Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Breasts might be sexy, but they're not "sexual".

Kendra wrote this post about breastfeeding.  I appreciated much of what she had to say because I have been attacked in the past by some self-proclaimed "lactivists" who look down on women who cover when breastfeeding (seemingly because by covering I'm somehow "setting the breastfeeding movement back" and bowing to the patriarchy...or something like that).  I'm a huge supporter of breastfeeding.  But I'm just more comfortable with a nursing cover.  Simple as that.  Mainly because I'm not very gifted at nursing discreetly and I'm not a fan of the looks I get when it's not discreet.  So, with all the articles and posts out there talking about why a woman shouldn't have to cover (which I do agree with, by the way), it's nice for there to be someone saying, "I cover too!" 

Kendra covers.  I cover. What I disagreed with Kendra's post is not her what but her why:
And when people shout, "Breasts aren't sexual!" I get kind of embarrassed, because, um, are you sure you're doing it right? And if women really thought breasts weren't sexual, or at least private, then they wouldn't wear shirts at all. But I do. I always wear a shirt in public. Every time.
I disagree because I don't think that breasts are "sexual" and I don't think that they should be presented as such. In her follow-up post, Kendra addresses the fact that whether breasts are sexual are not doesn't really have any bearing on whether she covers while nursing:
The comment section was overwhelmingly a discussion of whether breasts are rightly considered sexual. I was involved in that discussion. It was an interesting exercise. But, really, the more I've thought about it, the more it really doesn't have anything at all to do with what I'm talking about.
But, because she brought it up, and because I have copious thoughts on the topic, I thought that it was worth writing a post even to the point of breaking my self-imposed blogging break.  

Breast are not intrinsically sexual.  

Of course, our culture teaches that they are; our culture is wrong.  And in this instance (as in most cases where our culture is wrong), this thinking actually very detrimental, not just to breastfeeding but to the way women view their bodies as a whole.  I don't cover while nursing because I think breasts are sexual.  That's not why I wear a shirt either.  After all, I don't wear belly-baring shirts or bikinis and that's not because I think that stomachs are sexual.  I am a huge proponent of modesty but, at least to me, modesty does not mean covering up all body parts that might be considered sexual.  And I don't think that breastfeeding is really a modesty issue.  Is something that is inherently pure and good, like feeding your child, capable of being immodest?  I don't think so. (I'll write about what modesty does mean to me another time but for the sake of semi-brevity, we shall move onwards.)

By "breasts are not sexual", I don't mean that breasts can't be sexy or that they can't cause sexual pleasure; however, "sexual" is not interchangeable with "sexy" or "a body part that can cause sexual pleasure".  You see, legs and muscular arms and a smile can all be "sexy" without being "sexual".  People can derive sexual pleasure from kisses or a nibble on their earlobes (etc.) but lips and ears are not considered intrinsically "sexual".  Breasts, like these other body parts, have a purpose separate from sexual pleasure - to feed a baby - and the sexual pleasure is a bonus.

So why do breasts get labeled "sexual" when other body parts that can be "sexy" and induce sexual pleasure do not?  In part, the drastic decrease in breastfeeding and increase in formula feeding in the 20th century severed breasts from its natural function, to feed a child.  (Strikingly similar to how birth control has severed sex from its natural function of procreation, no? But I digress.)

But there is much more to the sexualization of breasts than just formula.  It has a great deal to do with the oversexualization of women and degradation of the female body in general.  Breasts are unique to women, so they must be sexual, right?  Perhaps part of this confusion comes from the fact that the most obvious body parts unique to men and women are sex organs.  But breasts are not sex organs.  Erogenous zones, yes.  Sex organs, no.  I don't often see men's nipples considered "sexual" or hear them asked to cover their nipples in public, yet many men are aroused by nipple stimulation.  Women are being singled out as "sexual" beings, with the parts unique to them - regardless of function - being labeled "sexual" as well.

Why did this happen?  How did this happen?  Pornography and ye olde "Sexual Revolution" seem to have a lot to do with this:
Nursing mothers were a common sight at this international gathering. What I found intriguing, however, was that women from “first-world” nations tended to drape themselves and sit off in a corner, while women from other nations seemed to have no qualms whatsoever about feeding their babies in full view of others. I remember one woman unabashedly roaming the crowd passing all manner of bishops and cardinals with her breast fully exposed while her child held on to it with both hands happily feeding. The only people flinching seemed to be those from the northern hemisphere.

