"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.
There can be physical consequences for young women in these sexual relationships, too.
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.
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.
They believed their partners would be more faithful than boys their own age because older men were finished "sowing their oats." "They really give adult men far too much credit," Philips said.
"The irony is they find out after the fact that these men were 'sowing their wild oats' with them." Older women interviewed about the relationships they had as teens felt quite differently.
A few weeks later, ' June 16th Vows column featured the wedding of Christopher Cox, 32, the grandson of Richard Nixon and former campaign aid to John Mc Cain, to Andrea Catsimatidis, whom he met when she was a senior at an Upper East Side high school. This squeamishness is understandable: Hutchison is nearly old enough to be Stodden's grandfather. Of course, men have paired up with younger women -- often much younger women -- for all of human history. Marriage aside, the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, found that a significant number of girls lose their virginity to older partners.
Some 16 percent of girls had sex with male partners who were 4-6 years older and 11 percent had partners that were 7 or more years older.