Is It Okay to Fetishize Achievement?

Is 'Diplomasexuality' Something to Be Ashamed Of?

When my fiance graduated medical school a few things happened: She got a silly hat, my Jewish grandmother breathed a sigh of relief (we got one!) and I reacted in a way I didn't expect, by making some rather graphic overtures. I make a habit of breathing through my nose, which is why this reflexive fetishization gave me pause. I was attempting to sexualize my partner's achievement even before she got out of the gown, which felt okay as an acknowledgement of her AMA-granted authority, but also like it somehow devalued her hard work by contextualizing it in an aggressively porn-y way.

Like it or not, I take social and professional currency and exchange it at a one-to-one rate for sexual currency. I'm hardly alone. I know plenty of men like this, men I'll refer to as "diplomasexuals." And it turns out we can objectify pretty much anything, even higher education. Consider it a superpower. Consider it a personality flaw. Either way, it strikes me as worth consideration.

Let's get the easy stuff out of the way. I'm attracted to my fiance because I find her attractive. I would find her attractive if she was changing sheets in a HoJo's, but I would not find her as intimidating. And she is a bit intimidating. She's far more self-possessed than I am and she has permission from the state of New York to cut people pretty much whenever she sees fit. The one thing (doctordom) is really a product of the other (self-possession), an outgrowth of who she is. It is, in essence, proof of concept for her personality.

Her M.D. is also a nearly universally accepted sign of success, which is attractive to me for all the wrong reasons. Marrying a doctor is like marrying a model in that there is a piece of paper proving that this woman is, on some level, attractive. Proof negates the need for personal conviction. I don't feel compelled to argue that she's great because Exhibit A is in a leather binder. Snobbery is - if nothing else - a hell of a shortcut.

But marrying a doctor is also very unlike marrying a model. My fiance's diploma offers proof that it's not just a sex thing. Except it doesn't really. It offers a specious argument for the validity of a relationship that could be total crap. Is that respectability sexy? It kind of is. If you're not going to piss your parents off, the next best thing is to make them super happy. "We made it" is almost as good as "Who cares what they think." Almost.

But what’s most interesting about diplomasexuality is the lack of parallelism. Women have been told to marry doctors forever - I know my fiance was - but that advice was practical, asexual, calculating, and fundamentally demeaning. Male doctors are, in popular culture, portrayed as steady earners and bulwarks of masculinity - your basic winners. Female doctors are portrayed as either Meredith Grey-style sex objects or porn archetypes. Presumably I was reacting to this last image - the white-coated woman removing her glasses and throwing away the stethoscope - when my fiance graduated.

But, before filing the whole thing under “O” for objectification, it’s worth noting that there is a good reason female doctors are a pornographic trope: The idea that there is a deep reservoir of sexuality hidden under women’s professional exterior. Add to notion - and the potent idea of gaining access to those waters - the fact that doctors have intimate access to their patients and you’ve got BDSM masquerading as cliched, palatable roleplay. Diplomasexuality is, on some level, about celebrating earned power while recognizing that achievement changes nothing about our fundamental natures.

Most men will never know if the woman in the white coat was attracted to them because the woman in the white coat will be professional. I’ll know because she’ll also be my wife. What’s hot about that? The chance to look past the facade I suppose.

My diplomasexuality doesn't cheapen my fiance's achievement because it can't. Her achievement is her achievement. Tautologies come to the rescue. What it sullies is the clarity of my congratulations. It gives me a stake in her success that has nothing whatsoever to do with her happiness. That said, she is happy and looks great in a white coat. She looks like the real deal, which is good, because that's precisely what she is.