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France is a catholic country and also the home of lingerie, the ménage à trois and all that crap foreigners seem to dig so much. Add to that the fact that weaseling out of the law seems to be our national pastime, and you'll understand why France has a history of strict sex laws and even more history of completely ignoring them.

A good example of this mentality is the drinking age, which is 18. Every café or bar in the French Republic has to display a poster on "The Protection of Minors and the Repression of Public Drunkedness" explaining that they can't serve liquor to minors. However I've never seen anyone even acknowledge its existence, and I've been able to order drinks at French bars since I was 14.

The same thinking pretty much prevailed when it came to sexual age of consent, which was 18 for as long as the French penal code can remember. The idea was that if someone rolled around in the hay with your daughter, you could always settle it with a duel. When those went out of style, you still had the possibility of "restoring her honour" with a good old-fashioned shotgun wedding.

Of course, as history took its course and society became increasingly complex, the shortcomings of this system became obvious, and so did the complexity of the task of writing law. You need a system which can protect minors from abuse, but since society has evolved and teenagers seem to be humping like rabbits all the damn time nowadays, you can't put all the teens in jail, if only because you need those for real criminals.

And the deeper you look, the hairier it gets. The task is basically figuring out at what age all teenagers are mature enough for sex, if that is even something law should decide. In this era, nutrition makes puberty happen earlier and earlier, lolita sexpots are what most girls aspire to be, and early sexual activity is fiercely encouraged by mores and peer pressure. At the same time, longer times spent in college and living with parents, not to mention the average wedding age, show that entry into adulthood is belated more and more, a logical consequence of our increased lifespans. Teens in the late 20th and early 21st centuries are much less innocent than their grandparents were at their age, but paradoxically a lot more immature because they are typically sheltered from hardship and responsibilities. The very idea of adolescence is a novel concept. So when the hell can teens be allowed to consent to sex? "After they're married" has the pro of being a simple answer.

For most of the post-war era, the consensus was to leave the law as it was and let the judges decide how to interpret it for each case. This worked pretty well for over fifty years. The misdemeanor of homosexuality was abrogated in 1982, and had never been really applied. But news media decided that this system would not do, and started talking about teenagers having sex but being tried for statutory rape because one was 19 and the other 17, and also showed 15 year old girls who were having sex with quadragenaries explaining that it was their choice and nobody should interfere. So of course the French legislature realized how bad the law was, since it said so on TV, and changed it accordingly.

The concept of a "sexual majority" being instituted was trumpeted so much that it even made its way to the French Wikipedia, but there is no such thing. All that happened is that the age of consent was lowered to fifteen years for most cases, except for cases of incest or for authority figures, where the age remains 18, although the penalty is less harsh than for sex with someone aged less than 15. The relevant sections of the French penal code follow:

 

BOOK II
CHAPTER VII
SECTION 5
ARTICLE 227-25
(Law #98-468 of June 17, 1998 Article 18 Official Journal of June 19, 1998)
(Ordinance #2000-916 of September 19, 2000 Article 3 Official Journal of September 22, 2000 came into force the January 1, 2002)

The commission without violence, constraint, threat or surprise of a sexual offence by an adult on the person of a minor under fifteen years of age is punished by five years' imprisonment and a fine of €75,000.
ARTICLE 227-26
(Law #94-89 of February 1, 1994 Article 15 Official Journal of February 2, 1994 came into force on March 1, 1994)
(Law #95-116 of February 4, 1995 Article 121 Official Journal of February 5, 1995)
(Law #98-468 of June 17, 1998 Article 13, Article 19 Official Journal of June 18, 1998)
(Ordinance #2000-916 of September 19, 2000 Article 3 Official Journal of September 22, 2000 came into force on January 1, 2002)
(Law #2002-305 of March 4, 2002 Article 13 Official Journal of March 5, 2002)

The offence set out under article 227-25 is punished by ten years’ imprisonment and a fine of €150,000:
    1. when it was committed by a legitimate, natural or adoptive ascendant or by any other person having authority over the victim;
    2. when it was committed by a person abusing the authority conferred by his functions;
    3. when it was committed by several persons acting as perpetrators or accomplices;
    4. when the minor was put in contact with the offender by the use, for the dissemination of messages to an undetermined public, of a communication network.
ARTICLE 227-27
(Ordinance #2000-916 of September 19, 2000 Article 3 Official Journal of September 22, 2000 came into force on January 1, 2002)
Sexual offences committed without violence, constraint, threat or surprise on a minor aged over fifteen and not emancipated by marriage are punished by two years’ imprisonment and a fine of €30,000:
    1. when they are committed by a legitimate, natural or adoptive ascendant or by any other person having authority over the victim;
    2. where they are committed by a person abusing the authority conferred by his functions.

 

Many thanks to BlackPawn, themanwho and isogolem who helped fix my petty mistakes.