In my <last post> I laid out a strong case for why adult sex with 8-year-olds is always wrong. What changes when the girl is 13 years old, well into puberty?
Unlike the 8-year-old, the 13-year-old is likely to think of sex a lot and be very interested. She understands roughly why the man is interested and the power of his desire. But whereas young women and men in their early 20s may find the presence or absence of a sex life as central to happiness, this is far less likely for the 13-year-old. Even if her desire is powerful, the admonition to wait until she is 16 is just not a huge burden on her.
I mentioned that adult women all too often feel coerced into sex they really didn't want. The 13-year-old is far more susceptible to this (though less susceptible than the 8-year-old). She may often want to feel more grown-up than she is -- not the best reason to have sex. A man is more likely to have things she cannot get for herself, such as a car and money, and sex can be a way to get them.
I argued <earlier> that women are typically configured to be very sensitive to betrayal by a man who she thinks is interested in a long-term relationship but who isn't. It is a greater risk for 13-year-olds for a number of reasons. The chances that a relationship will actually last are far lower. The girl will typically be less astute in figuring out whether a man is sincere and whether the relationship actually can last. She is also more emotionally fragile and likely to suffer more from abandonment. She may also think she is just playing around, but later find that sex has unleashed feelings far stronger than simple sexual desire
Pro-contact pedophiles note that in many societies, girls at age 13 are routinely married. They are correct that the girls are (usually) physically ready for sexual intercourse. They are implicitly correct that such girls do not suffer serious psychological trauma that renders them ineffective adults. But in the West today, we have far higher hopes for girls, discouraging early marriage so the girl can get more education, have more opportunities, and discover who she is and what she wants instead of becoming a mother at a very early age. But given the culture the early-married girl is in (a huge attitude adjustment for us), she can well be happy. She is predisposed to feel attachment and even love for the man, to bear and raise children in contentment. What is different in the West today is that she is hardly ever going to get married after early sex -- she is going to be abandoned.
All that said, some young teen girls are legitimately attracted to adult men. Some know just what they want and go for it. They may later suffer but chalk it up to a learning experience. Even today, with severe penalties a possibility, such relationships are surely very common -- they just rarely make it to the attention of a willing prosecutor.
How do we reconcile the young girl's greater vulnerability (and lower need for sex as part of the good life) with genuine interest and what is quite a common reality? The compromise I propose is that for girls of (say) age 13 and above, there should be no prosecution unless the girl herself wants it -- without heavy pressure from parents or law enforcement. This system leaves in place the most important protection -- if she was raped, there is no need to prove lack of consent. If it can be proven that sex happened, then if she says she did not consent she is automatically right. She could also admit she agreed to the sex but it was under false pretenses -- this should also result in a conviction, though a lighter sentence. But she also has the option to forgive the man and chalk it up to a learning experience. Of course, if she is enthusiastic about the relationship, she would not support prosecution.
Her judgment that she wants the man prosecuted should not be required immediately -- she should have a few years at least to re-evaluate the experience.
I realize that this more liberal view has potential for injustice -- a girl may feel an inherent pressure not to cooperate in ruining the life of a nice guy even if she didn't consent at all and is angry about it. An intermediate option is to leave the decision in the hands of prosecutors, but to work for a shift in societal values so that they too have a more relaxed view of the matter and let many cases drop that are prosecuted today.
I have concentrated on men and girls, but there are 3 other possibilities. I suspect teen boys who have sex with adult women would be far less likely to feel betrayed and far less likely to support a prosecution -- though they might in some cases. I do not have good intuitions about man-boy and woman-girl relationships if the child is heterosexual. But I suspect that for lesbian girls and gay boys, the opportunity for a relationship with an adult might have an active benefit far beyond the satisfaction of sexual desire. With adolescent gays and lesbians suffering so much from homophobia, the ability of an adult to help clarify and affirm their sexual orientation could be a very positive thing. It is still entirely up to the boy or girl to support a prosecution if they feel it was nonconsensual or they were betrayed. I just suspect it would be less common.
To be safe, the adult should always decline sex with an underage girl or boy. Hugging and snuggling are legal and fulfill most of a desire for human connection. But given human weakness and passion, sexual relationships will occur. If the younger party consents, the vast majority of the time the adult will be fine. Rarely a girl or boy might accuse a man or woman when we as a fly on the wall would have judged the adult acted honorably, and the adult will suffer unjustly. I think it is a cost to be accepted to deter rape and coercion. The adult had a way to stay safe -- just not have sex.
An intriguing alternative accomplishing some of the same purpose would be a <German-style age of consent law>. The age of consent is 14, but subject to certain restrictions involving abuse of power that apply up to age 18.