Carnival of Teenage Sex


With almost a hundred comments to date, my Voice of Hedonism post garned reactions spanning the gamuts of sense, truth, and topicality. So much content calls for a response, but time and space force that response to be incomplete ("I canna do it cap'n", as the late James Doohan would say).

One thing to clear up is the question of what kind of sex education our public schools should have. Some people seemed to think I was suggesting that the schools teach Patri-style "learn about the torpedoes, then full speed ahead with evasive maneuvers" hedonism. As a libertarian, I wish we didn't have public schools, and feel quite strongly that even if education is subsidized, it would be much fairer and more efficient to use a voucher system. I am not saying that I approve of government brainwashing.

However, given that so many kids do get that education, it seems only natural that I prefer that it follows all my views. We shouldn't have public schools, but if we do I'd like them to teach evolution, to teach economics, to teach libertarianism, to promote independence, to teach proper caution, and to teach cautious hedonism. But this is very different than saying I want it forced on people. I'm just saying that if the government is going to force everyone to go to a concert, I'd prefer it be by my favorite band.

Libertarianism vs. Libertinism

The next big thing I'd like to try to clear up is the distinction between the points I made as a libertarian, and those I made as a hedonist. Given that some of my argument was based on libertarian principles, people confusedly thought that all of it was. As Waffle King said, "Hedonism is one thing, libertarianism is another. Unfortunately, debates like these only serve to blur the distinctions.", so let's try to un-blur them a bit.

I am making three main arguments. The first is that restricting your children's knowledge, in the belief that this will help them make better decisions, is both foolish and unlibertarian. The second is that teenage sex is fun, and if done safely is worth the risks. This is an argument about the particular costs and benefits of a particular choice, and thus has little to do with libertarianism, except in the basic assumption that if an activity doesn't harm others, cost/benefit analysis is the right way to decide if its a good activity. And the third, which got relatively little discussion, is that teenagers are real people and should get to make their own choices. The last is a libertarian argument.

So I'd like to draw a clear distinction here between the *libertarian* arguments about how knowledge is good, and how we should treat most people as independent moral agents, and the *practical* argument about the costs and benefits of the particular activity of teenage sex. We'll deal with them separately.

First is the question of whether libertarianism even applies on this small scale. Tom wrote, "Your view of libertarianism as relating not just to government power but to interpersonal relationships strikes me as odd, though". I find his view to be very odd myself. My macro-libertarianism is not an axiom, it springs from beliefs about things like "individuals should make their own choices", "widespread knowledge is good", and so forth. And those exact beliefs lead me towards micro-libertarianism as well. I think the two are deeply related, as I replied, "I think there is significant hypocrisy in an individualist philosophy which restricts itself to only those over 18." I don't honestly see much difference between the view that a 17-year old can't pick his own bedtime and the view that a citizen can't decide whether to wear a motorcycle helmet. If there is one, please, someone explain it.

Knowledge = Good

Some people took issue with my equating promoting abstinence with promoting ignorance, and there is certainly an important difference. Promoting ignorance is unlibertarian. Advising an individual on a course of action you think is in their best interests is not unlibertarian, although forcing that cource of action on them is. (I should note that "force" here is a tricky gray area. Parents shouldn't have to pay for actions they don't approve of, but when kids are totally financially beholden to their parents, the latter have a lot of leverage).

As I wrote:

"But I do believe that the choice to keep your kid ignorant is the exact opposite of libertarianism. It is a policy of restricting knowledge from individuals who have the capacity to use it to make better choices, because you think you know better. It is exactly what we protest in government censorship and regulation - what could be less libertarian? We aren't talking about a baby reaching for an electric socket, we're talking about people whose brains and bodies are almost fully developed. They may not always make good decisions - but neither do adults, and I don't think there is a large difference"

Teens = Real Individuals

I feel like the "teen emancipation" argument should be especially well-received by libertarians. After all, we often argue against a paternalistic government, which seeks to limit freedom "for our own good". I find it odd that people who are passionate about individual freedom from state interference believe that tyranny is the best way to treat a teenager. Which is not to say that a 1-year old should be treated as a true moral agent, or that parents should let their kids do anything - not at all. I'm just arguing over degree here, how much independence, and how young.

