It’s all about breasts! Venerated in art, fetishized in porn, recently (and sadly) corralled into bras again as people head back to the office… whether you have a pair or just love them, breasts are an inescapable and unique fact of human existence.
And, as many of us agree – they're sexy. Sexy to look at, sexy to touch. But the sexiness of breasts is usually defined by an external perspective – the gaze and desire of the viewer. This doesn’t seem quite right, since breasts are also capable of providing their owners with remarkable pleasure.
If we have breasts, it’s easy to feel like they belong to everyone except us – our partners, the wider culture with its incessant commentary, and, if we breastfeed, our children.
And speaking of, why do we see body parts whose primary purpose is nourishing babies as sexy in the first place?
It’s safe to say that breasts are a complicated subject. Our experience of owning them is as unique as their shape and size. While some people don’t get much enjoyment from having their breasts stimulated, due to life experience or nerve distribution or both; others may experience entire orgasms from nipple stimulation alone.
Regardless of where you fall on the breast play pleasure spectrum, we’d like to make a case for reclaiming, exploring, and enjoying your breasts as yours. When we joyfully feel ownership of our bodies, wonderful things can happen.
Breasts, biology and history.
Humans are the only animals with permanently enlarged breasts. For all other mammals, from camels to chipmunks, breast tissue remains subtle and unobtrusive unless there are little camels or chipmunks to feed. Even the great apes, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, don’t have very noticeable breasts unless there’s a baby hanging off them.
So why is this? Like many things about evolutionary biology, we’re not 100% sure – but we can make a few educated guesses.
One theory is that breasts provide a visual cue to fertility, emphasizing that the breast owner may be a desirable mate. This doesn’t necessarily check out, since there’s no actual correlation between breast size and whether someone can easily have and feed babies.
Another, potentially more intriguing theory has to do with how human beings experience intimacy. We’re the only creatures who routinely make love face-to-face, so it makes sense that sexually enticing features would appear on our fronts as well as our backs.
And many people with breasts do experience considerable pleasure when they’re stimulated – increasing arousal and vaginal lubrication, therefore helping sperm get to where they need to go. This is easier if they’re prominent and available.
So breasts may be sexy, at least in part, because they provide pleasure to their owners.
Interested in trying for a nipple orgasm? They’re rare and elusive, but many people say they’ve trained themselves to climax solely from nipple stimulation, via patience, fantasy, and focus. Combining with genital stimulation to create an association between nipple play and orgasm, at least at first, may also help (and here’s where a partner may come in handy).
Those who’ve had the experience say that nipple orgasms tend to sneak up on them – so even if nothing much seems to be happening, keep going! And don’t forget the lube.
Sensuality and social organization.
In general, breasts are viewed as more explicitly sexual in societies where they’re routinely covered up. This, of course, adds to their intrigue; the hidden, or the only accessible to a select few, is pretty enticing.
And it’s true that in cultures where all sexes routinely go topless, breasts are less eroticized. If you know what every breast in your tribe looks like, you’ll probably view them as more routine than arousing.
However, even in those societies, breast stimulation is still a popular form of foreplay – because it’s intimate and it feels good, regardless of how common the everyday sight of breasts is.
An argument has been made that since breasts aren’t “intended” for a sexual purpose, they aren’t sexual organs at all – and that people who experience pleasure when their breasts are touched and appreciated only do so because society tells them their breasts are sexy, and they’re getting off on their lover’s arousal, which also exists only because society tells them breasts are sexy.
Of course we’re molded by cultural narratives in general, and being seen as sexually appealing can feel great – but still, we respectfully say “hogwash” to all that. We even have Science on our side.
Wired for pleasure.
Before we get into the next bit, it’s important to remember that the body doesn’t tell stories – only the mind does. Our bodies experience pleasure as pleasure for reasons of basic survival. Things that taste good, smell good, and feel good are often the same things that we’ve needed to sustain life throughout history.
So when something feels good in our bodies, that’s all our bodies really “care” about. Our brains, on the other hand, can make it complicated.
That being said, it’s in our best interests as a species for breast and nipple stimulation to feel good – because we nurse our offspring with our breasts, and if nursing is enjoyable for us, we’re more likely to keep doing it.
Any nipple stimulation can release oxytocin, a potent bonding hormone that makes us feel very fond of whoever’s causing the oxytocin to show up – whether they’re a partner or an infant. Oxytocin also relaxes us and quiets our noisy conscious minds – and it stimulates uterine contractions too, creating a direct pathway to the sexual organs.
In other words, it feels great. Our bodies don’t particularly care why; they just say “more of this, please”.
So in a vacuum, nipple stimulation is sensual. It lights up the same parts of the parietal cortex that correspond to the clitoris, vagina and cervix. Some new nursing parents are alarmed when they feel aroused while breastfeeding – a fairly common occurrence that isn’t mentioned often, because the idea that someone might be “turned on” by their own baby seems morally objectionable.
However, that’s not what’s happening at all! Remember that our bodies evolved over tens of thousands of years, and life was darned uncomfortable and unpleasant for most of them.
The compelling enjoyment we feel with nipple and breast stimulation can be seen as our bodies’ gift to us, our children, and our partners too – and wiring everything through the same parts of our brains is a neat efficiency trick.
It seems that the pleasure we experience when our breasts are touched emerged holistically, for several reasons that are tethered to nothing less than the continuation of life on earth.
Perhaps something to keep in mind when you’re sighing about having to wear a underwire bra for the first time in a year. Consider calling in sick, grabbing some lube, and celebrating your breasts – and the magic of life-sustaining pleasure they provide – instead.
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