Isn’t it interesting that the part of the world producing the most pornography and exporting it to the rest of the globe has seemed to lose all sense of the true meaning of the human breast? What a commentary on the sad state of our sexually wounded culture! Breasts have been so “pornified” that we can fall into thinking that even their proper use is shameful. In other words, we have been so conditioned to see a woman’s body through the prism of lust that we find it very difficult to recognize the purity and innocence of breast-feeding.
St. Paul hit the nail on the head when he said, “To the pure all things are pure, but to the impure nothing is pure” (Ti 1:15). It is a tragically impure world that labels the purity of a baby at the breast as “gross.” For those with the purity to see it, a nursing mother is one of the most precious, most beautiful, and most holy of all possible images of woman.
-Christopher West, "Nursing a Sexually Wounded Culture"

Why does it matter if breasts are labelled "sexual" or not?

Because "sexual" often goes hand-in-hand with "shameful".  It upsets me when people insist that breasts are sexual because that thinking produces shame and perpetuates a disordered view of the female body that emerged from disordered sexuality.  If we had a healthier, balanced view of sex and sexuality in our culture, it probably wouldn't matter if breasts were called sexual.  Then again, if we had a healthier view of sexuality, we probably wouldn't think of breasts as sexual.  But, in this society of sexual extremes, in which sex is no longer sacred, anything sexual has become tainted.  Something as natural, normal, and loving as feeding a child becomes conditional - "Breasts are good only in the context of feeding a child and only if the woman is properly covered and only if the child is under a certain age, etc." The truth is that breasts are inherently good as a rule and the improper uses of breasts (such as pornography) are the exception to the rule.

This disordered view of sexuality and sex hurts women.  It teaches them that their breasts are impure body parts and that, as the person attached to these body parts, they too are something "less than".  They have to cover up out of shame (instead of modesty being more an issue of dignity and cultural standards).  They have to prove that they can be pure and good in spite of the body they have, instead of treating their bodies with the dignity that is inherent to it.

When it comes specifically to breastfeeding, the insistence that breasts are sexual does much harm.  Many women are unable to breastfeed their children (completely unable to breastfeed them, not just in public) because the belief that breasts are sexual is so ingrained that they cannot feed their child as God intended without feeling like the act is shameful, dirty, and sexual.  They cannot not separate society's messages of the sexualized breast from its beautiful, natural purpose.  This goes far beyond a stranger telling a woman it's indecent to breastfeed in public.  It's society telling a woman that her body parts are themselves indecent, at least in certain contexts.  Many women can separate breasts as sexual objects and breasts as functional body parts, but others cannot.  And they shouldn't have to. Breastfeeding can be difficult enough without introducing the additional questions of its modesty, appropriateness, or goodness.

I'm not suggesting that you can't enjoy breasts in a sexual way without it being pornographic or wrong.  Of course not!  But just like the main purposes of the lips are non-sexual, and therefore they are not innately "sexual" body parts, so too is the breasts' main purpose non-sexual and therefore they are not innately "sexual".

I also am not trying to encourage women to walk about topless.  We have cultural norms in our society relative to dress and modesty, but that is truly a separate issue than that of the function and dignity of the female breast.  Cultural norms can be a good thing, but they change over time (often very swiftly) and aren't necessarily founded in a deeper truth.  In our society, cultural norms of modesty have been trending toward revealing more skin while at the same time cultural norms regarding breastfeeding insist we show less skin or nurse only behind closed doors.  I find that to be incredibly revealing (no pun intended).  The issue is not, "If women can wear string bikinis, why can't I nurse in public?"  What we wear in other situations, in fact, has no bearing on breastfeeding.  The true issue is that nursing has always been seen as a good, positive, modest act, yet we have less freedom to nurse in public than we did a century ago.  Breastfeeding is always good (and should always be treated as such); cultural norms come and go.

What I am trying to do is to call attention to the words we use and the way we talk about our bodies, because they do matter.  They inform our subconscious and make lasting impressions on our perceptions of ourselves and others.

