“So you’re telling me this happens a lot here?”
“Oh, yes. I had a maths professor at the Sorbonne who would pick the brightest girl every term to be his pet. They all knew this. They would sit in the front of class and ask for attention. Of course, all would be jealous of the girl who was ultimately chosen.”
“Isn’t that a little fucked up?”
“It is very common here in France.”
As disturbed as I was, the image of this phenomenon incepted itself into my mind in the most insidious way. I’d heard of girls in high school fucking older men and bragging about it. I’d done my fair share of flirting with science teachers in middle school when I first uncovered my sexuality but still found teenage boys nasty. I’d had enough schoolgirl fantasies during second period to make a feature-length porno. Same thing in college: didn’t hear a word my professor said in my Shakespeare seminar, drooled through English classes without learning a thing. I wanted to fuck my sociology GSI with every fiber in my nether regions. I knew I was — how do you say — a “sapiosexual” from an early age, but the power-play of a student-teacher relationship became particularly appealing to me as well.
Are you a sub?”
“I’m like a sub-sub-dom, I guess.”
In her seminal essay, “Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment,” prominent professor and feminist Jane Gallop offers an explanation of the sexual harassment charges brought upon her by two female students. She argues that current conduct codes existing in U.S. universities enforce a policy of silence and restriction that thwart all potentially meaningful sexuality between students and teachers. In attempting to justify her own sexual relationships with students, though, Gallop ignores the ultimately protective function of such policies.
The inherent power dynamics involved with any master-apprentice relationship are such that some erotic advances may only be accepted out of intimidation or fear of negative consequences to grades. People can hardly handle sex with peers, let alone with authority figures, so this impediment to “natural sexuality” is an obvious side effect of larger security measures against sexual harassment. In many ways, Gallop embodies a characteristically French sexuality that is unfortunately and impossibly lost in translation in the United States.
Her notion of the eroticism of education, however, is a fascinating one and is an arguably universal phenomenon. While navigating positions of power and dom-sub dynamics can be tricky, a sexual relationship between consenting adults can be incredibly fruitful when teaching and learning are also involved.
When my professor walked in on the first day of class in all his statuesque glory, wearing a half-buttoned Oxford shirt and chalk-covered slacks, I nearly dropped my pants on the spot. “Love at first sight,” I claimed — I’m that type. Flash forward four months:
“Being with you is a gift,” he said as he stroked the hair that fell down my naked back. I lay on my stomach as we both looked out onto the street at the unfortunate passers-by who weren’t lovers like us. “You’re perfect.”
I knew it was in the cards for me when our knees touched during office hours. I asked him about Hegel, he got up to close the door — not all the way, but ajar. “Go on.” He walked me home after our second meeting. By the third, I was dreaming about him. I’d come to class far past Berkeley time, visibly sulking, “Sorry.” He’d send emails, “I appreciate how your mind works.” I’d reply, “I need to see you outside of class.” Never once did I feel sexual pressure on his part; every one of our intimate encounters, I initiated.
I’d had one too many glasses of wine the night I fell into his lap. He drove me home, we kissed on my sofa, went back to his later on. I never expected that a one-night stand with my professor would turn into something so spectacular. “Our bodies were made for each other,” he’d tell me. We could talk for hours and never sleep. We’d talk about love and death and literature, and it was beautiful. Our secret bore so much wrong from the outside but was so perfect from our perspective.
Yes, he was in charge of my grades, but we both knew I’d have gotten an A regardless. What started out as a typical teacher fetish turned into one of the deeper relationships I’ve ever sustained with a person. The age difference didn’t pose a problem for us beyond Twitter and Bruce Springsteen. I found that the power dynamic I was initially attracted to quickly dissolved in favor of a deeper understanding of him; I grew attracted to other things, and we grew connected on a level beyond a student-teacher relationship.
We could discuss the same topics as in class but without the nagging sexual tension that existed previously. “Making love” allowed us to integrate the erotic and the didactic into a single force that hit me like a ton of bricks. “I miss you,” I wrote him when I eventually left the country. It was fleeting, but it might have been love.