In response to my earlier remark that “I suspect that sex between an adult woman and a 17-year-old boy is much less likely to be emotionally or physically damaging than sex between an adult man and a 17-year-old girl,” some commenters asked why I thought this. To give one example, from Guest101:
Why? Not trying to be overly PC here, but I really don’t share the intuition that it would make a difference (assuming of course that no pregnancy resulted). Indeed, if the common perception that girls mature faster than boys is correct, wouldn’t one expect the opposite to be true?
I am pretty confident that that sex is more likely to be physically harmful for girls than for boys: Obviously, only girls can get pregnant (something that isn’t strictly a physical harm, but that is often harmful when unintended, and harmful because of the physical consequences of the sex). Also, unless I’m mistaken, females are more likely to get HIV from males than vice versa; females are more likely to suffer directly from the effects of HPV, such as death, illness, or infertility caused by cervical cancer; and females are more likely to become infertile as a result of various sexually transmitted diseases than are males.
I’m less confident (hence the “I suspect”) about the emotional matter, but my sense is that at least in our society today females are still more likely to feel used and degraded as a result of a sexual relationship that has not gone as they had hoped, and in particular that involved less emotional commitment from the other person than they had hoped. Perhaps this is something that is innate; I can see why it might be, though I don’t know if there is any serious evidence of that. Still, whether this stems from nature or nurture, my sense is that this is indeed the case today in America.
But perhaps I’m wrong; again, note the “I suspect.” I certainly haven’t done much research on the subject. (If I had been making the assertion in an academic article on the subject, and certainly if I were in a position to actually sentence someone based on this subject, I would have of course felt obligated to do more such research.) So let me ask you folks this: Is there some serious research on the subject that does shed light on the question, and that either confirms or controverts my intuition?
This is a separate question from the issue whether it is morally proper, and whether it should be constitutionally permissible, to take such sex differences — if they exist — into account at sentencing (a matter I also noted in my original post).