"Based on 29 years of practice," Lee added, "I don't think you could be that mature at 17. Mani Pavuluri, director of the Pediatric Brain Research and Intervention Center and professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois Chicago, teenage brains are still in the process of developing until age 19 or 20.
Before that, teens' "ability to consider and use judgment is still maturing," Pavuluri said, adding that peer pressure can further impact the impulsiveness of teenagers' choices.
In 1999, Lynn Philips conducted a well-known study for Planned Parenthood in which she interviewed teenage girls mostly between the ages of 14 to 17 who were involved with men ages 21 to 29.
Philips, a social and developmental psychologist and professor of Communication at the University of Massachusetts, also interviewed adult women who had engaged in similar relationships when they were teens.
According to the NCHS's William Mosher, the average age for first-time sex for women is between 16 and 17.
"They were pretty much disgusted." Philips argued that individual needy girls and exploitative men are not the only factors driving these relationships.
"From music videos, to porn, to Disney, this is all sits within this bigger cultural context of media images and cultural messages that absolutely eroticize and hyper-sexualize teen girls," she said.
While several psychiatrists cautioned against judging relationships like Cox and Catsimatidis' without knowing the specifics and what each partner is bringing to the table psychologically, studies show that there can be long-term emotional repercussions for teen girls who have sex with older men. Ann Meier, a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, studied data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and found that compared to teen girls with a same-aged partner, girls in 7th through 12th grades who had sex with a partner more than one year older had higher levels of subsequent depression and lower levels of self-esteem.
"If they're with a male who has more power and status," because he is older, "this might make it harder for young women to say, 'No I don’t want to have sex,'" Meier said.
The girls stressed the emotional pluses even more, saying that their older partners were more considerate of their feelings and made them feel special.