Kathleen Parker

Judging from the recent spate of high-profile teacher-student sex cases, you'd think America's teachers - especially females - are hopelessly lusting after their students.

As a mother of boys and witness to the animal kingdom in which they dwell, I confess to being baffled by the attraction, but that's a subject for another day. Meanwhile, what is going on?

And what does it mean in our sexualized culture that the lines seem to be increasingly blurred between what is appropriate and what is not. Forget "normal," not that anyone remembers.

Here's normal: Adults do not have sex with minors.

Well-adjusted grown-ups know this instinctively. Implicit in the job description of  "adult" is that you take care of children and protect the innocent. Inarguably, a kid who has been roaming the Earth fewer than 18 years doesn't know diddly about the complicated consequences of romantic involvement with an adult.

We who know better are supposed to know better.

But lately our cultural understanding of what's acceptable is on shaky ground. After all, a consenting teenage boy is getting what he wants from a willing adult woman, right? And certainly a compliant 16-year-old girl can seem womanly enough to her twentysomething-year-old geography teacher. Who's to say they shouldn't enjoy each other's company?

Normal people at this point may notice a small trembling and rapid heartbeat. Do not be alarmed. The feeling that you are completely alone on Planet Earth should subside in a few more paragraphs.

Questions of the sort above keep coming up, especially since 1998, when a study published in the Psychological Bulletin concluded that people sexually abused as children did not always suffer terrible consequences. Defenders of the study said they weren't trying to excuse abuse, but were questioning the traditional way of treating all sexual relations with minors as "abuse."

Most people would agree that there's a difference between an 18-year-old "adult" involved with a 17-year-old "child" and an adult man ravaging an 8-year-old girl. But our nerves understandably get frayed in the context of the recent Catholic Church scandals, and when we realize that some groups, such as the North American Man/Boy Love Association, really do want societal approval of such clearly inappropriate relations.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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