The question concerning the proper age of consent, which is to say, the age at which a man can legally have sex with a young girl, is an issue that has recently been raised by Barbara Hewson regarding the case of Jimmy Savile. Hewson believes that the age of consent should be lowered to 13. Of course, the young person consenting might be a boy, and the older person who wishes to have sex with him might be a woman, and the act may be either heterosexual or homosexual, but for the present, let us focus on the case of a young girl and an older man.
Although Hewson does not say so, her reason for selecting the age of 13 is probably that it comes close to the average age at which menarche occurs. And this is important, because it is the only biological event in a young girl’s life that might act as a natural boundary. The corresponding natural boundary for a young boy would be his first nocturnal emission. And thus it is that fertility for a girl begins with the curse of menstruation, while fertility for a boy begins with the ecstasy of a wet dream. Life is not fair.
In any event, menarche is the point at which a girl becomes fertile. And thus one might argue that since the whole point of sex is reproduction, it is only natural for a girl to begin having sex at that age. Furthermore, it is around this time that a girl quits looking like a child and acquires the look of a nubile maiden, the development of breasts being the most notable feature. In other words, it is only natural that a man will be sexually attracted to a girl around this time. Moreover, there is little doubt that in caveman days, girls did in fact begin having sex at an early age. Life expectancy in the Stone Age was around twenty, so it would have been necessary for teenage girls to get pregnant just as soon as they could. And even to this day, the more primitive a society, the earlier the age at which girls are married.
Natural boundaries have a strong appeal. For one thing, God seems to like them. In Exodus 23:31, the Promised Land was declared to have following borders: “And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river.” Of course, it might be argued that God had little choice. They did not have latitude and longitude in those days. But even if they had, the idea of God declaring, “And I will set thy bounds from 30 to 33 degrees N and from 34 to 36 degrees E,” is ludicrous. The straight lines of latitude and longitude are clearly the work of man, and God would never stoop to using such blatantly artificial devices.
It is partly for this reason that natural boundaries are preferred by those who are pro-life in their quest for a dividing line between mere organic matter and that of a human being. Someone who argues that life begins at conception might tell us that his position is based on science, that a zygote has a complete set of DNA needed for the development of a person, but he probably has a hankering for the idea that this is a boundary that is God-approved. He may even go so far as to imagine that it is at this point that the cell is ensouled, thus lending metaphysical support to his position. Of course, it would be just as easy to imagine that God ensouled all the eggs in a female’s ovaries as soon as they were originally formed. Traditionally, the soul is independent of the body, even as to its sex, and thus need not wait upon the presence of sperm. And so, since each unfertilized egg is already a human being, then not only is abortion murder, but so are birth control and sexual abstinence as well. Such perverse speculations aside, most pro-life positions will embrace one or another natural boundary for the beginning of life, as something likely to have the sanction of God. On the other hand, no one could ever believe for a second that God would ensoul a fetus after the second trimester of pregnancy, for that is an artificial boundary unworthy of the deity.
But enough of this. There is no God and there is no immortal soul. Nevertheless, even without such fictions, natural boundaries still have their appeal. Rivers, for example, often become national borders for several reasons. Everyone can easily see where they are, surveyors being unnecessary. The possibility of encroachment is eliminated. And armies, finding it easier to defend a river than to cross it under fire, will often find their equilibrium point there. But they are for our convenience only, and have no metaphysical or moral significance. As for abortion, we may, if we so desire, select a natural boundary after which abortions are no longer permitted, but it will only be for our convenience that we do so. There is no magical point at which mere tissue becomes a human being. Rather, it is just a difference of degree. If an embryo is a human being, it is not much of one. So, if killing it is murder, it is not much of a murder.
With this in mind, we may now return to the question of the age of consent. It is clear that however natural menarche may be as a boundary for legal sex, we need not be constrained by such consideration. From the fact that sex for a young girl is natural, it does not follow that it is good. We should always keep in mind that Nature wants babies, and Nature does not give a damn about our happiness.
Much of the evil in this world is natural, including and especially sex. As we shudder from the horrible torment inflicted by Ariel Castro on those three girls, there is a cruel irony in the fact that what he did was reproductively successful, for one of the girls had a baby. We may be appalled, but Nature is satisfied. And while this is an especially egregious case, the world is full of people who suffer from sex: rape, child molestation, child brides, sex trafficking, wife beating, betrayal, abandonment, and just the plain old misery of marriage. But the women have babies, and that is all Nature cares about.
So, let us not look to nature as our guide in regulating sex. Only human happiness need be considered. To that end, making the age of consent occur many years after menarche, though artificial through and through, has a far better chance of being conducive to the overall well-being of the girls we are anxious to protect.