Having sex goes far beyond an age of consent
A number of people seem agreed that raising the age of consent will not prevent teenage pregnancy.

The debate is once again raging, as it inevitably would, as to whether the age at which one can consent to have sex in Jamaica should be raised from 16 to 18 years. The issue was raised by Damion Crawford, Opposition spokesman on education, in the Senate recently. In 1988 then Youth and Community Development Minister Edmund Bartlett had raised the issue when the age of consent was 14. It was later moved to 16. Now 18 is being advocated.

Most people that I have seen commenting on the subject seem agreed that raising the age of consent will not prevent teenage pregnancy. The fact is that in the sexualised environment we have in Jamaica teenagers will have sex whether prohibited or not. Without due care to using contraceptives, once sex is indulged between a man and woman of childbearing age, pregnancies can happen. This is just the stark biological truth. While legislation may force an adult to think twice before bedding a teenager, it cannot prevent the raging impulses to have sex, especially among young people emerging into adulthood, when these impulses are at their strongest. Thus, the burden must be placed on enforcement of the laws that exist so that adults who prey upon the young will feel the legal penalties for failing to put their members under subjection.

As we know the authorities have been very lax in enforcing these regulations. How many men, some of them undoubtedly married, who impregnated the 60,000 teenagers between 2009 and 2019 alluded to by Crawford, have been brought to book? How many who groom schoolchildren for sex have been made to face the full force of the law? And let us remember that the prohibition to have sex under 16 does not only apply to girls but to boys who are preyed upon to administer sexual favours to adults, whether male or female. Men do not get pregnant so one can understand why the girls are singled out. But it should not be overlooked that young boys also experience the trauma of illicit sex, especially from men.

There is a broader context in which the subject of teenage sex, before or after 16, should be addressed. The law by itself is not sufficient to regulate human behaviour in this regard. In this regard it has failed abysmally to prevent teenage sex and its often attendant pregnancies. This is why I find it almost comical, news coming out of Indonesia last week, stating that lawmakers unanimously passed sweeping new legislation criminalising sex outside of marriage, punishable by a one-year prison sentence. This applies to foreign residents and tourists as well. What this will do to tourism and other aspects of Indonesian society are yet to be seen. But it is clear to me that it will have a devastating effect on tourism and will have to be rescinded out of practical necessity. In any event, its clear violation of international human rights will not be sustained.

Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country, and the present lawmakers believe these measures regarding sex and blasphemy are in line with strict Muslim teaching. I wish them luck trying to restrict one of the strongest impulses known to human beings. The sexual impulse, more than any other, is one of those human impulses which defy any attempt by society to regulate it. Often, when this is attempted on the scale that Indonesia is trying to do, it is riven with hypocrisy. Even those who would want to restrict people's freedoms in this regard are themselves the perpetrators of these acts, until caught.

So a larger conversation ought to be had in Jamaica about sex and sexuality. We are not a society given to free and open discussions about sexuality. In many quarters the subject is taboo. It is one's private business which should not be discussed unless one is talking to a health professional, counsellor, or one's pastor. I believe that such an open conversation may help our youngsters to understand that having sex is more than mere copulation — a penis meeting a vagina; that our genitals are called "private parts" for precisely the essential reason that they are private and should not be exposed to every Dick, Tom, Harry, or Jane who happens by. If the good Lord had intended them for public display, he perhaps would have placed them on our foreheads instead of planting them between our legs. And this is not mere exaggeration but basic biology, just stated another way for emphasis for those who would wish to be hypocritical about it.

Having sex is essentially a spiritual exercise. Notice I did not say religious. Spirituality speaks deeply to the essence of who you are as a person. It speaks to one's appreciation of self, self-worth, and the kind of premium, the value, that one places on one's life. Having sex with anyone is about basic self-respect and trust. So, if you want to have sex with anyone, that person ought to earn both before they can have the privilege of seeing you naked.

This may sound anachronistic and fuddy-duddy in this sexualised, porn-dominated environment in which we live, but when you expose yourself without these values being honoured, sex becomes no more than indulging in mere animalistic pleasure, not different from two dogs hooking up on a corner. And this is not even recreational sex. And, if pregnancy occurs, there is a price to be paid. Who pays it? The brute beast who runs off, forgets about you after you get pregnant, after he has helped himself to pleasure at your expense? Think about it.

So let the conversation begin in our schools, churches, and other places where we gather to chat and have fun. As a churchman I know that the Church has a poor record on discussing sexuality. Like the aforementioned Muslims, there is more of a tendency to bring a cudgel to the subject rather than having a meaningful conversation, with grace, with those who have fallen. The judgemental stuff does not work. Draconian laws even worse. So while moving the age of consent may restrain some of the more heartless among us, we have to go further. There is a moral, personal aspect to the ownership of your body. Don't let it out for the proverbial 30 pieces of silver.

Raulston Nembhard

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storm; Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life; and Beyond Petulance: Republican Politics and the Future of America. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

Raulston Nembhard

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