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This article has been reproduced with permission from The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 19, p. Copyright © 1993 Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. Increasing concern about therapist-patient sex has led to a consideration of boundaries in all trust-based relationships, which always include elements of power and dependency.

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Can we experience them comfortably and still maintain appropriate student-teacher boundaries? Is there a necessary limit to the personal, social, or even sexual interaction that may be experienced between student and teacher without compromising one’s professional responsibilities?

Does it make a difference if the professional aspects of the relationship take place in the classroom, a laboratory, a clinical setting, or if they are of an administrative nature?

Schneider16 studied 356 graduate women from a number of disciplines, and found that 9 percent reported coercive dating and sex with members of the faculty.

Of the 13 percent who engaged in consensual dating with members of faculty, 30 percent experienced “pressure to be sexual.” Comments given by respondents in both of these studies reflected a full range of opinion among both former students and faculty members.

What can we do, as individuals, as professions, and as institutions to help ensure that appropriate student-teacher boundaries are maintained?

This paper will explore these questions in light of recent concerns expressed about boundaries between professionals and clients,2-7 sexual harassment in the academic setting,8,9 and recent data suggesting a high frequency of sexual interaction between graduate students and teachers.10-12 In early Greek and Roman times, sexual relationships between youth and their mentors were often considered to be a normal extension of a close male bonding, both in the study of philosophy and in the training of warriors.

There were mixed feelings about this practice, however, and some writings encouraged the practice of “bundling” — the requirement that a cloak separate the mentor and student during periods of repose.

Teacher-student sexual relationships were considered exploitive by many, and this concern may have contributed to the strong feelings about homosexual behavior, even between adults, that persist to this day.13 Since those times, little concern has been expressed about boundary limitations in mentoring relationships, except for a tacit acceptance of the “casting couch” phenomenon that is assumed to persist in widespread fashion, especially when women are dependent upon men for mentoring and advancement14 (p. However, a number of authors have questioned the appropriateness of sexual interaction in teacher-student relationships even when they are consensual.

That apprenticeship process may include travel, social activities, and glimpses into each other’s personal lives.

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