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The best answer I ever heard to "Is it ok for teachers to have romantic relationships with their students?" comes with a bit of a story:

When I was attending Reed College, my ethics teacher would take one day out of each semester and field ethical puzzlers from the class. You could pose any question you wanted and he'd give you the ethical lowdown from various perspectives.

However, it was well known that he had married several of his students. As far as anyone knew, he'd never had any improper relationships with them while they were attending the college, but the marriages had happened soon after they'd graduated.

So on the day he was answering our ethical dilemmas, of course one wiseacre had to ask him whether it was ethical for a teacher to date his students. The entire class inhaled and the professor looked down at his shoes for a moment, then looked us straight in the eye and said "It depends on the circumstances. However, there is always a power differential between a teacher and a student which inevitably distorts the relationship."

If you see life as a journey in which you learn and teach along the path, then in most relationships with people we find ourselves in the role of either teacher or student. These roles may change within the context of the relationship. One person may be well versed in gourmet cooking while the other struggles with getting microwave dinners properly heated. When it comes to cooking, the first person obviously takes a teaching role. The second person may have expertise in automobile maintenance and repair, while the first cannot find the dipstick under the hood of his Toyota. The student and teacher roles change within the context of what they are attempting to accomplish.

The literal translation of "sex between a teacher and a student" conjures images of an older man or woman working as a teacher in a high school or college seducing and engaging a young pupil in sexual activity. While this produces moral and ethical questions aplenty, it is, in essence symbolic of sex in a more general context.

Some people fixate on sex as a regular need that requires fulfillment in any way possible. This takes the form of sexual activity that is not too different than masturbation. It is a quest for release, for fulfillment on the most base level. It is what may be called "getting laid." This can also be interpreted as sex between a student and a student. Nothing is really being learned or shared, in most cases, and a release of sexual desire and energy is all that is wanted. "Wham, bam, thank you ma'am!"

Because sex between a student and a student is so common in modern society, it becomes a benchmark for sexuality, along with sex between a teacher and a teacher. Two people who have been together a long time in a sexually intimate relationship become teachers. They have learned most of the nuances and desires of the others and are aware of what pleases and arouses their partner. Knowing what to do, which buttons to push, gives them a knowledge about the other that takes their sexual relations with this person to a higher level. However, they may both reach the point where they have nothing left to teach or to learn from each other. While love and passion between them may continue to exist, their awareness of the other puts them both in the role of teacher. To achieve balance in their sexual relationship, they will continue to learn and teach each other, sidestepping stagnation by taking their intimate relations to a higher level, beyond the mere physical. Sex becomes merely a gateway to something more significant. Two teachers are capable of transcending the obvious, physical element together.

Sex between a teacher and a student takes on a different dimension than the previous two examples. A young man or woman with limited sexual experience may seek out a more experienced partner. Perhaps a fumbling experience with others of their age and level of experience guided them to this path.

A person inexperienced with preparing meals or repairing an automobile will seek out a mentor to help them improve and acquire skills. Although a greater effort is made to mask it, so will a person inexperienced with the sexual arts. Because of the stigma associated with learning such things, a person may not even be aware of his or her reasons for seeking a teacher. Yet, is a sexual education really any different from an education involving other desired skills? Someone seeking to work in a trade such as carpentry or masonry may apprentice with someone knowledgeable and experienced in the trade. There are limits to how much one can learn from books, lectures and videos. Some skills require hands-on training.

The often taboo nature of sex puts both the teacher and the student in roles that at first may be uncomfortable. While an apprentice carpenter may be more than willing to admit a lack of knowledge or skill in an area of his craft, the sexual apprentice is less likely to do so as easily. Learned behavior gives us the impression that we should know what we're doing from the start and to admit lack of experience or knowledge becomes an admission of weakness. To not know or understand as much as our partner creates feelings of shame. It can also become a source of defilement of the teacher, especially if the teacher is female and the student is male. "She's obviously a slut, since she knows how to do all this crap."

My first sexual experience was a classic example of a student and a teacher. She was three years older than me and was well versed in most aspects of sexual skills. The distinction between us was so sharp that I lied and deceived her about my own experience. To be male and to be a virgin at twenty facing a woman who was twenty-three and had been sexually active for six years was overwhelming. It took six months before I confessed the truth, although I had managed to fool her, citing partners who were "not very skilled" as the reason for my seeming lack of experience.

In the unfolding of sexual relations between a man and a woman, there are certain expectations that take definite gender oriented lines. A woman has an easier time assuming the student role and and man has an easier time assuming the teacher role. Societal expectations and perceptions generally reinforce the idea that men should have sexual experience and ability and that women should not, or at the least not be obvious about it. A man with a great deal of sexual experience is seen as heroic by his peers. A woman with a great deal of sexual experience is often seen as dirty, easy or slutty. How this progresses in sexual relations between two men or between two women is not something I have enough knowledge of to comment on, but I am fairly certain they have their own teacher and student dynamics. In any dynamic there is a need to break free from outside expectations to discover one's partner, otherwise there is no point to any one on one intimacy.

Because of the stigma and associated issues, sexuality may be the last frontier for human education. What is called "sex education" is generally a mechanical symposium highlighted by how to avoid sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy. While this is valuable and important knowledge, the true nature of a sexual education comes from sex between a teacher and a student.

One day we may be able to accept it for what it is. In all things, we are teacher and student alike. To give is to teach, to receive is to learn and in turn learning becomes its own teaching.

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