Sexual relationships between an adolescent and an older person are considered controversial and in many countries are conceptualized under the legal definition of statutory relationship/rape. Despite the consensus regarding their potential negative implications, little is known about how adolescents perceive and construct them. To address this lacuna, the current exploratory study examined how individuals who have experienced sexual relationships with an adult while growing up perceived the older person and the meaning they ascribed to the age gap (M age gap, 7.78 years; range, 2–18 years). A qualitative thematic methodology was incorporated in analyzing in-depth semi-structured interviews with 28 individuals (M age, 29.89 years) who had experienced sexual relationships with an (at least 2 years) older person during adolescence (M age, 14.78 years). Participants described five different perceptions of the older persons: romantic partner; sexual partner; authority figure; complex/unstable figure; and exploiter. Subsequent analysis, focusing on the role participants assigned to age when describing these different images of older persons, shed additional light on their subjective perceptions; namely, for each image, age had a particular meaning. This paper may contribute to the understanding of individuals’ experiences of sexual relationships with an older person by emphasizing the complexity of such relationships, as reflected in the participants’ construction of the older person’s image, potentially providing important information that can inform best practice for professionals working with this population. Findings highlight the need to address diversity and ambiguity rather than the uniform dichotomy that characterizes the legal framing of automatically constructing these relationships as statutory. Further implications for research, policy, and practice are discussed.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- !!Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
- !!General Psychology