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Student-faculty sexual relationships: An empirical test of two explanatory models


Media reports, stereotypes in popular literature, and a limited number of research studies describe student-faculty sexual relationships as either an exchange of sex for grades (initiated either by a lascivious professor or a self-serving student) and/or as the result of the psychological process of transference. Results from in-depth interviews with 11 students and 14 faculty members who had had student-teacher sexual affairs show only minimal support for either the exchange or transference models. We present two case histories that are typical of the student-faculty sexual liaisons we studied; they illustrate that these relationships are in many ways like other sexual relationships insofar as they are based on mutual attraction, as well as sex-related, power-discrepant roles. Student-faculty relationships are problematic (i.e., unethical) not so much because of the power discrepancy between a (usually male) professor and a (usually female) student, but because there is a confounding of public and private roles. This study contributes to this largely unresearched subject area in that it seriously questions the validity of negative sex stereotypes explicit in the exchange model and examines student-faculty relationships in sociological terms.

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The authors wish to acknowlege the editorial assistance and critical reading of this manuscript by Barbara L. Ellington and Mary Axe.

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Skeen, R., Nielsen, J.M. Student-faculty sexual relationships: An empirical test of two explanatory models. Qual Sociol 6, 99–117 (1983).

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  • Faculty Member
  • Transference Model
  • Sexual Relationship
  • Cross Cultural Psychology
  • Explanatory Model