Jesse Bering is that weird evolutionary psychologist who writes for SciAm and who I’ve criticized before. It seems he doesn’t like me at all (boy, does he hate me—it’s extremely personal for him), and I’ll be charitable and assume his personal antipathy has clouded his judgment, because he’s really gone on a frothing tear on facebook and made a few strange accusations. Apparently, I have a choice: I can be sexually attracted to my students, or I’m sick and need to see a doctor. And then he and his friends proceed to carry out a remote dissection of my psychological problems. On facebook. By a bunch of people who’ve never even met me. How…unprofessional.
I was sent a copy of the thread; if you’d like to read bizarre internet drama completely disconnected from reality, you’ll find it below the fold.
This is especially strange since Bering is also a college professor, and he’s also a gay man. He should be entirely comfortable with the idea that a) professional relationships carry a body of responsibilities that should rather effectively put the libido in tight rein, and b) different people have different arousal responses to different stimuli. They chat about hooking me up to a plethysmograph (not going to happen; the only reasons they have for such an activity seem to be prurience and fault-finding), but I can already tell them all they would learn from such a recording: I’m a fairly normal heterosexual male. People send me porn all the time. It’s mostly gay porn — these are typically weirdly obsessed conservatives who think they’re hurting me, or something — but also straight porn, and I can tell you how I react. To the gay porn, I may briefly admire the well-sculpted bodies and large penises before hitting the delete key; to the straight porn, I linger a little longer over the well-sculpted bodies and large breasts before hitting the delete key.
But the thing is, I don’t walk into a classroom full of young, healthy, attractive students and see a collection of two-dimensional porn images; I see a group of people with whom I have a web of trust and obligations. That’s my first concern, and try as I might, I can’t reduce them to pin-ups.
I’ve been tested, too. I’ve had one experience in my career where a young woman came into my office, unhappy with her grade, and directly offered me sex (and when that didn’t work, threatened to claim to have sex with me anyway) in return for an A. I can tell you exactly what I felt, and it wasn’t the slightest bit of arousal: it was panic. This was a threat to my career and my family, and my response was to leave the room immediately, ask a nearby graduate student to look in on the young woman, and go straight to my department chair to explain the situation and get it documented. Perhaps Dr Bering would understand as a psychologist if he grasped the idea that sex with a student is associated with strong aversive conditioning in most professors’ minds. It’s a threat, not a treat.
Here’s another way to think about it that might appeal to a psychology professor: I’ve got a very kinky paraphilia. I’m not interested in sex except with mature, intelligent women with whom I have a deep personal relationship and who have a mutual sexual interest in me. There are plenty of mature, intelligent women in the student body, but they don’t usually meet the second criterion, and that last kink…man, that one is a killer. It kind of disqualifies just about everyone on the planet.