But I think its important to recognize that there is a genuine principal/agent problem here, just as with government. Both government officials and parents have their own cost/benefit analysis at heart, even when making a decision for another. Now, the parents interests and the kids are much more aligned than officials/citizens. They share genes, and that matters enormously. But it does not matter so enormously that the interests are equal. As I wrote:

"For example, parents bear more of the negative costs (say financial costs of an abortion or STD treatment), but less of the benefits (they don't get the sexual pleasure). How that lowered incentive balances with the increased knowledge of parents seems far from clear, to me."

The situation where one party has more global knowledge, and the other has more local knowledge, is analagous to the existence of experts and individuals. And just as libertarians believe that the optimal strategy is for the experts to advise, and the individuals to decide, rather than having the experts regulate, I see the same for the family. Parents advise, kids decide, seems like a superior policy, once the kids are reasonably old.

Several people mentioned the slippery slope argument, which I think is worth discussing. At what age do these arguments stop applying? My argument that a 16-year old is a moral agent does not mean that I believe that 2-year olds are - only that I think 16-year olds are getting short shrift. The continuous nature of the situation means that there *have* to be arguments vulnerable to slippery slopes. After all, it seems quite clear that a 2-year-old is not a full individual, and if you are a libertarian you must believe that at some point, he becomes one. Any point you pick could be attacked with the slippery slope question.

What I disagree with is the choice of 18, which I think is too high, and the sudden and discontinuous nature of achieving majority. Legally, people go from kids to adults on a single day. There are good reasons for bright line rules in legal situations, but I don't see them for parenting. Hence as your kids get older, and more capable of acting as adults, you should steadily more often let them act as adults. A 16-year old, in my opinion, should be making a lot of their own decisions (which is how my siblings and I were raised).

By the way, while I'm not that familiar with it, I believe there is a whole school of libertarian parenting and libertarian education based on these ideas. I encourage commenters to post references.

Teen sex: costs/benefits

There were some strong reactions to my "libertine" belief that hot teen sex is fucking great, and people who insisted that libertarian != libertine. I agree completely on the latter. For example, yetanotherjohn argued that forgoing short-term sexual pleasure in return for a more stable long-term relationship was a net win. There is nothing unlibertarian about this - only in forcing it on someone capable of making their own decisions. I disagree with the cost/benefit analysis, but its an empirical point and not a philosophical one.

As my wife and antoniseb were the first to point out, there are some unavoidable costs to teen sex, like painful breakups, getting into committed relationships too early, and other emotional entaglements. These are real, and are important to teach our kids about, exactly because they don't go away with a twenty-five cent piece of plastic. I find it very strange that people focus so much on STDs and pregnancy, which are much more avoidable, when analyzing the costs. "STD" and "pregnancy" each appear 24 times in the comments, and the more general term "emotional" only 17.

To me, this erroneous focus on the preventable costs seems like a strong indication of a flawed position, one based on emotion and not logical analysis. It's like an argument on the risk of driving which starts with the danger of flying out through the windshield - somehow ignoring the existence and ubuiquity of seatbelts. My suspicion is that these risks (pregnancy in particular) are the ones we faced through most of our evolutionary history, and hence we are hard-wired to worry about them. But like many other hard-wired instincts, this is just not rational in the modern world, and we can make better choices by consciously overriding them.

Another noticeable fact was that while a number of people chimed in with positive teen sex experience, none of the people against teen sex had negative anecdotal experiences to report. As Corwyn said, "As usual, people seem obsessed with preventing *other* people from having sex." And it's awfully convenient to have a policy forbidding pleasure from a group of which you will never again be a member.

An interesting consideration in the cost/benefit analysis is whether the boy or girl has worse consequences to face. Some people (me included) assumed that it was worse for the girl, but yet again I think this is an instinct which does not match with the modern world. For example, the male can get convicted of statutory rape. As we recently saw in Texas, if a couple causes a miscarriage together, the boy gets life in jail and the girl gets nothing. And as Glen Raphael writes, "The financial risk is also higher for boys in that if contraception fails they can be forced to support an unwanted kid, whereas the girl has the option to abort or give up for adoption - supporting a child is probably a choice for her, not a legal requirement that might be imposed without her consent." He also points out that, "The laws used to be totally lopsided but nowadays are reasonably symmetric in most states. Prosecution is still assymetric," [sic] which has certainly been my impression.

