Age Differences And Your Relationship
When I was a newly-minted 18-year-old, fresh into college, I went on a few dates with a 23-year-old classmate. Despite the fact that I was of age, my friends and family really freaked out about our age difference.
Even though it never escalated beyond a couple dates, you’d think he was committing a crime by the way everyone was talking about him.
Less than a year later, I began the relationship with my current boyfriend-- at the time, I was 19. He was 27. And no one cared. We have nearly double the age difference that the first guy and I had, but apart from a few robbing-the-cradle-or-robbing-the-grave jokes, no one really says boo about it. I don't know if it has something to do with our maturity levels, with who he is compared to my previous partner, or if there's some sort of barrier you pass over when you transform from 18 to 19-years-old where you've stopped being barely legal and are no longer interesting. But age differences carry a weird stigma in our culture and many around the world. Some are even illegal.
Age of Consent
All too often, we see this question on the sex forums that we follow:
“My girlfriend is 16 and I am about to turn 18. Once I am over the legal hump, does that mean we can’t legally hump until she’s 18 too? Sixteen is the age of consent in our state.”
To be honest, I had no freaking clue. So I decided to do a little research to settle this once and for all.
What I found was a labyrinth. Not only do many countries have their own qualifications for laws of consent, but in the U.S, different states also have their own laws. The same is true with different regions in other countries. And these laws often have exemptions.
For example, while the age of consent in some states in the U.S. is 16, a federal law prohibits participants from filming that sexual encounter-- because in the U.S, sexual photographs of anyone under the age of 18 is considered child pornography. For a second example, while the age of consent in other countries might vary, another U.S. federal law forbids U.S. citizens from going to another country and having sexual relations with anyone under the age of 18.
And that’s only the beginning of the confusing part.
The federal age of consent in the US is 18. This makes no difference in Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin, because they also have the same age of consent.
In all other states, however, the age is lower-- 16 or 17. In fact, 31 out of 50 states have an age of consent of 16.
Every state also has complications. For example, in Delaware where the age of consent is 18, 16 and 17-year-olds can legally have sex with anyone under the age of 30. In Connecticut, the age of consent is 16, but anyone over the age of 13 can have sex with anyone who is within two years older than them. Many states even have a law against having sex with people of authority, regardless of age.
There even used to be a difference for age of consent between homosexual and heterosexual couples. In some states, the heterosexual age of consent might be 16 while the homosexual age of consent would be something like 21. In fact, it wasn’t until as recently as 2005 when the court case, Limon vs. Kansas, changed the legal punishment for breaking age of consent laws. What would put the older half of a heterosexual couple in jail for just a few months would put the older half of a homosexual couple in jail for nearly a few decades.
Each individual law is too complex to put here, so if you’re concerned, check up on your local laws. Wikipedia has a very detailed and up-to-date listing of such laws in the U.S. and around the world. Our article Five Ways To Verify Age During Spring Break has some great tips on how to tell if your date for the evening is appropriate, even if you aren't on Spring Break.
Societal Age of Consent
Even if you are over the legal age, there are some societal suggestions that encourage people away from too big an age difference.
Some of these are defined by double standards. Women are empowered by dating younger men, but older men are dirtbags if they so much as think about young women. Those in homosexual relationships also have stigmas about dating older/younger partners.
One way that people tend to rely on? Divide the older partner’s age in half, then add seven. If the younger partner’s age is below that, they’re too young. For example a forty-year-old would have to be dating anyone over the age of 27. That actually seems kind of reasonable-- the older you are, the less and less a significant age difference seems to matter. A thirteen year age difference at 40 is not the same as one at 30-- someone at 27 and someone at 17 are in completely different places in their lives, have completely different levels of maturity and want completely different things out of their relationships. My partner is now 31 and I am 23, which means that we barely scrape over the limit (22.5!) However, when we first began dating, we wouldn’t have. Oops.
How to Deal With a Significant Age Difference
If you are within the realm of age of consent, there's not really any moral or ethical reasons why you shouldn't have a significant age difference. There are, however, different problems that may arise which you may not have expected.
The first one is pretty simple but it's one of the biggest issues facing couples with age differences: you may have different goals. Someone in their thirties may be looking to settle down while someone in their twenties may still want to travel, mess around, and even keep things casual. Make sure you and your partner both know your expectations about the relationship, and don't be afraid to talk early on about your goals. You may have all the chemistry in the world, but if you don't want kids (here are some reasons why you may want to wait) and your partner is ready to start putting down roots, you're not going to be able to make those ends meet up while still satisfying everyone's needs.
The second problem revolves around experience. An older partner may have more experience in relationships, sex, and otherwise. Because of this, they may expect things that make the younger partner uncomfortable. Of course, this is a problem that can affect couples of any age, but it's very often found in couples with a significant age difference. Again, make sure your expectations with your partner are clarified before you become too attached.
The third problem is the reason why. Do you commonly date people from a different generation than you? Is there something about them that appeals to you more than potential partners your own age? If you find yourself fetishizing or putting people up on a pedestal because of their age, your obsession may be unhealthy and that will make your relationships unhealthy too. Make sure you're dating that person for who they are, not what they represent to you.
The final problem is criticism. You will get it from plenty of people. While people don't interject into my relationship now as much as they did in my previous one, there are still those who joke snidely about us, who infantilize my ability to make decisions, or imply that he's taking advantage of me. Know how to deal with it and most importantly, be secure in your decisions and you won't have any problems. Remember, as long as it's legal, it isn't anyone's business but your own. All you need to worry about is making sure you are both happy, healthy, and have clear expectations for one another.
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