Letter: Benefits of reducing age of gay consent

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Sir: The body that represents psychologists in this country (the British Psychological Society) has announced that it is to join the growing list of professional organisations which believe that the criminalisation of young gay men is unjustified. Having reviewed the research in this area, we feel it is important to state that there is no contemporary psychological evidence to support the differential in the age of consent. Legal parity at 16 would appear to offer some positive psychological benefits, however.

Research suggests that the removal of legal stigmatisation is likely to reduce the levels of psychological distress and low self-esteem suffered by many young gay men and would assist in the development of a positive identity. This in turn would help reduce the appalling levels of suicide and attempted suicide within this population in accordance with the Government's recently stated objectives (Health of the Nation, 1993).

Such action would also help to prevent the spread of HIV among young gay men by permitting access to health education material free from the threat of legal action.

Yours faithfully,

MARC BURKE (lecturer, Department of Human Sciences Psychology, Brunel University), PAUL HITCHINGS (counselling psychologist, Roehampton Institute), SUE GARDNER (consultant clinical psychologist, Upton Hospital), JAN BURNS (lecturer, Division of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Leeds University), ADRIAN COYLE (lecturer, Department of Psychology, Surrey University), JANE USSHER (lecturer, Department of Psychology, University College London), Celia Kitzinger (lecturer, Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University), SUE WILKINSON (senior lecturer, Institute of Nursing Studies, Hull University), RACHAEL PERKINS (consultant clinical psychologist, Springfield University Hospital)

Uxbridge, Middlesex