I am EXTREMELY attracted to my professors/TAs. Help?
January 27, 2016 1:06 AM   Subscribe

I've been in school (grad school!!) for two years, and I want to sex every single one of my male professors/TAs, with very few exceptions. How can I turn this infernal brain thing off?!?!

I'm a female student in a rather male-dominated field, earning a graduate degree. I have a "type." That type is scrawny, knobby-kneed, shy nerds who are very very smart and unselfconscious enough to enjoy public speaking. Unfortunately, that means that ~90% (I calculated!) of my professors and TAs are like the finest catnip to my senses. I don't know how to explain this-- it's not a fetish, exactly, and it's not like this is the ONLY type of guy I'm attracted to (not even close), but it's probably the first "type" of guy I was ever physically attracted to and something about that particular cocktail of personality traits is utterly charming and seductive to me.

I know there are a lot of questions on AskMe about this phenomenon, but I have a few additional wrenches to throw in:

1) It's not like I'm attracted to one of my professors/TAs, it's more like... it's the rule, rather than the exception.
2) Notably, I actually have slept with a professor in the past. Not my professor, but a professor I knew socially who was a bit older than me but fit this exact physical type. It was very intoxicating.
3) It's gotten to the point where since I've been in the same educational system for so long (got a combined B.S./Masters and now working on the PhD, at the same school), that last semester one of my TAs was actually a guy I flirted with and made out with at a party back when he was a freshman. Augh! (I don't think he recognized me, as I look quite different... )

The problem with this is that 1) it's actually very distracting to have a powerful & extreme crush on at least one new guy every semester, especially in a challenging degree program, I fantasize about them all the time, even during lecture and office hours and 2) I'm in a long-term, committed relationship now, with someone who is very much not this type. Thinking back, in high school I had quite a few crushes on boys like this, but I actually dated a guy in HS who, again, was not at all like this. I don't know why I seem to never actually date this type of guy, despite my burning desire for them? I think because usually I am the pursued, not the pursuer, in my romantic relationships. But in HS, my boyfriend was actually very chill with hearing about my attraction to these types of guys and seemed to kind of enjoy it.

Now, with my current BF, this is very much not the case, and I feel very sexually overwhelmed often. I know this is par for the course, everyone goes through this in a long-term relationship. But wow, I'm in my mid-20s and I just want to hit itttttt. I tend to attract this kind of guy as a friend, as well (not all guys I'm super attracted to, just nerdy types), and I know for a plain fact that some of them would sleep with me if I were single, and I feel like I'm a hungry lion at a damn zoo.

I don't know if this is a fetish or just normal sexual attraction, but howwww do you deal with this kind of thing? Especially with a boyfriend who categorically does not want to hear about my crushes, which I 100% understand, as I don't want to hear about his either. (Also, for the record, I was very attracted to my boyfriend when we first started dating. Things now are not as hot and heavy as they were back then, naturally. So it's not as easy to get it out of my system anymore.) I don't know if my sexual voraciousness is a sign of discontentment or if it just means I'm a normal young woman who has been monogamous throughout most of her adult life.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

I'm going to preface that this may be the worst advice ever, but my way of shutting down that, "I wanna hit that," unreasonable thought is I force myself to take that dreamy pedestal thinking and turn him into the most disgusting guy ever (in my mind).

So I'm looking at Mr. Swell and I imagine him sitting on his couch for the 3rd day in a row playing video games, eating out of thrown pizza boxes, in his filthy sweatpants. He hasn't showered or brushed his teeth in days and he keeps farting. In my imagination I may have him pick at his ear and eat what he finds. And oh, he stinks.

That usually does the trick for me. Next time I look at him I'll remember the ear picking and laugh. Crush over.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:11 AM on January 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

You're fetishizing and objectifying these men. It's not just normal sexual attraction though we are generally encouraged to objectify one another. The way you keep yourself from objectifying people is by viewing them as people rather than a collection of sex objects to get off on.

I realize you are attracted to these men. You can be attracted to someone without sexualizing them. You can find someone attractive without needing to hit it. A lot of this is down to how you perceive these guys and let yourself think about them. Have you ever heard a man complaining about how he can't work with women because they're too sexually distracting? And how outrageous it is because that only happens when women are viewed as sex objects first and foremost? And if they saw the women as people instead of sex it wouldn't happen and they need to recalibrate how they view women and people? This is the same thing.
posted by Polychrome at 3:41 AM on January 27, 2016 [10 favorites]

I am just now coming through the wringer in a very similar situation. Mostly male team, some of them very attractive and well-spoken. Rrrrawr.

