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Consensual Sex with an Adult Step-Child: Acceptable or Not?

Is it okay to have consensual sex with an adult step-child? Ohio (U.S.A) man, Paul Lowe, has gone to jail for engaging in consensual sex with the 22-year-old daughter of Lowe's wife: his stepdaughter. Lowe argued that the relationship was consensual and that because she was an adult, the “incest statute […] to protect children against adults in positions of authority over them” did not apply to his case. Lowe was unsuccessful in his appeal that “barring consensual sex between an adult stepparent and stepchild was unconstitutional.” The opinion summary (including the direct quotes above) can be viewed at Law Barring Consensual Sex Between Stepfather and Adult Stepdaughter Upheld as Constitutional.

Legal opinion aside, debate around sex with adult children of a relationship (step-children, adoptive children, foster children, or natural children) raises a number of social concerns for me. What is the fabric of marriage made of: law, morals or ethics? Can this fabric be stretched to suit the lustful or conjugal needs of any family member? Was Lowe still in a cohabiting marriage with the stepdaughter’s mother? How long had the relationship been going on for? Was it really consensual or had family dynamics acted to sway the stepdaughters view of acceptable/unacceptable? What was the relationship between mother and daughter? Did the wife know of the affair between her husband and daughter or was it hidden and illicit? What is the social/religious/legal history of Ohio in relation to sex crimes?

My views on incest and child sexual abuse are very clear. Similarly, rape in marriage is a crime where I live and I fully support the abhorrence of rape in any relationship. Opportunistic prostitution (the exchange of sex for a concrete commodity – roof over your head, hot meal or shower, etc) is a recognised youth sub culture and funding is pored into services to provide young people with alternatives to opportunistic prostitution.

Despite my clear beliefs, I still find myself seeking more information to fill in the gaps behind Lowe’s case – how consensual is consensual and how did the relationship occur? Curious, I sought comment from the man I am about to marry. He also was unable to answer immediately: is it acceptable to enter into a consensual sexual relationship with an adult stepchild? He required time to think through the issues rather than knee jerk an emotive response. Neither of us can conceive of ever having sex with our adult stepchildren or entering into sexual relationships with any extended family member. In our view (albeit without all of the social answers to my above queries), it is incest.

Lowe has broken the law and is being punished. I am interested in your opinion. Do you think it is okay to have consensual sex with an adult step-child? Why/why not?

Photo by Megan: Step father and adult step daughter on her wedding day.

8 Response to "Consensual Sex with an Adult Step-Child: Acceptable or Not?"

Aerik said...

I think it's perfectly fine.

I actually submitted an article about the situation you're blogging about to and . I did the headline Fark style by following up a succinct title with a tacked on quip: "Next up, gunowners, bodybuilders, and the wealthy barred from having sex with anyone, on grounds of an inherit power imbalance." Because the "power imbalance" was the term used in the article, and presumably, the court.

Heck, I think adult natural incest is fine. Hot, even. I fully support the German brother/sister in the news right now.

Marcella Chester said...

Megan, in this case this charge was part of a plea deal after the man was accused of raping his stepdaughter while she was either asleep or passed out.

Many times these sorts of laws kick in either as part of a plea deal or when it can't be proven that the victim didn't freely consent.

I don't think it should be open season on stepchildren or immediate family members from the day they turn 18. In the US at least, this would happen while the stepchild was still in high school.

Megan Bayliss said...

Aerik and Marcella, thanks for your opinions and comment.

Aerik I don't share your view but many different views make up informed decision making and I appreciate your bravery on saying what you have on a site that clearly works against all forms of abuse.

Marcella I figured there must have been some plea bargaining in this one. Thanks for clarifying. It's interesting that people often form decisions often only on what is presented to them rather than finding out a bit more about the dynamics at play.

Vickie Farquhar said...

Hi Megan,
It's interesting to see the opposing views on this subject. Thank you for posting it.

Paul Lowe was a Deputy Sheriff - a position that behoves him to uphold the law. He failed abysmally. It seems that the Law applied to everyone but him. He's a very lucky 'man' to have escaped the rape charge.

Like you, I have adult children. Their step-father is younger than they are. In fact we have granddaughters who are over the age of consent. I've discussed the subject with him and we consider it only legally acceptable when the parent/step-parent are divorced. Then there are no legal reasons why such a union should not be OK.

Even then it's more than a little questionable in my mind, morally speaking.

I guess I believe that once someone takes on parental responsibilities and form bonds with a partner's offspring, then that bond is there for life.

Example: I have a friend in the UK. He has been married 4 times and has a total of nine step-children from these marriages. He is still regarded as 'dad' by all of them. When there's a problem, he's the first person they go to. All of them are adults now, but the parental roll didn't stop with the divorce or their reaching the age of consent. As he says, he's a great parent but a lousy husband...even though he's great friends with his ex-wives.

Laws are there for our protection. Just because we don't happen to agree with them, doesn't give us the right to ignore them.


Megan Bayliss said...

Hi Vickie
thanks for drawing this one to my attention last week. I hadn't heard anything about it.

A cop and an incest perpetrator. Ummmm...they are everywhere.

Your words, "...once someone takes on parental responsibilities and form bonds with a partner's offspring, then that bond is there for life" resonates with me.It is a cultural artifact of many cultures that sexual relations with family (including family through marraige) is taboo.

I am keen to hear what other people think too so keep the discussion alive people.

ERIK said...

Hi Megan,

Having sex is always a difficult matter to discuss; surely in such occasions.
In my opinion it is not acceptable; if such thing happen then there is something not ok with the relationship between him and the mother of that adult child. In fact he is the stephfather of her and he need to act like that


Megan Bayliss said...

Hi Erik
I agree. A step father needs to act like a step father, not a lover. The fact that this case was a plea bargain down from rape means, in my thinking, that this man was never a step father nor does he deserve to ever hold the special position of step father again.

My heart goes out to the step daugther and her mother. My passion goes out to the perpetrators: Their game is over. People will talk, people will tell and they will go to jail.

immy said...

I have an adult(27) stepdaughter living w/ me for another 6 months or so. Her mother and I divorced some years ago. While I will confess to admiring her as a young woman both for her looks as well as her personality, I could never live with myself if I were to touch her. People need to have boundaries and have the moral strength to not cross them. I can't stop some of the thoughts I have...but I can certainly not act on them!

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