Should we raise the age of consent? Helena Frith Powell argues a law will make no difference at all
When I was fifteen years old a boy stayed the night with me. Once he had left the following morning, my mother popped her head around my door.
“Did you lose your virginity?” she asked.
“No,” I shrieked.
“Oh, why not?” was her response.
There were several reasons why not. First and foremost he had terrible acne. Looking back on it, I’m not even sure what he was doing in my bedroom in the first place. But the reason I wouldn’t sleep with him had nothing to do with the fact that it was illegal.
A teenage girl will weigh up many factors before losing her virginity; everything from her own body image to her feelings for the boy in question to her fear of pregnancy. But I cannot imagine that any stage she will think: “I can’t have sex, it’s against the law.”
Setting an age of consent is a futile exercise. Clearly there have to be laws to protect children, but that’s not what I am talking about here.
It is a fact, however much you dislike it, that many girls lose their virginity under the age of 16. And by accepting this we can actually prevent a lot of heartache. If a girl feels she can talk to someone about losing her virginity at say, 15 years old, she may be dissuaded from having unprotected sex, or even having sex with the wrong person. By talking about it, she might actually take the decision herself to wait.
I have lived in France for many years, where the age of consent is 15. I know a teenage girl who is 14 years old and travels regularly to see her cousin in England. She is constantly surprised that everyone there is having sex. For her friends, the age of consent is immaterial; they will have sex when it suits them. But no one she knows is having sex as young as their English counterparts, even though legally they could.
Let’s stop imagining that a law will make any difference either way and start helping girls to do what’s right for them as individuals.
Helena Frith Powell is the author of Love in a Warm Climate
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019