We’re hung up on tits. Today a woman’s sexuality and attractiveness is defined by them. But pert or pendulous, plastic or product of a generous puberty, the prized possessions that front every woman cause controversy. Men love to ogle them, women love to show them off, infants love to feed from them – so in our current cultural climate, can breasts really be all things to all men, women and babies?
If, like me, you’re a fan of Masters of Sex, you’ll know that some women can climax purely through stimulation of their breasts. To discover the truth in this, Virginia Johnson exposed her pert tits, wired herself up to all manner of monitors and placed a goggle eyed William Masters’ hands upon them. Even then – in the days before the over-exposure of breasts – they were a focal point of human sexuality.
Today, we’re provoked by images of breasts at every turn: lingerie models in shop windows spilling out of fuck-me bras; Sun page-3 ‘stunners’ thrusting their nipples in our faces over morning coffee; women in the office showcasing their racks for all to admire, in tight or low-cut clothes (think Christina Hendricks in Mad Men).
And happily we lap it all up. Well, mostly we do.
However, some are provoked in a different way: those (mainly men) who get really hot under the collar because a woman exposes a breast in public to feed her child. To some extent I can sympathise: one moment he’s covertly fantasising about gifting this MILF a lovely pearl necklace, or swapping places with the lucky baby she is suckling; the next he feels like some dreadful old perve. The fact is, we’ve created a society that’s conflicted about the purpose of breasts, but relentless in its mission to hyper-sexualise them.
Back in the days of Masters and Johnson (despite all the freedoms and positive developments in sexual attitude that have come about since), society had the breast balance right. Then, men could appreciate a breast for all its erotic beauty if they were lucky enough to see or fondle one; moreover they were unlikely to come across nursing mothers unless travelling in the third world, where occasionally they may have been reminded that breasts weren’t simply for their personal titillation. Uncomfortable though it may be for the ‘breast is best’ brigade to admit, some onlookers will always struggle to shift their perception of breasts whenever the situation demands it.
Thankfully, there’s no sign of breasts becoming any less erotic, despite a Page-3 backlash as well as one against the anti-breastfeeding-in-public lobby. Far from it: a campaign by charity called Best Beginnings – which encourages new Mums to give their baby a breast instead of a bottle – has squared right up to the sexual nature of tits. One poster shows a woman breastfeeding in a leopard print bra, another features a baby’s hand on one breast and a man’s on the other, bearing the slogan ‘Bond with your baby & bond with your man’. And underneath – ‘You can give your baby the best start in life and still feel confident your breasts will put a smile on your man’s face.’ You have to give them credit for daring to acknowledge than men love tits too. They boldly go where, in the past, mumsy breastfeeding propaganda has feared to even tiptoe.
If this catches on, we’d better brace ourselves for a bevy of sexy, breastfeeding beauties proudly hauling out their surgically-enhanced hooters everywhere, latching a baby on whilst winking at passing men as they walk into lamp posts. Of course, it’s not really like that. In fact, as a new mum myself I can vouch for the fact that when my tits served breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, supper and a midnight snack to a hungry little boy, their sexual purpose seemed all but gone. Hardcore breastfeeders know that nipples soon start to resemble the well-worn thumb on an old gardeners glove and that they’re sore and desensitised to anything but pain. For the short time that I breastfed, my poor tits lost their amazing ability to bring me to the brink of orgasm. They’re such a big part of the arousal process for me that sex became a huge disappointment. Could this be the reason that less than 2% of babies are exclusively breastfed by the age of 6 months? Have breasts become so integral to our sex lives, that they can’t fulfil their nurturing purpose anymore?
I conducted a survey of my Twitter followers, asking men and women different questions about their attitude towards breasts. Men were 100% unanimous in their admiration for them; women unanimous in their desire to use them to generate sex appeal. 87% of women said their nipples were highly erogenous areas that they enjoyed being stimulated during sex and foreplay. This affected the decision to breastfeed for 15% of women, who said they would avoid it because it seemed just too weird.
It’s true that nipple arousal sits pretty uncomfortably with the idea of a baby sucking on them. It’s a fear for a lot of women, and mine too before I had my baby eight weeks ago. Fortunately my baby sucking my tits didn’t feel like my boyfriend sucking them. At that point I didn’t know if I was relieved or disappointed. It would have been weird to be one of those women who orgasms with her baby’s mouth around her nipple (it happens, you can google it); for me it was far from any sort of orgasmic experience, in fact it was bloody agony. I’ve now switched to formula.
So which is more important? Protecting the rights of an infant to suckle – or protecting the erotic appeal of those fun bags? Ideally, there should be a compromise: a world where we’re still allowed to ogle breasts; where people don’t feel embarrassed or need to look the other way, and one where nursing mothers aren’t offended. Because you can’t hoist them up in a Wonderbra one minute, then dish out dirty looks to onlookers the next, when the whole lot is on show. That’s almost as selfish as turning to formula…
Women can have a strange and equivocating relationship with their breasts: contradictions abound when they open up about them. For example, 96% of women admitted to having purposefully accentuated their breasts in sexy lingerie or low cut tops for the benefit of men; 29% of that group later said that breasts shouldn’t be perceived as sexual, and that their purpose of breastfeeding should be made the priority.
On the other hand, men are clear and confident in a conflict-free love of all things boob, with 100% of survey respondents enjoying some kind of foreplay or sexual contact with breasts; including 75% who like to rub their penis on a woman’s nipples, 71% who at least sometimes ejaculate over their partner’s breasts and 17% who like to incorporate the drinking of breast milk into foreplay and sex.
But my favourite statistic is this: 10% of (honest but unreconstructed) men admit to only finding it acceptable for a woman to breastfeed in public if she’s attractive.
The only way public breastfeeding can become a cultural norm is if men feel that they can glance admiringly at a nice pair without censure. A woman’s breasts are part and parcel of our sexuality and that’s not going to change. The act of sex creates life and breastfeeding sustains it, the two are inextricably linked. We should tell those mumsy types that pretend not to understand this. If someone feels uncomfortable watching you breastfeed it might be because they quite like gawping at your norks, but they’re scared you’ll bite their head off.
Or it might be that your breasts just aren’t their type.