I think anxiety is the main feeder for these obsessions for me, because a couple of years ago, it wasn't as much of a problem for me. The higher the fear, the more I'm going to turn to an obsession with a guy for relief. When the fear comes down, I don't think about the guy as much or at all. Is anything stressing you out?

I also wonder about the staying power of your LTR ... how much is it REALLY working for you ... but do be advised that people in good LTR go through these things. So the frequency and intensity of the obsessions don't necessarily correlate one way or the other with your satisfaction with your LTR.

A friend of mine advised me to make myself obsess even when I don't feel like it as a way of diminishing the "forbidden-fruit" aspect of it. Haven't been able to do that yet but throwing it out there in case it might help someone else.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 3:45 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also ... moralizing on yourself about this is going to throw gasoline on the fire IME.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 3:50 AM on January 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

This is easier said than done perhaps, but here goes.
What you're describing is a more extreme case of a really common thing in academia. I think your issue is on the far end of a spectrum but it's a common spectrum.
So the way to deal with it more towards the center of the spectrum might still work for you.
Your attraction to these guys is actually a resource you can use for your own academic joy and success. Not by sleeping with them. But by trying not to suppress it -- instead tapping into it as a kind of energy, a kind of general eros, that will charge your encounters with them and make you work harder and try to impress them and put a passion into whatever you're learning from them. Into wanting them to notice you. Let yourself bask when you've tapped into it and they give you a (non expliclty sexual) buzz of attention for being intellectually energetic and alive, and having an encounter that is explicitly intellectual but fueled by a subtext of erotic energy. It's Ok.
Look, academia is just people and it's filled with attraction like with any group of people trying to impress each other over something they're passionate about. You can't cut it out of you like an infection. You can't erase it. Instead try to tap into the energy and transform it. Have fun and let yourself feel the buzz -- just don't sleep with them.
posted by flourpot at 3:57 AM on January 27, 2016 [7 favorites]

I don't think that it's simply that these guys are your type. After all, you're presumably surrounded by men (in your department and the university more generally) who more or less fit the description without being off-limits as your instructors.
posted by hoyland at 4:01 AM on January 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

Some of it could also be age/ hormones. When I was 22-24, I was desperately horny ALL THE TIME. I had sex with my husband more than once a day and it was totally inadequate. It only stopped because it led to an unplanned pregnancy which left me puking for nine months and then not sleeping for the next 15 years (so far), and I don't recommend that method!

But if you want to experiment with tamping things down, you could try birth control pills. I'm convinced that part of their effectiveness is in reducing interest in sex. (Not true for everyone of course, but maybe for you.)
posted by metasarah at 4:05 AM on January 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

The next time you get this serious crush pang, see if you can catch it in mid-air and examine it and follow it back to the source.

It is probably saying something like "if I could sleep with this person it would be so amazing!". What's driving that, if you poke at it? Ask why it would be amazing, and what it would give you? And then ask, what do you not have already that this would give you? Is there a lack that you are trying to fill? Why does it feel so powerful?

In my own case, growing up I internalized some messaging that one's validity is a person is determined by who they sleep with. When I feel small and powerless or uncertain about my life I tend to crush on a certain type of attractive person who I think can somehow validate me - as if they can give me something that makes me whole. When I am feeling okay about myself the crushes go away. It took me many years to finally sort out this pattern, though.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:14 AM on January 27, 2016 [7 favorites]

As several people have suggested, I bet this is nothing to do with hormones or 'your type' and everything to do with validation; in particular, the irritating, unhealthy validation women need i.e. heterosexual approval. This is doubly unhealthy in an academic setting where it can overlay onto, or even supercede, the need for intellectual validation - it's not enough to get an A in the class, you have to get an A and have the Intellectual Man In Charge want to fuck you as well, because, as we're all repeatedly told, that is the fundamental index of a woman's worth, not her grades.

I would suggest
1. Having a brutally honest look at the state of your LTR. These crushes can happen for entirely other reasons, but it's worth making sure that the relationship you do have is supportive and working for you (both of you!)

2. doing what PercussivePaul suggests, above. Catch the crush in mid-air, examine it. What's actually going on here? This isn't about uncontrollable desires and 'my type', otherwise you'd also be constantly distracted watching tv, walking down the street, etc. This is about power or validation or insecurities or self-esteem issues or... You may need professional help to work that one out.

