There has always been a murkily demarcated period between childhood and adulthood. The attenuation of formal and informal child labor in the 20th century, along with the emergence of widespread automobile ownership and the cultural changes that brought, brought about the arrival of a previously unknown human type: the teenager. “The invention of the teenager was a mistake,” Judith Martin observed. “Once you identify a period of life in which people get to stay out late but don’t have to pay taxes — naturally, no one wants to live any other way.”…

The age of sexual consent in the United States is typically between 16 and 18 years of age. Here, the United States is predictably conservative — until recently, the legal age of consent in Spain was 13, while in Germany it is 14. At the same time, about half of the undergraduates at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Monroe College in the Bronx, and many comparable schools are 25 years old or older. At the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, about 95 percent of the undergraduates are 25 years old or older, according to U.S. News and World Report.

What this means is that on the matter of sexual responsibility, the period between the investment of formal legal rights and the assumption of moral responsibility is not an ambiguous year or two, but a decade or more.

That situation — personal autonomy without personal responsibility — is of course a guarantee of disaster.