mellowtigger: (all i have)
What's given is not the same as what's taken.

With the Roman Polanski case in the news recently, I've seen a lot of online chatter about rape and consent. I have opposing thoughts on the issue, and I thought that exploring them through writing might help me achieve a single coherent stance. At the end, I discuss my own history on this topic.

It doesn't matter how many human laws are passed, we're not going to convince God to raise the age of puberty. I firmly believe that Mother Nature signals readiness for sexual relations by giving us puberty. Sexual maturity is the whole point of puberty! Redefining puberty seems unwise. My own great, great grandmother eloped around age 12 or 13, and she remained married and raised a whole litter of kids. Humans can make adult decisions at this early age. Denying this truth seems unhealthy.

As solitary creatures, body maturity provides a sufficient standard. As social creatures, however, the mind must also figure into the equation. The brain requires time and nutrition to mature. Given a healthy brain, the mind also requires experience to mature. It may be that teaching such experience requires yet more time, leaving the body to outpace the mind in development toward adulthood.

Steinberg and his co-authors address this seeming contradiction in a study showing that cognitive and emotional abilities mature at different rates. They recruited 935 10- to 30- year-olds to examine age differences in a variety of cognitive and psychosocial capacities. ... There were no differences among the youngest four age groups (10-11, 12-13, 14-15 and 16-17) on the measures of psychosocial maturity. But significant differences in maturity, favoring adults, were found between the 16- to 17-year-olds and those 22 years and older, and between the 18- to 21-year-olds and those 26 and older. Results were the same for males and females, the authors said. ... In contrast, differences in cognitive capacity measures increased from ages 11 to 16 and then showed no improvements after age 16 - exactly the opposite of the pattern found on the psychosocial measures. Certain cognitive abilities, such as the ability to reason logically, reach adult levels long before psychosocial maturity is attained, Steinberg said.

According to this study, human logical reasoning ability seems to mature by age 16, but human emotional reasoning doesn't fully arrive until age 26. Considering that puberty happens around ages 8-14, we experience a huge stretch of life in which there is discordant maturity. This long mismatch is perhaps the crux of the problem. (Keep in mind that at age 18, we also demand that male citizens register in preparation to kill and die in military service.)

How we choose to define adulthood is important. It affects what behaviors we encourage or discourage. It influences how we define transgressions and their punishments; it includes how we define permissible actions that people must take responsibility for themselves.

A difficult childhood reduces life expectancy by 20 years among adults who experienced six or more particular types of abuse or household dysfunction as kids, while those who suffered fewer types of trauma lost fewer years of life, a large-scale epidemiological study finds.

In other words, making a child's life miserable is more than just a repulsive act. It steals years from their lifespan. This is important stuff we're talking about. How do we distinguish consensual sexuality involving young adults from life-destroying predation?

The maturity of the body (puberty) seems an easy measurement to identify and acknowledge. The maturity of the mind (adulthood) seems much more problematic, as does the ability to consent.

I think that an important example can be taken from a youth service that I visited some years ago. The tour guide pointed to a locked cabinet and explained that yes they had videos and books of sexual topics available in their library for the youth to borrow. This place kept them locked up, though, and required that youth ask for permission to browse them. In their words, "If they're mature enough to view them, then they're mature enough to ask first." I think that policy is very reasonable. I think we can use the same principle to confirm sexual maturity too.

my solution:
If someone's mature enough to experience sex, then they're mature enough to ask for it. So I propose a system in which anyone (who has passed puberty) up to age 18 may register themselves as "sexually mature" adults. The concept of "statutory rape" (in which age is the defining factor) does not apply to someone who has registered themselves as mature. Maturity means taking responsibility for your actions, and registration is sufficient proof of such maturity. A mature person may marry, as did my great, great grandmother, at a young age.

I take alcohol transactions as my example here, in which proof of maturity (defined by age) is required to legally imbibe. I would eliminate statutory rape. Instead, there is only "rape rape". Consent is required for legally permissible sex with someone who is either age 18 or is a registered adult (after puberty). Without consent in these cases, you prosecute rape. Without age 18 or adult registration, however, you prosecute something "even worse than rape" although I can't think of a proper term for it right now.

Consent is required. What's given is not the same as what's taken, though the physical act be the same. Predatory behavior costs lifespan and happiness; it must be prevented before and prosecuted after the fact. Adult behavior at young age, however, should not be compromised. If you're mature enough to experience sex, then you're mature enough to ask first. I think adult certification would work, although there would need to be some mechanism that ensures the request itself is not coerced somehow.

my life:
I think that I matured intellectually at a rapid pace, outpacing my compatriots of the day. Emotional maturation, however, is something that didn't really begin until my 20's. Emotional understanding, I suspect, will be a lifelong struggle in which I trail behind my peers because I experience emotions at a different scale (both time scale and intensity scale) than others do. That's why I now think that patience will be the prime attribute of anyone who can be a successful romantic match for me. I need time (and usually solitude) to understand myself. This delay is especially important in matters of consent.

Rape is sex without consent. Date rape, as I define it today, is sex where both parties experience some interest in each other but consent still is not provided. Only once (in my early 20s) have I experienced date rape, although there are other near-examples. For anyone taking note, physical reaction in a man is not the same as consent. A man needs to actively approach you in order for consent to even be implied.  Verbal expression of sexual interest is, of course, the best scenario. This was a period of my life when speaking required a lot more effort than it does now. I know that I was thinking the word "No", but at this moment I can't remember if the word ever reached audible form. That experience is one of a few "Ick!" moments of my life. That's not what I want my sex life to be like. At least it was all over quickly.