Want to read more of my breast(feeding) thoughts? Here you go: Nursing in Church, Yay or Nay? and Breastfeeding, Guilt and Letting Go of Control


  1. I really enjoyed reading this post! Thank you for presenting your position thoughtfully and thoroughly. I did not really understand why breastfeeding can be distasteful to some (the arguments seemed so silly!), and this will help me to better address any future comments.

  2. Breasts are sexual as they typically cause arousal in men. Of course different parts of the bodies can do that to different degrees, but I would say breasts have a higher arousal level than say an earlobe. That's basically what modesty is about. Acknowledging our fallen nature and helping our fellow men to avoid occasions of sin. Adam and Eve could be naked because there wasn't this tendency towards impure thoughts and to objectify each others' bodies. My husband won't go to swim parks these days because there are women walking around in bikinis everywhere and he doesn't want to subject his eyes and mind to that. So, yes, breasts feed babies. But they can also cause arousal in men (even a tight shirt with cleavage can do this, they don't even have to be bare). That's why I think covering in public is appropriate and it's ok not to cover when you're just around your husband. I don't think we have to blame our culture as much as we do original sin.

    1. That's actually a very cultural thing, Andrea. In fact, the view toward breasts that our culture (and many other - mostly industrialized - cultures) has is considered by many to be a "sexual fetish" in that it isn't an innate cause of sexual attraction, but one that is more of in individual, not biologically rooted attraction. There are many cultures (especially native cultures) that don't consider breasts to be sexy at all. I've read several articles that have said women in these cultures, when told that men in other cultures are interested/aroused by breasts, LAUGH and say things like "Those men must have something wrong with them because they are like babies. Only babies like breasts!" It is not a biological truth that men are interested in breasts. It's a cultural one. Our society teaches that breasts are sexy, that they are sexual, etc. But in "nature", without the culture dictating that breasts are more "sexual" than earlobes, men wouldn't automatically come to that conclusion.

    2. At least not all men would come to that conclusion. Like anything else, each man would have their own interests. Some would be interested in breasts, but others would be just as interested in smiles. Or legs. Or shoulders. Or whatever. And we can't hide every body part that some man out there might be aroused by.

    3. A native tribe might be desensitized by nudity, but the breasts are inherently more personal than say legs and shoulders. Modesty is also important to a native tribe just as it is to an industrialized culture. Just because they comfortably walk around naked doesn't mean their women aren't objectified for it. Women don't tend to understand how men think as we're not men. Men are more visual. That is a gender trait and it doesn't matter whether they live in a native tribe or a civilized one. They are attracted to a woman's "otherness" both emotionally and physically. Our breasts are considered "private" parts for a reason. There isn't anything wrong with them being sexual. It's the objectification that's wrong. I have a hard time believing a normal man would be just as aroused by a smile as breasts. Catholics aren't Muslims, who have a perverted view of the human body and cover every part. But Catholic women dress as to respect the personal parts of the body that God gave them. Touching or seeing a woman's breast is very personal. Touching or seeing her shoulder.... not as much.

    4. Andrea, it's not desensitization because of nudity (in fact, not all native cultures are nude - many live in cold climates), it's that they aren't conditioned through advertisements, etc. to believe that breasts are sexual. Just look at many of the paintings of royal and wealthy women from centuries past - many of them showed breastfeeding or nudity in a non-sexual way. It wasn't considered scandalous or arousing. Our current culture teaches that breasts are sexual but if it didn't, I strongly doubt people would naturally just say, "Breasts are sexual." In fact, if you look at older pictures of Adam and Eve after the fall, Eve's breasts are not covered by the fig leaves. Her breasts were not immediately considered sexual and needing to be covered in front of God. Additionally, I believe that human persons have within them some idea of right and wrong (put in their hearts by the Creator) and that generally shows in cultures all over the world, including native cultures. Most native cultures cover their sex organs (though admittedly not ALL), but many don't cover their breasts. I strongly doubt that as young boys, their men were aroused by breasts but as they got older they were just "desensitized". They were never aroused because without being taught that breasts SHOULD arouse, they didn't.

      But anyway, I think we're really talking apples and oranges. I agree that women shouldn't walk around naked, my post isn't about that at all. It's simply about whether breasts are innately, as created by God, sexual. I don't believe he created them as sexual body parts and that it's humanity (and specific cultures, not all humanity) that paint them as such.

