The Red-Light District

Exploring the carnal and taboo

Are May-December Romances Dangerous?

Study shows that age gaps in relationships are associated with victimization.

I wonder whether there exists a serial engager of May-December romances. I guess her romantic life would be nonexistent at middle age.

When people mention a May-December Romance, it’s easy to romanticize the relationship. A May-December romance is the parallax of enjoying life from two different perspectives. A May-December romance could be taboo and legal.

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But according to a recent study in the journal of Child Abuse & Neglect (depressing title, huh?), wide age gaps between adolescents, and their older lovers are associated with pretty dismal findings. Keep in mind that many of these relationships occur in high-risk and low-income youth, and researchers studied this population.

Here are some findings in couples with wide age differences:

• Adolescents involved in relationships with wide age gaps were more likely to engage in sex and less likely to use protection against sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.

• Relationships with wider age gaps were more likely to be associated with victimization and unwanted sexual behavior.

• Both partners are likely involved in drug use.

• Both partners are often involved in (what the study labels) “deviant lifestyles” and risky lifestyle choices including truancy, selling drugs, using weapons and so forth.

Interestingly, the researchers suggest that in the opposite-sex couples which were studied, it made no difference if the adolescent were a boy or a girl. Furthermore, such negative outcomes listed above were more likely attributable to adolescent preference for risky behavior rather than poor decision making. Finally, the age of the adolescent made no difference with respect to the association with negative outcomes. In other words, young teenagers were just as likely to be victimized and exploited as older adolescents.

So, for most people involved in relationships with big age gaps, there are serious problems. Most May-December romances are neither warm nor fuzzy but rather hurtful and victimizing. The authors of the study go on to suggest that when making policy and legislative decisions, it’s probably best to pay more heed to age gaps rather than consenting age of a minors. After all, a 15-year-old in a romantic relationship with an older person is at the same high risk as an 18-year-old.

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Naveed Saleh, M.D., M.S., attained a medical degree from Wayne State University School of Medicine and a master's degree in science journalism from Texas A&M.

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