On Valentine's Day, some male teachers will be the amused or alarmed recipients of cards from lovestruck pupils. But, to put it mildly, it's something of a no-go area for male teachers in secondary schools to acknowledge openly the reverse attraction - the desirability of their nubile female charges. Nonetheless, it would be mistaken to suggest that such desires do not exist, nor that they are inconsequential.
An American study* proves that daily exposure to so many attractive young women is bad news for the marriages and sex lives of secondary and university male teachers. Entitled Teaching May Be Hazardous For Your Marriage, the study compared the number of divorces in large samples of kindergarten and primary male teachers with those of secondary and university teachers.
Those teaching teenagers had significantly higher rates and the researchers argued this was because the men were suffering a "contrast effect" between what their sexy young pupils looked like and their wives.
And after getting divorced, these male teachers were less likely to find a new partner. The reason seemed to be that, because they had such "high"
standards of desirability in potential mates, they could no longer settle for women of their own age.
Of course, the vast majority of male teachers do not act on these desires and, in many cases, they have reached a level of maturity where they no longer find them troubling. Indeed, on the whole, "contrast effects" have a more damaging effect on women than men.
A host of studies shows that being exposed constantly to beautiful women on TV, in advertisements and magazines depresses women. But it also affects men. In experiments, after exposure to pictures of beautiful rather than average-looking women, men report more dissatisfaction with their current partner's looks and less love for them.
Having spent most of 2004 travelling the world, I was struck by how much this is mainly a problem in English-speaking nations. In Denmark, they have a much less nubility-focused culture. The mothers truly are not interested in trying to look like their teenage daughters. Cosmetic surgery to make their faces, bottoms and breasts like theirs, and creams to make their skin as soft, are just regarded as pathetic.
Sadly, over here, we are so infected by American culture that we assume it is only natural for men to desire teenagers, regardless of how dull, ill-informed or inappropriate they may be as a companion for a middle-aged man.
American evolutionary psychologists have gone to great lengths to persuade us that this is a genetic tendency, but when scientists look more closely at the international data, it turns out that cultural differences are crucial.
would seem that the men there are not looking for "babes", any more than the women are attracted to alpha males with a Maserati Dr Oliver James is a child psychologist and the author of Affluenza - How to be Successful and Stay Sane. The updated second edition of his book They F*** You Up - How to Survive Family Life has just been published
* The study is by Satoshi in Evolution and Human Behaviour, 2000, 21, 185-90