    5. Hiya again! Ok, talked with my hubby about this. And we still hold that they are innately sexual. My husband stressed the visual nature of men (very different from women) and that arousal isn't something that is taught. Just because art portrays them in a non-sexual function such as breastfeeding, doesn't mean they don't have an innate sexual function as well. It doesn't have to be one or the other. My husband says the type of art you speak of displaying nudity didn't really occur until the "Enlightenment" (they didn't have that type of art in the Medieval times which was a much more Catholic period as whole). According to my hubby, the Renaissance period was the start of Humanism and this eventually led towards secularism. And the nudity you see in Classical period basically stems from a pagan culture. Native tribes are typically pagan and so I don't think one should really take their moral opinions based on what they hold or practice. Historically once a native tribe has been Christianized, they begin dressing accordingly.

    6. Oh, and thanks for the fun topic! It's interesting to think about!

    7. Also, if they weren't partially sexual in nature, the Catholic culture shouldn't be concerned with them being covered. But covering them is a part of modesty (not wearing skin tight shirts, not showing cleavage, etc) due to their inherent sexual nature.

    8. I don't understand how men being "visual" has anything to do with whether a woman's body part is "sexual". Just because a man (or even if every man, which is not the case) is aroused by something does not make it sexual. And actually, arousal and sexuality has a lot to do with what is "taught". Just look at the changes in sex and sexuality that occur in cultures with a lot of access to pornography. Truly, there is a lot of research that says that arousal by breasts is not innate and is classified as a "sexual fetish". I'll find some links and send them to you if you care to see them. On the other hand, I haven't seen any research that concludes that men are innately attracted to breasts.

    9. The objectification of women due to the "sexual" culture is very different from a body part being innately sexual. I'd be curious to know if those researchers are men or women and their purpose for the research. Sure, send the links along. Men being visual has a lot to do with it. I'd love to see something written by a man that saying that breasts are not innately sexual. Mostly I see it on the mommy blogs written by women. Women think very differently than men.

    10. So only men are able to say whether breasts are sexual? If that's the case, then it's all subjective. If there is truth - if breasts are either innately sexual or they aren't, it shouldn't matter who is saying it.

      Also, modesty isn't just about covering up sexual parts. Do you feel like super short shorts are modest? Most Catholics I know don't approve of super short shorts, but it's not because they think upper thighs are "sexual". Sexual is not the same as private.

    11. Andrea, I can totally admit when I'm wrong and there doesn't seem to be as much research out there as I thought there was. Much of it is significantly older too (from the 50s and 60s) though it seems to be equally split between male and female researchers. Much of it has to do with interviews with men and women from cultures around the world and many of the interviews point toward what I'm trying to say - many cultures don't see breasts as anything more than for breastfeeding. A lot of them are books, which I really don't have the time (and truly, the interest) in finding and reading through. So for now, I'll just say that this is my personal opinion. I don't think we are really too far off on how we see it all playing out in society (as in how to dress or breastfeed) but I do think that labeling breasts as intrinsically or not does matter.

    12. A man’s perspective:

      But doesn’t the appeal of something to then opposite sex determine whether it is sexual? After all, girls aren’t typically attracted to ANY part of the female body. So we can hardly base what is or is not sexual about the female body on what women consider sexual. Men are the ones affected.

      As for short shorts, take it from a man: those are indeed immodest because of what they show: the form of the woman. They cover the privates, but that’s not enough. Men are VERY visual. Short shorts bare too much thigh too close to the private parts, and they also show the shape of the woman’s thighs and buttocks because they do not drape. Tight pants are immodest for the same reason. A man’s eyes will be drawn to the form of the woman’s body even if no skin is shown. The woman does not INTEND to be sexual, but the man will be moved sexually nonetheless if he allows himself to be.

      As for other cultures: we see in ancient Egyptian erotic poetry that even in a society in which showing the breasts was not taboo it was still considered erotic. We find this love poem in the book Eros on the Nile, by Karol Myśliwiec. The man is imagining being the woman’s female servant so that, unthinking, she will disrobe in front of him:

      I wish I were her Nubian girl,
      one to attend her (bosom companion),

      Confidante, and child of discretion:
      Close hidden at nightfall we whisper

      As (modest by day) she offers
      breasts like ripe berries to evening—

      Her long gown settles, then, bodiless,
      hangs from my helping hand.

      O she'll give pleasure! in future
      no grown man will deny it!

