In 1977, a petition was addressed to the French parliament calling for the abrogation of several articles of the age of consent law. A number of French intellectuals—including Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Louis Aragon, Roland Barthes, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Félix Guattari, Michel Leiris, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Philippe Sollers, Jacques Rancière, Jean-François Lyotard, Francis Ponge, Bernard Besret and various prominent doctors and psychologists—signed the petition. In 1979 two open letters were published in French newspapers defending individuals arrested under charges of statutory rape, in the context of abolition of age of consent laws.
In 1945, an ordinance was enacted by the French government that established an age of consent in France of 15. However, an article within this ordinance forbade sodomy and similar "sexual relations against nature" with any person under the age of 21. In 1974, this was lowered to 18. This was perceived by activists, including Michel Foucault and Guy Hocquenghem, as antisexual and discriminatory against children and teens.
Michel Foucault argued that children are able to give consent to sexual relations, stating the assumptions “that a child is incapable of explaining what happened and was incapable of giving his consent are two abuses that are intolerable, quite unacceptable.” Foucault, Sartre, and newspapers such as Libération and Le Monde each defended the idea of sexual relationships between children and adults.
Michel Foucault stated that the petition was signed by himself, by the novelist/gay activist Guy Hocquenghem, the actor/play-writer/jurist Jean Danet, pediatrician and child psychoanalyst Françoise Dolto and also by people belonging to a wide range of political positions.
On April 4, 1978, a conversation detailing the reasons for their pro-abolition positions was broadcast by radio France Culture in the program "Dialogues". The participants, Michel Foucault, Jean Danet and Guy Hocquenghem, had all signed the 1977 petition, along with other intellectuals. They believed that the penal system was replacing the punishment of criminal acts by the creation of the figure of the individual dangerous to society (regardless of any actual crime), and predicted that a "society of dangers" would come. They also argued that the idea of legal consent is a contractual notion and a "trap", saying that "no one makes a contract before making love". The conversation has been published as “Sexual Morality and the Law” and later reprinted as "The Danger of Child Sexuality".
An open letter signed by 69 people, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Roland Barthes, Philippe Sollers, and Louis Aragon was published in Le Monde in 1977, on the eve of the trial of three Frenchmen (Bernard Dejager, Jean-Claude Gallien, and Jean Burckardt) all accused of having sex with 13- and 14-year-old girls and boys. Two of them had then been in temporary custody since 1973 and the letter referred to this fact as scandalous. The letter claimed there was a disproportion between the qualification of their acts as a crime and the nature of the reproached acts, and also a contradiction since adolescents in France were fully responsible for their acts from the age of 13. The text also opined that if 13-year-old girls in France had the right to receive the pill, then they also should be able to consent, arguing for the right of "12- and 13-year-olds" "to have relations with whomever they choose."
A similar letter was published in the paper Libération in 1979, supporting Gérard R., an accused child sex criminal awaiting his trial for eighteen months, signed by 63 persons, stating that Gérard R. lived with young girls aged 6 to 12 and that they were happy with the situation. The letter was later reproduced in the paper L'Express, in the issue of March 7, 2001.
In 1982, the French government removed its clauses regarding sodomy and similar acts "against nature" from the 1945 ordinance.
Under this interpretation of liberté, young children were empowered to find happiness in sexual relationships; their ability to consent was a foregone conclusion. Any effort to suggest otherwise would be a condescension, a disrespect to them as fully realized human beings. In a radio interview in 1978, Michel Foucault said of sex with minors that assuming “that a child is incapable of explaining what happened and was incapable of giving his consent are two abuses that are intolerable, quite unacceptable.”
But the publication, last Thursday, of an account by one of his victims, Vanessa Springora, has suddenly fueled an intense debate in France over its historically lax attitude toward sex with minors. It has also shone a particularly harsh light on a period during which some of France’s leading literary figures and newspapers — names as big as Foucault, Sartre, Libération and Le Monde — aggressively promoted the practice as a form of human liberation, or at least defended it.
French law recognises in 12- and 13-year-olds a capacity for discernment that it can judge and punish," said a second petition signed by Sartre and De Beauvoir, along with fellow intellectuals Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida; a leading child psychologist, Françoise Dolto; and writers Philippe Sollers, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Louis Aragon. "But it rejects such a capacity when the child's emotional and sexual life is concerned. It should acknowledge the right of children and adolescents to have relations with whomever they choose.