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Although adolescents know right from wrong and understand consequences, she explained, "their ability to carefully consider these matters is somewhat limited relative to adults." Sexual relationships and marriages between adult men and adolescent girls have very been common historically and continue to be in many other cultures.But experts seem to agree that in contemporary American society the potential harm to a young woman depends on both on her age and how big the age gap is with her partner.The teenagers didn't believe they were being exploited, and no one reported feeling like a victim.Among the perceived benefits of their relationships were admiration from their peers and their partner's material assets.Doug is a wonderful man and we love him." While an age disparity like the 35 years between Hutchison and Stodden is by no means the norm, the recent openness around relationships involving huge age gaps -- especially the ' willingness to feature the Cox and Castimatidis nuptials -- suggests that they may be becoming less stigmatized. How does entering into a relationship with an older man before turning 18 -- or even 20 -- affect the young woman involved?"When you start stretching decades and you're talking about young girls, under 19 or so, it's probably problematic," said Dr.

Before that, teens' "ability to consider and use judgment is still maturing," Pavuluri said, adding that peer pressure can further impact the impulsiveness of teenagers' choices.

While several psychiatrists cautioned against judging relationships like Cox and Catsimatidis' without knowing the specifics and what each partner is bringing to the table psychologically, studies show that there can be long-term emotional repercussions for teen girls who have sex with older men. Ann Meier, a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, studied data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and found that compared to teen girls with a same-aged partner, girls in 7th through 12th grades who had sex with a partner more than one year older had higher levels of subsequent depression and lower levels of self-esteem.

"If they're with a male who has more power and status," because he is older, "this might make it harder for young women to say, 'No I don’t want to have sex,'" Meier said.

In 1999, Lynn Philips conducted a well-known study for Planned Parenthood in which she interviewed teenage girls mostly between the ages of 14 to 17 who were involved with men ages 21 to 29.

Philips, a social and developmental psychologist and professor of Communication at the University of Massachusetts, also interviewed adult women who had engaged in similar relationships when they were teens.

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