Another breath of reason came from TallDave, who wrote, "As Glenn pointed out in his column, it's inevitable teens are going to have sex; they have been for centuries. Abstinence is probably a nice ideal on paper, but then so was Communism. Human nature dictates neither works very well in practice. We should probably be encouraging teen monogamy. I think the most risk to teens, in both physical harm and mental anguish, comes from having multiple partners or a casual attitude toward sex."

Al Maviva brought up a particularly tricky issue: the costs to society of teen pregnancy. Some brief points, first: abstinence-based education does not decrease pregnancy rates, and second: adult pregnancy (say among poor 20-year olds) has costs too. But I do agree that this is a genuine cost imposed on society. Heck, I agree so much that I'd seriously consider a policy where people had to post bonds (or indicate assets) sufficient to raise a kid, or be put on birth control. Its no different than requiring insurance for things you might do to harm others - which seems like a reasonable policy for Ancapistan. I just don't think its particularly unique to minors, or that less graphic sex ed actually helps.

Conclusion

This is a complicated subject, and I believe the central philosophical issue is one of individualism and moral agency. Who should make decisions for an individual? When is a person old enough to make their own decisions? There is also a central practical issue, namely the costs and benefits of teenage sex, about which there seems to be widespread disagreement. As a libertarian I think this question is less important. What matters is that people should get to make their own decisions; after that we can fight about what the right decision is.

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JTK, the /safe/ way to shoot

JTK, the /safe/ way to shoot heroin is to take it in pill form instead. That's what people did when it was legal, and the health consequences of being addicted when you can reliably get it in that form are pretty minor. I'll be happy to tell my kids, when I have 'em, if they happen to ask. Or just loan them my copy of _Licit and Illicit Drugs_...

Patri, "(I should note that

Patri,

"(I should note that “force” here is a tricky gray area. Parents shouldn’t have to pay for actions they don’t approve of, but when kids are totally financially beholden to their parents, the latter have a lot of leverage)."

What's tricky about it? What's unlibertarian about parents using such leverage however they see fit?

"But I do believe that the choice to keep your kid ignorant is the exact opposite of libertarianism. It is a policy of restricting knowledge from individuals who have the capacity to use it to make better choices, because you think you know better. It is exactly what we protest in government censorship and regulation - what could be less libertarian?"

I don't see that this has any relationship to libertarianism at all until parents employ force against their kids. I think children who have reached puberty ought to be free to arrange their affairs as they see fit(and perhaps many younger children too), though of course not at anyone's expense.

I think it’s fair but

I think it’s fair but unwise for parents to demand abstinence of their un-emancipated child, especially since they bear some of the financial risks of their child’s non-abstinence. This leads me to consider the mechanism and timing of emancipation to be very important issues. That said, I contest: Using a single, static age limit to control legal emancipation in its entirety is as un-libertarian a one-size-fits-all solution as a government-mandated shoe size.

Should libertarians bicker about what the age of automatic emancipation be, or instead devise a new method more consistent with personal responsibility that does away with set age limits, government control over emancipation, the implicit slippery-slope implications, and all of the problems inherently coupled with such inflexible regulation? I think age is a miserable metric for approximating maturity. I propose that IQ is superior correlate.

If you agree with this proposition, then I urge you to conclude that age should not be the sole determining factor in emancipation.

If you disagree, then I urge you to conclude (from our disagreement itself) that a one-size-fits-all solution is not appropriate.

