A high school English teacher has been outed as a romance novelist, leading parents to question whether she’s fit to teach their children. The teacher writes under a pen name, and had not received complaints about the appropriateness of her teaching before someone recognized her from her writing publicity photos.
This raises the question: is it appropriate for an educator to also be involved in a profession that involves thinking and writing about sex? One parent complained: “Now my son knows so how is he thinking when he’s sitting in her class knowing what she does on the side.” This isn’t the first situation of its kind: in an earlier MSP post on sex work and academia, I discussed standards of appropriateness specific to the educational workplace. It seems like there are no easy answers, however: parents are often protective of their children, which can unfortunately curtail the personal liberties of educators who might choose anything other than a standard sex life.
I believe that it is unrealistic to expect educators to act like asexual beings. For one thing, most people are sexual at some point in their lives, and it’s senseless to put constraints on their sexuality. Who is to be the judge of whether it’s appropriate for an educator to mention that they’re getting married or having kids (implying that sex can/has/will take place)? How much detail is allowed when discussing aspects of human life that are sexual and social and utterly important to the people whose lives are at stake? For another thing, it’s impossible to prove that educators who engage with sex–either as sex workers or by writing erotica–are any worse at their jobs than educators who don’t do anything of the sort. Finally, it’s absurd to think that students are traumatized or distracted by knowing something about their educators’ engagement with sexuality. Are children traumatized by knowing that their parents had sex to conceive them? Do we think so little of kids that we assume they freak out every time someone implies that someone once had or thought about sex?
Placing unrealistic constraints on what educators are allowed to write or do or think about not only impinges on the human rights of educators, but also infantilizes children by implying that they are unable to interact with sexuality at all. If an educator is good at educating, and does not inappropriately bring sexual materials into the classroom, why would writing erotica on the side matter?
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