Government should ‘butt out’ of young people’s sex lives

Dr. Wes: Why should teens study current events? How about the current wrangling over underage consensual sex? Kansas Atty. Gen. Phill Kline was in court last week trying to prove that the state mandatory child abuse reporting law includes consensual sex if one partner is under 16. He argues that if you are under that age, you can’t legally consent to have sex, no matter how adamantly you feel you can. If you can’t consent, sex constitutes child abuse because it is inherently harmful.

If you study the testimony online (, search “Phill Kline”) you’ll find “experts” claiming that sexual exploration before the age of 16 is abnormal; that sex can lead to depression, drug abuse and even suicide; that girls should not be allowed to access birth control, but boys should; that pregnancy and adoption for young teens teaches them a lesson about their sexual behavior; that being reported to the government creates a “painful consequence” that will stop kids from having sex; that girls younger than 16 are “powerless in making decisions about sex”; that race plays a part in the ability to consent, and so on. One of Kline’s witnesses even admitted that his testimony has been excluded in other courts – but claimed this was because he was “politically incorrect.”

Kline claims that state law requires professionals to report as child abuse suspected instances of underage sex – even if they involve willing partners of similar ages. Thus, anyone seeking services for STDs, birth control or therapy would be at legal risk by disclosing sexual contact. Kline now claims he’s only been referring to intercourse and oral sex, but another witness (Sedgwick County Dist. Atty. Nola Foulston) said she would include “fondling” in this definition. Another of Kline’s witnesses (Professor Allan Josephson) actually admitted under cross examination that doctors would be better qualified than an entry-level SRS worker to decide whether consensual underage sex between age-mates constitutes sexual abuse. Indeed. So why isn’t he recommending it?

Health care providers always have agreed that sex is abusive if the other partner is much older or coercion is involved. However, no one previously has considered it child abuse when two 15-year-olds choose to have sex – only the bad judgment of youth. Moreover, about a third of teens have had sex before age 16. Many more have had oral sex, and most have “fondled.” What shall we do with all these new “sex offenders?”

Some welcome this move. Others see it as another intrusion of government into the private lives of families – something Republicans like Kline claim to abhor. For my part, I have many serious concerns about teen sex. I just hadn’t considered using SRS or the police to address them. Who will be charged if two young teens are caught having sex? What branch of government will address the issue: SRS, Juvenile Justice, family court? What will younger teens do to access sensible advice from professionals in making their decisions to have sex or to abstain? Apparently they’ll write anonymously to this column. Not quite what we had in mind.

There is nothing worse than silence when it comes to teen sex. Thanks to Mr. Kline’s attempt to gag teen communication on the topic, that silence may soon be roaring.

Marissa: Report teens if they are having sex? This is about the dumbest stunt our government has tried to pull yet. In what ways will our youths benefit from this? The answer is very few. In fact, it will hurt them.

In some cases, teens rely on their doctors or therapists more than they do their parents. If anyone under the age of 16 is reported for being sexually active, the chances of them seeking needed medical attention will be next to nothing. Teens need resources such as medical professionals and counselors. This new policy would practically eliminate those options. Why does Phill Kline want to jeopardize the health of young Americans? I am not saying that a person is ready to be having sex before the age of 16, but the majority of people that I know did.

There are some things that the government has a right to know about. But in the case of two consensual partners under the age of 16 having a sexual relationship, the government needs to butt out. This whole thing is rooted in the personal agenda of Mr. Kline, not in the public’s best interest.

There are plenty of other issues out there on which Kansas needs to be focusing. Our public schools need more funding. Teachers’ salaries are at an insulting level, and the list goes on and on. The time spent on this endeavor will be wasted and dangerous.

What are they planning to do to teens who are not legally allowed to be having sex, yet are having sex anyway? A slap on the wrist? A “sex ticket?” If teens are having sex, chances are that no matter what the government tries to do to them, they are going to continue to have sex. The government has no right to try and regulate who can and cannot have sex, no matter their age. It is a personal decision, not a federal one. Hopefully, the courts will realize that this is an issue for families to work out, not Mr. Kline.

Next week: What younger teens and their parents should do if Kline’s view is upheld by the court.

– Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Marissa Ballard is a Lawrence High School senior. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues to All correspondence is strictly confidential.