3. Find a, preferably quite right-on, feminist organisation on campus. Thinking hard about the patriarchal nature of your need for male sexual validation, about the nature of the objectifying gaze (and the way you're actually applying it to yourself in this situation), the imbalance of sexual power, etc, can help to rationalise and get over some of these unhealthy impulses.

I know that asking 'how do I get over a crush' will result in the usual advice to ignore it/imagine the crush in some disgusting position/whatever, but I sincerely doubt those will be long term solutions unless you address the underlying force driving your emotions here.
posted by AFII at 4:25 AM on January 27, 2016 [30 favorites]

1. Having a brutally honest look at the state of your LTR. These crushes can happen for entirely other reasons, but it's worth making sure that the relationship you do have is supportive and working for you (both of you!)

This. The intensity of what you describe makes me think that this is more about your relationship than about the crushes. Having crushes is normal, and having crushes on your TAs is common though not universal, but having it trouble your life like this is not what should be happening.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:12 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

AFII is spot on.

Academic culture somehow creates this need for women to be not only be appreciated for their intellectual prowess, but also "wanted" for their hotness. It is insidious and no one talks about it but it is there.

I think you want the men you describe BECAUSE they are in power positions, and please talk to a good therapist about this. I sometimes wonder if I got my Ph.D. because my adviser wanted to fuck me. That was 20 years ago, he was 40 years older than I was, but he made it obvious he wanted me and I STILL question my doctorate degree to this day. It is eroding to one's self-esteem and I envy the women whom the male professors did NOT want to fuck because I know they earned their degree. It is damaging, but as AFII says, it is something about academic culture. I'm not smart enough to put my finger on how that is different from other power imbalances in corporate culture, but it is, indeed, different.

Please find a good therapist and talk this through. I wish I had. Listen to AFII's advice so that you can value yourself for the right reasons. You already have a leg up by noticing this behavior and being self-aware. Use that self-awareness to further develop. That will change the crush behavior.

My best to you, and I KNOW what you are going through.
posted by Punctual at 5:32 AM on January 27, 2016 [10 favorites]

One thing that might fall into "imagine the crush being disgusting" territory but is I think a bit more systemic:

Focus on the fact that any professor who is a decent guy is going to be made very uncomfortable by your crush if it becomes apparent by word or deed. We have a cultural narrative which says "a younger woman sexually interested in an older man in a position of power is sooooo hottttt, and any guy would enjoy that", and we certainly have creepy predatory men in positions of power, but I have had many conversations with male academics about how disturbing and anxiety-provoking student crushes were. I know someone who still occasionally talks about how, when he was briefly teaching in the late sixties, a young woman student came on to him, and how off-put and dismayed he was because it was so inappropriate.

For every professor who might think "oh wow, a younger woman thinks I'm attractive even though I'm all knobbly", there are several who are thinking "oh my god, is this going to turn into stalking? Is she going to write inappropriate stuff on my review? How can I make sure that I interact with her fairly in the class and lab? Is this behavior a habit for her that is going to damage her career? Is this coming from a place of trauma for her? Should someone talk to her?"

I am really nthing the therapy, too, because it sounds as though this is actively disruptive to your life. Like, I have had situations where I had a crush and was addled enough by one person that I sometimes lost my concentration, but when I hear that this is happening with many people over a long time, it sounds like something that you should not just write off as being healthily in touch with your sexuality.
posted by Frowner at 5:56 AM on January 27, 2016 [22 favorites]

Have you ever studied the “erotics of pedagogy”? It is a whole area of inquiry that explores exactly what you are experiencing— why students become so attracted to their professors. NOTE: if none of this applies, you can disregard it. But rarely have I known anyone with repeated crushes on instructors who has not found that this applies.

The good news about the erotics of pedagogy: this is thousands of years old. Plato wrote about it. That is how old and how common this is. You didn’t invent it. And he was writing about boys falling in love with their male teachers, so this isn’t purely a patriarchy/women falling for powerful men thing either.

That said, I once had a literature professor who taught a class on the erotics of pedagogy to a class full of graduate students (quite a line to walk!), and her main emphasis was that a lot of this is transference. When you love learning, when you love the rush of figuring out complicated topics, when you love feeling like someone is more interested in your mind than anything about you, when you are writing projects that only get read by one person, when that person speaks to you (and the whole class, but it feels like he is speaking to you) for hours every week about his topic of greatest passion— it actually isn’t that weird that you begin to associate intense feelings of attraction with that person.