Either way, the rigid emancipation determinant has got to go. Why not let individuals decide for themselves when they’re ready to act as legal independent agents? If a 16 year old feels he’s ready to face adulthood on his own, let him – and the same should apply whether he’s 6 or 60. This way there’s absolutely no age limit and no slope on which to slip. Citizens could simply apply for their emancipation card, which they would present in situations of doubt when they wanted to enter into legal contracts, buy land, take a job in the pornography industry, or engage in hot teenage sex despite the abstinence agenda of their parents. And should emancipated life be more difficult than expected, I see no reason to forbid that individual from un-emancipating himself (at any age) to his parents (should they agree to take him back) or – for that matter – to forbid him from un-emancipating himself to any consenting citizen, corporation or private charity group whether they’re his parents or not. This serves to take control over the issue of legal autonomy out of the hands of the government and place it back in the hands of the individual where it rightly belongs.

Yeah, I'm surprised Patri

Yeah, I'm surprised Patri didn't, on his own, call selection bias or confirmation bias on his observation that people were reporting only good experiences with teen sex.

I agree with your assessment

I agree with your assessment Patri.

We use an interesting curriculum you might have a look at called the Robinson Curriculum. It is based on the principles of self-education. We are having great success with our children using this approach.

Well this is a good time to

Well this is a good time to plug my Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll: A libertarian view which was denounced by several people as more praising libertinism than libertarianism. I disagree however.

What we are ultimately talking about is personal responsability for ones actions no matter what they might be. Ultimately we should push for a normed age of adulthood...whatever age that might be. Having different ages of maturity for different things is just daft and unworkable.

Promoting ignorance is

Promoting ignorance is unlibertarian.

Libertarianism deals with the proper use of violence in human society. Nothing more, nothing less.

[N]one of the people against teen sex had negative anecdotal experiences to report.

I don't have any personal experiences because I stayed a virgin through high school.

Let me report some that others have had:

* My stepsister fell in love with the first louse who ever had sex with her, got knocked up, dropped out of high school, and has done nothing with her life in a solid decade.

* A buddy of mine had a girlfriend who had 3 abortions before she was 19. She was normal before, but has been borderline insane since the third one.

* Several other girls from my high school became pregnant before graduation. Only one of them graduated, and none of them went to college.

- Josh

pdf23ds: And then I heard an

pdf23ds:

And then I heard an idea at Pandagon (or a linked site) that perhaps the government should give a really sizable subsidy per child to make child-rearing very affordable. (I think European levels of educational subsidy, especially at the higher levels of education, even if not at the lower levels, would be included in the idea.) Is it against libertarian principles for the government to do things like this? I’m not familiar enough with it to know.

Well, the important thing is that libertarianism presupposes that adults are rational actors. Kids should be educated in some manner to make sure they will be. Vouchers seem the best idea how to do that.

I think the biological

I think the biological evidence settles the monogamy vs. non-monagamy quite clearly, with a definite “in-between” answer :). That is, I think the evidence is very strong that we are a mostly monagamous and partly polygamous species. The studies that have been done on illegitimacy have generally shown a 5%-20% rate, across many different cultures, I believe. People are mostly monogamous, but both sexes are tempted to cheat (women to get better genes, men to spread their genes more widely).

I agree with this and didn't mean to imply that people were by nature 100% monogamous. Just as people can have natural instincts to engage in barbarism and to overcome that barbarism with cooperation, people can both have monogamy as a "steady-state" mindset but have strong tendecies to engage in infidelity. Infidelity can be advantageous from a gene-centric pov, and thus, the naturally jealousy most people feel at being cheated on is an evolutionary trait designed to guard against being victimized by one's mate.

Ah, that was just the group

Ah, that was just the group I was thinkig of Matt, thanks. Tried a couple searches, remembered unschooling, but couldn't remember TCS.

I think the biological evidence settles the monogamy vs. non-monagamy quite clearly, with a definite "in-between" answer :). That is, I think the evidence is very strong that we are a mostly monagamous and partly polygamous species. The studies that have been done on illegitimacy have generally shown a 5%-20% rate, across many different cultures, I believe. People are mostly monogamous, but both sexes are tempted to cheat (women to get better genes, men to spread their genes more widely).

Also, maybe this is just because I've never cared much about social norms, but I think inherent jealousy is a much bigger problem. Some people are lucky enough not to feel it, I've met a few, but they are rare. But I think that even among the majority, jealousy is triggered by different situations, and can be dealt with. ie consider France, where having lovers as well as spouses has been traditional for hundreds of years.

