The age of consent law is a safeguard against the physical risks and emotional damage caused by underage sex, says Shadow Children’s Secretary Michael Gove.
Last week an academic called for the age of consent to be reduced from 16 to 13.
Mr Gove says the “troubling consequences of the sexual revolution” have left society eager to “defend those barriers we have left”.
That is why last week’s calls for the age of consent to be lowered prompted such controversy, he argues.
He says the age of consent “affirms our society’s determination to use law to protect the innocent”.
Writing in light of ITV’s decision to resurrect a 1970s drama about the lives of promiscuous adults, Mr Gove says attitudes have changed since it was first broadcast.
He suggests we have “become much less comfortable with the broader idea of sexual abandon the Seventies seemed to herald”.
“The dramatic increase, over the last three decades, in sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancies, broken marriages and fractured homes has driven a profound change in how we see the Seventies”, he says.
“In those years the momentum was all directed towards breaking down barriers.
“Now we energetically seek to defend those barriers we have left.”
The age of consent law, he argues, “helps teens themselves to say no and resist the sort of pressure to ‘experiment’ which can lead to disease, heartbreak and pregnancy”.
“It keeps our children from straying into the barbed-wire-strewn no-man’s land of emotional loss and personal turmoil which premature entanglements inevitably involve.”
Last week Radio 4′s Iconoclasts programme featured the call from Professor John Spencer to legalise sex for 13-year-olds. ‘Gay rights’ activist Peter Tatchell also supported the call, saying it was a ‘human right’ for youngsters to have sex.
However, family campaigner Trevor Stammers countered: “What I can’t understand, Peter, is where does this concept of a ‘right’ to sexual intercourse come from.
“Because if you regard sex as a ‘right’, then if it’s my ‘right’ to have it, then it’s somebody else’s responsibility or even duty to provide it.”
He added: “I do not have a right to demand it of anyone else nor they from me.”