Fear of being seen as a child abuser or pervert may be deterring men from applying to train as primary teachers.
Male trainee teachers are now concerned that their actions will be misconstrued, according to a researcher at Hertfordshire University. Dr Mary Thornton, who studies male teacher recruitment, says that physical contact with young children is now a key concern for BEd students.
In a paper to be presented to the British Educational Research Association conference in Belfast later today Dr Thornton says they feel they have no guidance on physical contact.
"Should they cuddle a distressed child, should they escort children to the toilets, should they ever be alone with children?" she asks.
"Some schools have clear policies, others do not, and it is largely up to these male students to find out for themselves."
One first-year said he was "afraid of being called a dirty old man" for wanting to work with young children.
The horrific series of sex abuse scandals in recent years has made many men afraid of close physical contact with young children. This week a teacher was jailed for 16 years after sexually abusing boys at a West Sussex boarding school, and it emerged that police believe there are 622 paedophiles living in Bournemouth alone.
In an earlier study Dr Thornton found nearly two-thirds of male BEd students at Hertfordshire University were either dropping out, failing the course or obtaining third-class degrees.
She now believes that the wastage rate can be reduced if more young men have work experience in primary schools before enrolling on a BEd course. "The young students who had undertaken work experience in primary schools were, without exception, the most committed to their chosen career," she says.
"They knew it was hard work, they accepted that short working days and long holidays were a myth and they really enjoyed working with children of this age."
But as Dr Thornton acknowledges - and a new survey of 1,000 sixth-formers' career intentions confirms - most young men are not interested in teaching.
The research, conducted at Queen's University, Belfast, found that only 12 per cent of male students wanted to become teachers, compared to 20 per cent of females. Twice as many males (39 per cent) as females said they had never considered teaching as a career option.
The findings show young men are particularly loath to teach in primary schools. Less than a quarter of the male students (22 per cent) interested in teaching wanted to work in primaries.