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The risks of professor-student hook-ups Plus: How to juggle IRL and online relationships.

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Q I'm a 40-something gay male professor at a small college. I try hard not to get attracted to students, and usually succeed. But it's tough to resist when you're surrounded by hot, smart, horny young guys in a rural area. Over the years, I've ended up having sex with several students. None of them were students I was currently teaching or likely to teach, and two had graduated. I'm not actually violating college policy, which only bans faculty from getting involved with students they're currently teaching. I haven't ever done anything on campus or made the first move. I've usually mustered the willpower to ignore advances. When I've ended up letting my cock do the thinking, I've treated my younger partners with kindness and respect and observed your campsite rule. All of these younger guys solemnly swore to keep our extracurricular activities secret, but still, word might leak out, and I don't want to become known on campus as one of "those" professors. Most important, I don't want my queer male students—many of whom look to me for mentorship—to think I'm grooming them for sex after I'm no longer teaching them, and I don't want my female and straight male students to feel like second-class citizens. On the other hand, I'm a sex-positive person who believes that happy, consensual banging has its own intrinsic value. I tend to be attracted to younger guys, and I think part of the attraction is that they're less jaded about sex and more excited. Fucking them feels less transactional than the typical hi-bang-jizz-wipe-bye Grindr hookup that seems to be the norm with gay guys in their 30s and older. I'm struggling with how I should feel. Obviously the behaviour is risky for me. But is it immoral? Above all, what should I do when future opportunities present themselves? —Professor Horn-Dog

A Can we please not describe one adult subtly telegraphing their attraction to another adult as grooming? That term refers to adult sexual predators insinuating themselves into the lives of minors, slowly gaining their trust and the trust of their family members, so they can abuse them sexually. It means something very specific, PHD, and we shouldn't confuse or cheapen its meaning by applying it to your behaviour—which, while not criminal or immoral, is incredibly stupid.

Yes, these relationships are permissible, in the sense that the school where you teach permits them. Those young men were all consenting adults, and you're honouring the campsite rule (leave them in better shape than you found them). But this is an advice column, PHD, and you're asking me what's advisable. And what you're doing is inadvisable for all the reasons you cite: the risk of hot gay male students misinterpreting your interest in them as sexual, your straight students feeling like they may not be getting the full benefit of your attention and your mediocre and not hot gay male students—sorry, your mediocre and not conventionally attractive gay male students—interpreting their failing grades as sexual rejection.

What you're doing is incredibly reckless at this particular moment on any American college campus. Power and consent are minefields that students, professors and administrators are tiptoeing through, PHD, but you're humping your way across them. Becoming known on campus as one of "those" professors—because you are one of those professors—could wind up being the least of your problems. What if your college revises its rules while you're balls-deep in a student? What if you have a falling-out with a student you banged and he files a complaint? What if you want to move to a different school that has different rules and your reputation proceeds and disqualifies you?

Finally, PHD, it's fine to be attracted to younger guys. But if all your experiences with guys in their 30s have been dispiriting and transactional, well, it sounds like you were the common denominator in a lot of meh sexual encounters. If every guy over 30 that you've been with has been underwhelming, well, it's possible they were picking up on your lack of enthusiasm/attraction and reflecting that back at you.


Q I'm a 33-year-old woman in a nine-year LTR with another woman. Our relationship hasn't been great in the intimacy department for a long time. We've talked it to death, with no real significant change. I started talking to a woman online a few states over who is married and in a similar situation with her husband. Things are great between us, but neither of us envisions a future where we would leave our partner. My partner is chronically ill and I support her financially, and my online GF and her husband have young children. I'm wondering if you know anything about sustainability in a relationship with someone online. I'll admit that sometimes it's torture to not be able to be with her in real life. But then there's the question of our significant others. Is it okay to keep this secret if things are good otherwise? —Making It Last Forever

A Your significant others aren't questions, MILF, they're people—and you don't intend to leave your person, and your online girlfriend doesn't intend to leave hers. So if you want to spare your chronically ill partner the anxiety that you might leave her for this other person, then you'll keep the online GF a secret. But you need to ask yourself if this online relationship/emotional affair is making you a better, more contented, and more emotionally available partner to your IRL partner. If it's making you a better partner to the person you're technically/physically with, then great. But if it's a distraction that's causing you to neglect or resent your IRL partner, MILF, then you'll have to end it. If it's harming your IRL relationship and you don't end it, then you're engaging in shitty, dishonest, slo-mo sabotage.

As for the sustainability of online relationships, there are people out there who've maintained online connections for as long as people have been able to get online. Sometimes online relationships run their course and come to an end, just like offline relationships and sometimes the online platforms they began on. But offline or on, MILF, there are always challenges and never guarantees.

ONLINE BIO NOTE
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Have a question about sex, sexuality or relationships? Email it to Dan Savage, it could get answered in the column some week soon.

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