I myself often fail to "read" people well.  I can only hope that I never created a situation in which someone else felt assaulted by me.  :(  It seems unlikely, but I must mention the possibility to be complete in my exploration of the topic.

Here I am writing about important sex issues when sex is mostly a theoretical thing for me. I haven't had sex with anyone in years. I haven't even dated in more than 12 years. I've never bottomed for anyone, as I expect the emotional intensity and complexity to be too much for me to cope with unless it was with my husband (the ideal patient man who simply doesn't exist (for me anyway)).

So, read my opinions on the subject with some healthy skepticism, I guess. :)
mellowtigger: (Default)
Remember the tv show Hercules that presented tales of the adventures of Hercules and Iolaus? Well, they had more interesting adventures than even that good series was capable of showing. According to Plutarch, the fidelity of Iolaus to Hercules (but not vice versa) was so famed that male couples would use him as an example and profess their fidelity to each other at the tomb of Iolaus.
"And as to the loves of Hercules, it is difficult to record them because of their number; but those who think that Iolaus was one of them do to this day worship and honor him, and make their loved ones swear fidelity at his tomb."
- Plutarch, "Eroticus", par. 17

"It is a tradition likewise that Iolaus, who assisted Hercules in his labors and fought at his side, was beloved of him; and Aristotle observes that even in his time lovers plighted their faith at Iolaus' tomb."
- Plutarch, "Life of Pelopidas", Clough translation
Sexual fidelity, however, is such a rare thing. Not just among humans but also other animals. Rare, though, is not the same thing as absent. According to a PubMed article:
"The Wandering Albatross provides a striking exception to partner infidelity. This albatross is one of the most remarkable animals in the world (Figure 13). These enormous birds, with a wingspan that measures 11 feet, the longest of any bird (one wing is as long as your outstretched arms), mate for life, which is often 6 decades or longer."
I had originally thought that maybe "til death do us part" would have made a lot more sense for humans back when we only lived to our 30s, but this albatross proves that it is natural (for them) even across long lifetimes. A few days ago, news broke about a study that found what seems to be an infidelity gene that was linked statistically to the strength of the bond that a male (human) feels to his partner. Men without the gene had higher fidelity and higher relationship satisfaction (as reported by their partner).  Men with one copy of the gene had lower scores on those attributes.  Men with two copies of the gene had even lower scores.  The researchers looked at this gene after it was previously found to play a role in the fidelity of male voles (a small rodent).

When talking about the feature in humans, it's much too easy to get caught up in political maneuvering instead of rational inquiry.  Since that article, though, I've been pondering what sexual reproductive strategy would be "best" for a species (any species) given a few starting conditions:
  1. males and females have comparable abilities (no significant disparity in survival skills individually)
  2. long lifespan (>60 years)
  3. long child development (>15 years)
  4. one adult is designated primary caregiver for each child born
  5. permanent sexual fertility (not annual/seasonal like many animals) across lifespan
  6. pathogens that can kill "quickly" (<2 years)
Given those simplistic terms, what reproductive strategy yields the highest number of healthy children?

I find that #3 takes precedence.  Since child rearing takes so very long, it requires more resources than can reasonably be expected from only one adult.  (Let's call that Corollary 3a.)  I see some kind of fidelity involved in arranging for these long relationships.  Why?  If sexual attraction is responsible for creating children, then anyone who creates a child will want to ensure that another adult can be relied upon to continue providing resources.  If sexual attraction produced one child, then it can produce another with a different sexual partner, leading to loss of resources to the first child's primary caregiver.

At first, I kept thinking that some form of group fidelity would be an excellent arrangement.  If the group remains small, then problems introduced by #6 can still be minimized.  Even if one particular partner dies, then the cost of child rearing can still be shared amongst the other available (and committed) adults.  Sounds great.  But then I realized the complication that appears across generations.  The group must continually bring in new members to avoid inbreeding.  In return, it must continuously shed old members to other groups.  So the pathogen issue comes up again.  Unless (cruelty alert) newcomers are quarantined for the 2 years during which pathogens can make their presence apparent.

So I was back to shrinking the group down to only a couple.  Pathogen involvement is limited (with fidelity).  Except, of course, when one partner dies and the remaining partner looks for a new caregiver to share in child rearing.  But at least risk affects only one adult and their children rather than an entire group.

Promiscuity is excellent at avoiding the inbreeding problem (thereby introducing necessary genetic variety) but loses its luster when faced with the pathogen problem.  The only way I can get it to "work" is if transmission of genetic material (mating) happens only once and then the receiving partner maintains the genetic material to use slowly across time.  Some animals can do that for short periods of time.  In this scenario, pathogen exposure (sexually transmitted, anyway) happens only once.  If the receiving partner survives, then they can continuously produce offspring from that one encounter.  No additional risk necessary.  Then finding someone to share resources during child development would likely occur in groups only with other surviving child-producers (since they have proven themselves free of deadly pathogen).  It could be the females (like mammals) or the males (like the seahorse), whichever protects the fetus during development.

So that's the best that I can come up with, examining things without involving religious tradition or political propaganda.  My 6 starting rules seem to yield 3 possible outcomes that are very good for the stated goal of producing lots of healthy children.
  1. binary couples with fidelity
  2. group structure with fidelity and newcomer sequestration
  3. random promiscuity during sole lifetime encounter, followed by parent-group association
Did I miss something?


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