But part of the point of the erotics of pedagogy is: it isn’t about the teacher. You are experiencing intimacy of learning/the subject matter/your own scholarship and attaching that to the teacher because it feels weird for us to fall in love with abstract concepts or thought patterns. You don’t actually know these teachers or TAs as real people. You are romanticizing them as stand-ins for the thing you really care about (glorious book learning), because if you knew them for real you would know that they eat mayonnaise soup or you would know that they visit r/theredpill or you would know that they hate cats or you would know that they are big fans of Rand Paul or whatever.

Regarding obsessing over these dudes in class: you know how gross it is when men claim that they have fallen in love with a woman they have never talked to? Try to think of it that way— you haven’t met these guys, not really. You like their awkwardness the way gross dudes like “a nice rack”. You like knobby knees the way gross dudes like leering at the asses of women trying to live their lives and do their jobs.

One last note— what kind of media are you consuming regularly? Whenever I find myself having trouble with crushes or objectifying people around me, I take a look at what I’m consuming. If your media diet is full of romance and yearning and illicit hookups, whether in tv/movies/fanfic, then try changing it up. You might be surprised at how much those forms of media create mental ruts for us.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:07 AM on January 27, 2016 [47 favorites]

OK, so most answers here are of the form "Knock it the f off" and "therapy".

As very different suggestion (and please consider whether this is right for you or whether it will only make it worse), when you get too riled up to focus, have you considered just... relieving the pressure?

Like, instead of spending two hours fantasizing, you say to yourself, "wow, my inner teenage boy is being a real pain in the ass today and I can't focus. I will go do something about that", and then you bang one out* and you come back and now you can focus? This ought to dramatically reduce the total number of hours you spend mooning about your professors. Be clinical about it: hormone surge -> go release some happy neurotransmitters -> do some work.

A possible alternative is to focus on storing up all that erotic energy and taking it home to your boyfriend (assuming he's interested).

Not that those two are mutually exclusive.

*don't do this in a place where you might bother others. it's not their problem.
posted by telepanda at 6:55 AM on January 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

I agree with PercussivePaul, this is probably about self-validation. "I'm hot and smart and young! He's a nerdy smart man who can't say no to sex with me because I'm so hot and smart and young!" It's a power trip. I say this with love- I and many other women have felt the same thing.

One thing I've learned in life is that intelligence isn't everything. An attentive, loving man who is not quite brilliant (but decently smart) is like 1000x better than a brilliant, cold and distant, or very troubled, man. Really. It is better to be good than to be intelligent. Really. I know this seems like crazy sacrilege to the gifted kid with the As and the high test scores all their life- I was that kid, though, and what I'm saying is true. To some extent the fetishization of intelligence is also a problem of youth and immaturity. Intelligence, too, is something we lose with age and which is ultimately negated by death. It, to me, is one of the shallow gods of youth, when we think we are invincible and the human brain is the ultimate power.

We still have to just live. We're still basically just monkeys. Someone has to dig the ditches and do the laundry. Pursuit of ego based on youth, brilliance, and beauty is so much futility and dust in the wind.

Doesn't mean you can't have fun and sleep around a little when you're young. But that should be separate from this psychological need you have. Understand it for what it is and isn't.
posted by quincunx at 7:18 AM on January 27, 2016 [8 favorites]

To echo Frowner, I've recently had a conversation with a male academic who acquired a female stalker while he was a TA-ing graduate student, and it was absolutely not hot or fun for him to be obsessed over by a young woman he barely knew. He was clearly still very disturbed by it years later. People aren't going to be universally flattered by this level of kind of objectifying interest, even male identifying people.

Second, I would really mull over some of the comments above and think about to what extent you're attracted to a type, vs actually just getting off on the roles and the power dynamics involved. If it's the former, easy enough to date outside your program/institution and explore this more (if you don't stick with the LTR). If it's the latter, there are plenty of options for exploring power dynamics and sexuality that don't put your student/future career at risk. If you deconstruct it, you can (safely) explore it.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:23 AM on January 27, 2016

You might appreciate this answer by rumposinc a while ago,
"I am ridiculously happily married and a MOTHER and I actively cultivate this sort of thing. I consider it a minor superpower to crush on rad people in order to make courses, labs, workdays, etc. go by faster with built in thrills. I can control time and my attitude with nothing more than my imagination and my hormones. Without this power, there is no way I could have gotten through grad school at this stage in my life.