I'd like to put in a word of

I'd like to put in a word of skepticism regarding the value of monogamy. The social norms that enforce monogamy may be much more harmful to a person's emotional wellbeing than any jealousy inherent in human nature.

I'll follow-up with

I'll follow-up with skepticism to your skepticism:

- Monogamy is as much biologically driven as driven by social norms.
- The social norm of monogamy is ultimately an egalitarian institution that creates more happiness than our biologically driven ancestral "natural" orders.

"I believe there is a whole

"I believe there is a whole school of libertarian parenting and libertarian education based on these ideas. I encourage commenters to post references."

I think you're thinking of Taking Children Seriously.

I'm a lot less of a libertine than Patri, but I pretty much agree with this post. Telling teens to abstain until they're older can be a good thing, but making it the first, last, and only line of defense is just plain stupid. I also think the points about teaching monogamy rather than abstinence, and focusing more on the emotional costs, are spot on. I lost my virginity at 17, and far from regretting it, I'm still with the same woman 2 years later. The problem is not teens having sex, the problem is teens having casual and unsafe sex without any sense of emotional investment.

If you set the bar of expectations too high, people often tend to just give up without trying. This is why abstinence-only programs don't work. But if you teach teens to just think harder and be more cautious about who they have sex with and how, and teach them what an important and intimate thing sex is, you'd probably get better results.

I think a good test to seperate the consequentialists from the party-pooping puritans is this question: if all STDs were easily curable and there was birth control that was cheap, plentiful and 99.999% effective, would teens having sex still be a problem? I have no trouble saying no, even though I'm closer to the conservative side than Patri.

But I do agree that this is

But I do agree that this is a genuine cost imposed on society. Heck, I agree so much that I’d seriously consider a policy where people had to post bonds (or indicate assets) sufficient to raise a kid, or be put on birth control.

And then I heard an idea at Pandagon (or a linked site) that perhaps the government should give a really sizable subsidy per child to make child-rearing very affordable. (I think European levels of educational subsidy, especially at the higher levels of education, even if not at the lower levels, would be included in the idea.) Is it against libertarian principles for the government to do things like this? I'm not familiar enough with it to know.

Given that teenagers should

Given that teenagers should be free to leave their parents, what would constitute keeping information from the teenagers? What's unlibertarain about saying "As long as you live here you'll follow our rules" - even if those rules include banning certain areas of information?

Doesn't the exit option for the teenager fully satisfy the requirements of libertarianism?

Would it be unlibertarian to

Would it be unlibertarian to not teach your children how to make crystal meth or shoot heroin safely?

no, it would be unlibertarian to keep such information from them. libertarian does not mean force information on people about everything, it means a fair and equal sharing of uncensored information.

as to the age issue, I agree with Eric, but know many a parent that are so brainwashed as to beleive the government dictated ages are akin to laws handed down by God.
My own mother even had issues with it before my sister turned 21. She wouldn't let her drink alchohol in front of her, even knowing that as soon as she left for the evening she would be going to bars, using a fake ID (that my sister showed my mom the day she got it) and getting wasted, none of which bothered her nearly as much.

I have a friend whom, just before turning 17, emancipated himself from his parents (mostly due to an abusive father). He did fine, and is doing fine now. He is in a profession he loves and is good at, commits no heinous crimes, etc. His advantage was that his mother (the good, or in his lucky case, great parent) allowed him to grow up making decisions for himself, providing him with the ability to be well educated, etc.

When you get into the case of many children, their parents are at the education and intelligence level of many Jr. High/High School children, so providing a proper growing and learning atmosphere so that the child can be educated enough to pronounce emancipation and not end up like their parents is near impossible.

Here-in lies the problem, poor parenting. So far the government has tried to enact legislation to make up for the fact that most parents do a piss poor job of raising their kids. Enacting more or different legislation based around this problem does not solve the problem. Removing all legislation about it and requiring parents to confront and solve these issues before or after parenthood will solve the problem.

Would it be unlibertarian to

Would it be unlibertarian to not teach your children how to make crystal meth or shoot heroin safely?