It’s funny how the best argument against allowing hebephiles to have sex with children is a hebephile arguing s/he should be allowed to do as s/he wishes. If you have a strong stomach for this sort of thing, feel free to read the comments on my prior post on the topic. If not, what you really need to know is that one showed up insisting that “Yes” was consent to be taken at face value and the harm of these relationships was an extraordinary claim. Also, consent is only an issue if there’s some demonstration of harm, and sex is healthy, so it’s always good.
So, time to shed a little science on the matter. Let’s start with a couple of definitions, since those are also in dispute in the comments.
Child: We are discussing the rights of a child and the responsibilities of a society toward children. By international treaty, a child is defined for these purposes as “Every human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable under the child majority is attained earlier.”
Hebephilia: “sexual preference for individuals in the early years of puberty (generally ages 11–14, though onset of puberty may vary).”
Now for the documentation of harm. Wherever possible, sources are reviews of the literature available without special access.
An overview of research on the topic of adolescent cognitive development, discussing the uneven development of planning skills and the primacy of social pressure during adolescence: “Cognitive and affective development in adolescence,” Laurence Steinberg, 2005 (pdf available).
Questions about the nature of normative and atypical development in adolescence have taken on special significance in the last few years, as scientists have begun to recast old portraits of adolescent behavior in the light of new knowledge about brain development. Adolescence is often a period of especially heightened vulnerability as a consequence of potential disjunctions between developing brain, behavioral and cognitive systems that mature along different timetables and under the control of both common and independent biological processes. Taken together, these developments reinforce the emerging understanding of adolescence as a critical or sensitive period for a reorganization of regulatory systems, a reorganization that is fraught with both risks and opportunities.
Regarding an increase in sexual behavior considered a risk factor for STIs, including HIV, an overview that includes the criteria used to determine abuse: “Childhood and Adolescent Sexual Abuse and Subsequent Sexual Risk Behavior: Evidence from Controlled Studies, Methodological Critique, and Suggestions for Research,” Theresa E. Senn, Michael P. Carey, and Peter A. Vanable, 2008.
Childhood and adolescent sexual abuse (CSA) is associated with a wide variety of adverse psychological and health outcomes, including negative sexual health outcomes. In this paper, we review the literature investigating the relation between CSA and subsequent sexual risk behaviors among men and women. Previous research has found a relatively consistent association between CSA and higher rates of sexual risk behaviors, particularly sex trading, more sexual partners, and an earlier age of first intercourse. However, there are a number of limitations to this research, including lack of a consistent definition of CSA, failure to investigate gender as a moderator, and possible confounding of the CSA experience with some of the sexual behavior outcome variables. Further, although there appears to be an association between CSA and later sexual risk behavior, researchers have not established whether this association is causal. Suggestions for future research and implications for clinical practice are discussed.
The studies included in that article pertain to much more than just risky sexual behavior. If you have the access, it’s worth digging into the most applicable (treating large age differences in adolescent sexual relationships as a primary measure of childhood sexual abuse) individual studies to view the other negative outcomes associated with a large age difference in adolescent sexual activity.
- “Effects of child and adult sexual abuse on adult sexuality,” AG Bartoi and BN Kinder, 1998.
- “Emotional, behavioral, and HIV risks associated with sexual abuse among adult homosexual and bisexual men,” BN Bartholow et al., 1994.
- “Sexual contact between children and adults: a life course perspective,” Christopher Browning and Edward Laumann, 1997.
- “Association between history of childhood sexual abuse and adult HIV-risk sexual behavior in Puerto Rican men who have sex with men” (full paper), A Carballo-Diequez and C Dolezal, 1995. (Shows higher risk even among group that identifies as willing participants.)
- “Self-reported medical problems of adult female survivors of childhood sexual abuse,” ME Lechner et al., 1993.
- “Sexual abuse history and associated multiple risk behavior in adolescent runaways,” MJ Rotheram-Borus et al., 1996.
- “Childhood sexual abuse and sexual risk behavior among men and women attending a sexually transmitted disease clinic” (full paper), TE Senn et al., 2006.
- “Health risk behaviors and medical sequelae of childhood sexual abuse,” FE Springs and WN Friedrich, 1992.
Tying the risk of older consensual partners to unprotected sex: “Sexual Risk Behaviors Associated With Having Older Sex Partners: A Study Of Black Adolescent Females,” Ralph DiClemente et al., 2002.
Sixty-two percent of the adolescents reported their typical sex partners were at least 2 years older. These adolescents were more likely to report never using condoms during the most recent sexual encounter (AOR = 2.0), during the last five sexual encounters (AOR = 2.0), and during the past month (AOR = 2.2). Similarly, having older partners was associated with greater odds of reporting any unprotected vaginal sex in the past 30 days (AOR = 1.7) or the past 6 months (AOR = 1.5).
For an overview of the risk of domestic violence to a young (female) partner, including multiple studies that have found that older partners are a risk factor: “Risk Factors for Victimization in Romantic Relationships of Young Women” (pdf available), Johanne Vezina and Martine Hebert, 2007.
This article reviews the literature on risk factors for victimization in romantic relationships of adolescent girls and young adult women. The review includes 61 empirical studies published between 1986 and 2006 that have investigated risk factors for sustained psychological, sexual, and physical violence in romantic relationships of young women ages 12 to 24. An ecological approach is used as a conceptual model to review risk factors into four categories: sociodemographic factors, individual factors (personal and interpersonal), environmental factors (family, community, and peers), and contextual factors (linked to the romantic relationship). Methodological limitations of the studies in terms of measurement issues, samples studied, research designs, and underlying conceptual models are discussed. Finally, implications for prevention programming are considered. Recommendations are presented about which clientele should be targeted, which risk factors should be considered, and when programs should be implemented.
For discussion of power imbalances and the “wantedness” of sexual intercourse in adolescent girls with much older partners: “Young Women’s Degree of Control Over First Intercourse: An Exploratory Analysis” (full study), Joyce Abma, Anne Driscoll, and Kristin Moore, 1998.
Twenty-four percent of women aged 13 or younger at the time of their first premarital intercourse report the experience to have been nonvoluntary, compared with 10% of those aged 19-24 at first premarital intercourse. About one-quarter of respondents who reported their first intercourse as voluntary chose a low value (1-4) on the wantedness scale. Women whose first partner was seven or more years older than themselves were more than twice as likely as those whose first partner was the same age or younger to choose a low value (36% vs. 17%). Women whose partner had been seven or more years older were also less likely than other women to have used contraceptives at first intercourse. After the introduction of controls for demographic and background factors, partner age discrepancy and relationship status, wantedness of voluntary first intercourse was not independently related to the odds of contraceptive use at that intercourse.
Anybody need more information on why we prohibit these relationships?