Teachers are constantly caught screwing their students. Almost every single day, the news cycle offers another example, and the collective reaction is expected to repeat the same sense of disapproval:

“How awful! An educator took advantage of a vulnerable pupil!” or “How disgusting! What kind of perverted adult is attracted to an underage student?”

But after years of working as a young high school teacher, I saw this situation in a new light. My co-workers and I consistently grappled with sexual attractions to our students. Some of us acted on our urges and others restrained, but we all ultimately faced the facts — teachers are attracted to their students all the time.

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[CBS News compilation of famous teacher sex scandals]

“It’s only natural to find some of your students attractive,” my colleague Jason, another high-school instructor, insists. “These girls are in their biological prime. You can’t help but notice and think about some of them, because that’s the way our brains are hard-wired.”

Jason waited until his students had graduated and he’d left his position at the high school to pursue his favorite female pupils. At that point, Jason was 24, and his students were 18. He began chatting with a few girls over Instagram. He and one former students are now exchanging nude photos.

There are certain circumstances under which student-teacher attractions are most likely to form. Communicating outside of school is a recurring theme.

Some argue that email, text messaging and social media are blurring the professional/private boundaries between teachers and students. In addition, research indicates teachers who spend time with students one-on-one or after school — such as private tutors, coaches, counselors, teachers of drama, art, and music — more often fall into sexual relationships with those students.

Andrea, another former co-worker of mine, was working as a private tutor when she first starting forming flirtatious relationships with students.

“I never actually made a move, but I definitely flirted with a few tutoring students,” she admits. “You’re always going to have more chemistry with some students than with others, and when that student either looks extremely mature for their age, or even more rare, acts mature for their age, a very natural attraction can start to build.”

Jason and Andrea shared similar unprofessional experiences while working as professional educators. But had they been caught, would their inappropriate behavior be similarly punished? Many say there’s a double-standard when men sleep with students versus when women do the same.

When an attractive female teacher has sex with a young, male student, the relationship is fetishized. Lucky male students get out to live out their hot-for-teacher fantasy. The same can’t be said when gender roles are reversed. Male teachers who have sex with their female students are villainized. They’re perverts abusing their power dynamic.

This may explain why when female teachers are sent to jail for student sex offenses, their sentences are, on average, shorter than sentences given to male offenders. However, this fact has some important caveats.

First, although women make up the vast majority of the country’s teachers, studies from the U.S. Department of Education indicate that 80 percent to 96 percent of teachers found guilty of sexual misconduct were male.

Beyond that, when women were caught sleeping with a student, their crimes were often far less atrocious. Summarizing her work with 800 male and 36 female offenders, psychologist Jane Kinder Matthews reported women have far less often used force or violence, tend to use fewer threats in an attempt to keep their victims silent, and are less likely to initially deny the relationship, and more willing to take responsibility for their behavior.

If attraction is inevitable between teachers and students, it's time we acknowledge this hard truth (rather than acting astonished every time another teacher-student sex scandal hits the headlines), and begin to address the issues that are actually within our control.

Perhaps the best solution is to prevent educators from acting on their urges. In the case of my high school instructor colleagues, although they acknowledge a mutual flirtation with their students, they never physically touched a single one.

“I know they were very natural urges, but it was never an option to follow through on them,” Jason says. “The consequences are too dire in our society.”


[Originally published on February 2, 2018]