The crushes are kind of like exercises to develop parts of yourself you wouldn't have known were there, otherwise. It's how I found out I could be really good at higher level math, or telling jokes, or writing fiction. A crush eliminates your own boundaries to getting to places you would like to go, personally. In other words, it's for you, all for you. It's not for them because they aren't going to know about it, you're not going to ask them out, you're not going to position yourself to give some part of yourself because there is typically a single aspect of that person you have picked up on that is motivating you that you have objectified as a way to help YOU.

There is a saying that you should never give up on something that you can't spend a day without thinking about. Crushes represent some daily thought you should be having that will change you. My crushes tend to ratchet themselves down from giddy and silly to thoughtful and useful once I figure out what it is I am really wanting to think about every day and start to change.

Don't ignore the nutty ways we learn. Adult crushes are one of the more ridiculous ways, but also a crazy, fun, and fast way to get to something better about yourself. Also, all the other advice here* is awesome.

*And certainly I have had secret crushes on various mefites over the years, without having met them or knowing them, but just feeling like they were so fucking smart or funny or cool, somehow, and this has Improved Me as a community member. I could never bring myself to metafilter spouse them, however, because of the blushing. I do admit to occasionally checking if one of them has favorited me. (is it kind of warm in here?)"
I have been a male TA who seemed to generate a lot of student crushes in basically your kind of way, and to echo Frowner, it always made me anxious and uncomfortable when all I was trying to do was be a good teacher. A necessary part of being both a good instructor and not a creepy instructor is realizing that student crushes are, for the most part, much more a function of stuff going on in students' lives and the really hyper-specific kind of teacher charisma that is valuable to cultivate as an instructor (but really does not translate outside of a classroom), and particularly the awesome feeling of learning about something cool with an expert who guides you into the wonder of it than anything related to who I was or even what I looked like. I really beanplated the fuck out of them, and the weirdness they represented, but only really as part of that stupendously easy yet sometimes subtle task of not being a creepy TA - particularly since smitten students of all sorts of genders really really aren't anywhere near as subtle or mysterious as they think they are. It was nothing like navigating the much more treacherous minefield that female TAs regularly had to go through but for me, just starting out with teaching, dealing with it in the classroom really was just that much more deep end to be thrust into all at once.

If you can find a way to harness this habit as a superpower, all the more power to you, but if not - just think about what an awful and not all all sexy position you'd be putting any decent TA in.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:37 AM on January 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm an engineer with an M.Sc. and recall having seriously intense crushes on other newly-met engineers/scientists who I think are absolutely brilliant, particularly in grad school. It's the admiration that's intoxicating. I've slept with many and it was amazing. But I haven't dated any of them long term. Being a smarty-pants myself, after getting to know these guys and the extent of their brilliance, I figure out they're not all-knowing, and the feeling of intense admiration and therefore the crush wears off.

Honestly the whole experience has reduced drastically as I've gotten older... but a big part of that is I've gotten my kicks in, had a lot of experience in dating, and am done with it. I'm happily married to a wonderful man whom I admire and find very sexy. I still get crushes once in a while but they die down fairly quickly, so I just try to enjoy the little thrill and wait for them to subside, they don't worry me.
posted by lizbunny at 7:59 AM on January 27, 2016

I'm on team telepanda with the "Bang one out" approach.

I would add the detail of do not assume that a sex life slump is a normal trajectory for a LTR. It is common but so is breaking up. In my experience, and hundreds of askme accounts, it isn't an awesome thing that leads to long term happiness. IMO You should be happy/thrilled with your sex life at all times.
posted by French Fry at 8:03 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's my alternative theory: the hot professors are a red herring. This is about your LTR. Obsession is often a way to avoid facing something else.

In my overwhelming experience, a frustrating slump in a young couple's sex life - before kids or other significant external factors come to play - almost always signals the beginning of the end. (I'm sure there are some examples to the contrary, but still.) I think this is where the problem lies. In your question, you barely mention it, but it seems your appetites don't match and you are left dissatisfied. And in stead of admitting that unhappy fact to yourself, you develop inappropriate fantasies and then admonish yourself for them.

I think it's time to face the reality in stead of escaping to fantasies about other men. And you know, it's OK for a woman to have a high sex drive, and to leave a relationship where her needs are not met, even if it's satisfactory in every other way.
posted by sively at 9:21 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

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