Parents are panicking about kids being exposed to hot, sexy teachers. News stories about female teachers — inevitably young and attractive — being fired for supposed indiscretions has long been tabloid fodder. In 2013, an Idaho teacher was fired for a Facebook photo in which her fiance was holding her bikini-clad breast. The same year, Florida English teacher Olivia Sprauer was forced to resign after her bosses found out about her swimwear modeling side hustle. Several female teachers have also been fired after nude selfies were released by ex-partners as “revenge porn.” Last month on Long Island, math teacher Lauren Miranda was fired after a picture of her naked torso made it into the hands of a student. Administrators did not look into how the student had even got it.
At the center of all these cases are parents who worry that innocent children will be somehow distracted or tempted into sexual deviancy by their teachers’ bodies. But here’s the truth: Teenagers can make anything sexual regardless of whether it’s “pornographic” or not. Teacher porn isn’t popular because there’s something inherently sexy about chalk. It’s popular because people come of age in classrooms and sexual imprinting is inevitable. Having a kid who is “hot for teacher” might not be ideal, but it’s not the end of the world and blaming the teacher won’t help.
Psychophysiologist and neuroscientist Dr. Nicole Prause, the founder of sexual biotechnology Liberos, was called as an expert in the case of the Pocatello Idaho teacher. She was, to put it lightly, dismissive of the school administration’s hardline stance and bikini pics. “By any scientific standard, this is not widely regarded as pornography,” she says of the photo that led to the teacher’s dismissal. “The school district was saying she was promoting pornography as part of the basis for firing her. She ultimately got her position back.”
But even if images of teachers pole dancing, which some do for exercise, or wearing bikinis, which some do at the beach, are not technically pornographic, parents are still going to worry that a risque picture is indicative of some sort of contagious perversion. Not only is that not true, but it also wouldn’t matter if it were. Any parent frightened that their teen might be objectifying an educator has forgotten what it was like to be a teen.
“Adolescents have sexual interests and sexual motivations,” Prause explains. “They are engaging those sexual motivations even if it’s not with a partner. They are sexual beings.”
According to retrospective studies, sexual behavior begins in pre-pubescence when a kid becomes curious about theirs and others’ bodies. This is the age of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” But aside from curious examination, there is also plenty of prodding and poking. In fact, kids masturbate far earlier than many parents think and long before completion is possible. That’s because the skin around the genitals is sensitive and feels good to the touch. No sexual intent is necessary.
It’s also important to note that long before they might discover a teacher’s steamy Instagram feed, many kids find pornography. That’s not, as many parents might think because they’ve been exposed to it by bad kids or nefarious online villains.
“If you read studies about pornography you’ll read that a child might have been ‘exposed’ at a certain age,” says Prause. “No. They’re looking for it because they are masturbating. They’re doing the same thing the adults are doing. The only exception is that adolescents tend to seek out erotic images for education.”
So they’re seeking out pornography to learn what certain acts look like, or what certain parts of the body look like. The problem isn’t so much that teachers are behaving like pornstars, but that pornstars are becoming — in a very literal sense — teachers.
Are there instances where children may be legitimately enamored with their teachers? Certainly. The fact is that adolescents are pushing boundaries. For some kids, the most exciting boundaries may come in the form of cultural taboos. It’s not that the kids want to cross the line and act on a school-age crush, but there is certain edginess in feeling an attraction towards a powerful adult.
That sexual attraction can occur in both girls and boys, although Prause suggests it’s more likely in boys for several reasons. One is simply that boys have a tendency to be less inhibited by worries of pregnancy, assault or sexually transmitted diseases. Girls, however, are inhibited by these worries much earlier than boys. Another issue? The gender of teachers.
“But we’re definitely dealing with a base rate issue,” Prause explains. “There just aren’t that many male teachers.”
And of course, parents should worry if they suspect their child is engaging with sexual communication with an educator. “I wouldn’t say there’s no reason to be concerned,” Prause says. “If a teacher is sending a 13- or 16-year-old erotic images, they’re propositioning. They are aware. Those are occasions to worry about consent issues.”
How often does this happen? Not very. Though teachers like 24-year-old Kelsie Schmidt from North Dakota who sent a 17-year-old student nude selfies might make national headlines, teacher-student romances are fairly uncommon. Consider Texas which has the highest rates of reported inappropriate teacher-student relationships in the U.S. with 179 incidents over three years. Considering the teacher population of Texas is over 320,000, those incidents represent a scant .06 percent of the teaching population.
And, of course, if a child is being propositioned then parents should speak to authorities. That said, a teacher who took a candid bikini photo is not a reason to panic. Neither is the off chance that a kid does appear to be hot for teacher. Consider it as a good opening for a candid conversation.
“This is on parents,” Prause says. “It is worth checking in and making sure it’s okay. Not in a shameful way. Just to make sure there’s nothing going on. And likely there isn’t anything going on.”