the exact same rationale used by Southern white bigots in the early 20th century to lynch black men who had sex with white women; such men of color were always accused of "rape" regardless of whether or not the woman consented because the white men of this era and locale were so offended by the idea of interracial sex--bolstered by then still prevailing beliefs that women were easily led astray by "selfish" and logically superior men (an attitude that has since been aimed at people according to age rather than gender)--that they rationalized their lynchings with a firm belief that no self-respecting white woman could possibly have desired to have "icky" sex with a black man of their own volition. Because of their disdain for sex between black men and white women, these white bigots concluded that if the women weren't forced into sex with these black men then they must have been manipulated into it by the suave nature that reputedly gave all men an advantage over and above the inherent naivety and easily led astray female psyche. This exact same dynamic is played out today, though not in regards to race but rather in regards to age. Blacks have since earned enough civil rights that it's no longer possible for the legal system--or for too many mildly open-minded people--to justify miscengenation laws. And women have earned much more respect in regards to their perceived level of competence during that same time as a result of their own movement for emancipation, so they are no longer automatically assumed to have been manipulated when they have a relationship with a black man (they are simply said to have "jungle fever," and left at that). But the important thing to consider about teens under 18 is that, like children, and like blacks and women in the past, they currently lack the civil rights and legally recognized autonomy to escape from these stereotypes and thus lack any substantial opportunities to prove their competence. They are also forcibly kept from obtaining certain "age inappropriate" information that would enhance their knowledge and ability to make competent decisions, thus causing them to appear to "naturally" fit the stereotype of young people that is actually culturally imposed upon them, which of course is a major case of political dirty pool. Those minors who obviously do not fit the stereotypes and rise above their legally and culturally imposed disadvantages are dismissed as "exceptions to the rule" or sometimes as prodigies, and not enough reasonable opportunities exist for sizable numbers of young people to prove their individual levels of competence at the present time. But people in our culture are indoctrinated into believing that this is the "natural" state of being for young people, while encouraged to ignore all of the historical and anthropological evidence that strongly suggests otherwise (recommended reading: Centuries of Childhood by Phillip Aries, which traces the very gradual socio-cultural construction of the "child" as we know it today).
Another thing to consider is that teens, like children, are expected to conform to a certain cultural hierarchy. In our gerontocentric culture, people are believed to be due respect by underage people simply by reaching the Magic Age and becoming a legal adult. This is seen to automatically confer legal adults with a level of authority over those who have not achieved the automatic esteem our culture feels one is due simply for reaching their 18th birthday. Thus, all adults are arbitrarily considered to be authority figures over people under 18, regardless of whether or not the adult in question has any real degree of power over the life of any given young person, such as that possessed by a parent, teacher, coach, etc. This authority is seen as inherent in the role one is expected to take on as an "adult," and as such, our society instantly perceives anyone who is granted full citizenship that comes with the legally recognized age of adulthood to have a power advantage over people under 18. Thus, intergenerational relationships are perceived as having an inherent power imbalance in favor of the legal adult regardless of any of the many other factors that could be present, and regardless of how smitten the man may be with the girl. Hence, according to our cultural mindset, if people see an intergenerational relationship, no matter how nice and egalitarian-minded the adult may be, they nevertheless believe that they can never be "quite sure" that the girl doesn't actually want the relationship but is merely acceding to her older lover's "authority" and doing everything he wants her to do simply because he commands it rather than because she wants to do it, so the law must intervene "just in case." No evidence needed or required, because the basis of the AoC laws are very arbitrary and are based on overriding assumptions that do not need to be backed up by evidence. The AoC laws are among the very few laws under American jurisprudence where assumptions without evidence are accepted in court, because it's believed that if there is even a remote chance that the adult in question is guilty of manipulating the girl into a relationship in which she doesn't consciously realize that she actually doesn't want it, no "good" and "responsible" court can possibly take the chance of granting him and the relationship clemency no matter how much the evidence may support such a decision, and regardless of what the individual merits of the girl in question happen to be. This is because she is not yet a legal adult, and thus not a full citizen whose right to take emotional risks and whose competency is given the benefit of the doubt sans any compelling evidence to suggest otherwise have to be taken into consideration. While many people in our culture may still consider a relationship between a 45-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman to be "icky" and morally and ideologically objectionable due to all of the stereotypes and assumptions I mentioned above, a 19-year-old woman is nevertheless a full citizen legally, so her right to take such risks is grudgingly recognized despite all the stereotypical assumptions thrown at the two of them by polite society (e.g., he must be a control freak who is looking for a partner that is "easy" to manipulate, and she must see him as a surrogate "father figure" rather than as an actual relationship partner, etc.).
Then there is this other factor to consider, based on what I explained in the last paragraph. Because adults are supposed to be authority figures to anyone under the legal designation of "minor," a romantic relationship between two people on the opposite ends of the Magic Age divide is seen (correctly) as necessitating that the adult treat their younger lover more or less as an equal. This is viewed as "inappropriate" by our society because it undermines the nature of the hierarchy of authority that our cultural attitudes believe to be so important in order to maintain social cohesion and the present day order of things. If large numbers of adults are treating teens and children as equals, then the latter will end up having a voice in society by proxy that many parents and government officials do not want them to have. This is similar to the political reasons why the Roman Catholic Church long ago insisted that priests do not marry and have no romantic relationships at all. While the official ideological justification was that having a sex life and a romantic connection tainted the purity of their soul due to the inherent "ickiness" factor of sex, and that being in love with a woman would detract from the love the priests were supposed to hold for the Lord alone, what much of the upper echelons of the clergy truly feared was that priests who were married may be influenced in their decisions by their wives, thus granting many women a voice in the church by proxy, and at that time it was strongly believed that women shouldn't have a say in how society was run. The same attitude persists today, though directed towards people according to age rather than gender. If too many adults treated people under 18 as equals, it may grant a potentially high degree of empowerment to these underagers, and our culture believes that young people should be kept "in their proper place." And if these youngsters were given too many opportunities to prove they are capable of much more than the common stereotype claims they are, this may gradually erode the justification for the law enforcing their disadvantaged status as "pre-citizens." In other words, mutually consensual intergenerational relationships pose an inherent threat not to young people, but to the existing power structure in society. The government considers itself to be a protector of the prevailing status quo first and foremost, and people are raised and indoctrinated with a belief that the present status quo is basically good and that it's the job of every decent citizen to work to preserve it, thus further explaining the draconian laws and negative cultural attitudes used to suppress such relationships.
All of the above factors combine to explain why people are so willing to swallow the many obvious contradictions related to the AoC laws and support all of the silly rationalizations and stereotypes that they routinely spew forth, as well as why the government enforces and promotes these attitudes and beliefs while outright condemning any valid scientific study or empirical observations that disprove the rationales--prime example of this occurred when Congress voted unanimously to condemn the Rind Report despite the fact that it was fully peer-reviewed and used perfectly credible methodology to exact its results.