      But tonight, to me, this chaste girl
      bares unthinking the delicate blush

      Of a most secret landscape,
      her woman's body.

      The particular woman of this poem is described as “modest” because she doesn't show her breasts in the daytime (in public). However, ancient Egyptian women often DID display their breasts in public. So even in a society in which naked breasts are common, a girl covering her breasts is still “modest.” You don’t find that language about, say, feet.

      Also in this book the author states that the erotic nature of breasts is present in art as well: “. . . [T]he cult of fertility, which found expression in figurative art, was already firmly established at that time. A sign of this fact is the tendency to emphasize the sexual parts of the human body—for the man, the phallus in the erect state; and for the woman, wide hips and shapely, carefully modeled breasts.”

      Take it from a man. :) This isn’t cultural. It’s hardwired.

    13. I'm sorry, but I can't just "take if from a man" that breasts are sexual because whether you see it or not, you are biased by the culture in which you grew up. I can't imagine that any man in cultures that highly sexualize women would think of breasts as non-sexual. But there are anthropologic studies of various societies whose men don't see breasts as sexual. Maybe they would innately think that breasts are sexual but it is the opposite and they are acculturated to believe that breasts are non-sexual. We don't really have a way of knowing, but that there shows that men's views of what is sexual or not can be taught. I don't believe I said that cultures whose women bared their breasts automatically thoughts breasts weren't sexual, but that societies in which people are taught that breasts are sexual believe that breasts are sexual. So...I'm not sure how that poem is supposed to prove that breasts are sexual. It only proves that in ancient Egypt men thought of breasts as sexual.

      This post actually has nothing to do with modesty. That's a whole different topic and is (obviously) very culturally based. Mentioning the short shorts was only to point out that parts that are not sexual can still be considered immodest and so saying that breasts are immodest doesn't do anything to further the idea that breasts are sexual. Men can be aroused by many things that aren't sexual and so saying that a man is aroused by something doesn't prove in anyway that is is sexual. In certain times and places it was considered immodest for women to show their ankles because men were aroused by that. Men can be taught to be aroused by certain things simply because the culture tells them those things are sexual.

      Anyway, my point was to discuss whether breasts are biologically "sexual". As I said, specific cultures and individuals can and do think them "sexy" which is what I feel you're talking about.

    14. No, men aren't the only ones to say whether breasts are sexual, but it is just men that are naturally aroused by them... I guess it just seems common sense to me that they are sexual. I feel it would be funny to do research on it.... kinda hard to do qualitative research on something like that...

      Modesty is about covering up sexual parts and enhancing one's femininity as opposed to their sexuality. So, short shorts don't really cover as they accentuate the private parts.

      I guess I don't see what's wrong with breasts being sexual if you have a healthy and Catholic view of sex. Here's one article I found ( that actually connects the breastfeeding with the sexual aspect. Unfortunately it's written from an awfully secular approach to sex. And I don't think you'd ever find research regarding this topic out there that treats sex as sacred unfortunately.

      So, I guess my main conclusion is that breasts are sexual, breasts are nurturing and the two can live in perfect harmony in a Catholic marriage. And thus, women can breastfeed in public, but just cover! It's really not hard to cover and it's not that your ashamed of your feeding your baby, your just honoring a part of you that is also used in private relations with your husband!

  3. I actually teared up while reading this post. It's like you looked inside my head and answered all my questions! This is exactly what I've been pondering since Kendra wrote her post (I too love her blog and reference it regularly, but disagreed with the exact statement you quoted above). Thanks for writing this our so thoughtfully, definitely sharing!

  4. Mandi, thank you for writing such a wonderful article. You really identified and tackled some pressing issues in today's culture.

  5. This is so good, Mandie. So good.

    I've realized my major issue with the "breasts are sexual FIRST and for feeding babies SECOND" is that nursing pretty much takes the sexy aspect away from me. I just can't view them in the same light. But according to many people, nursing is still an awkward, "using sexual part and this is weird" thing, and they modesty shame me and other mamas.

    Frankly, one of the reasons I don't nurse completely uncovered (I wear layers) is because I don't want people to see the havoc my child's played on my breasts. They're much more attractive fully covered.

  6. Mandi, thank you so much for this! As Maria approaches a year old, I realize our days of socially acceptable breastfeeding are coming to a close...but it is encouraging to be reminded that the culture's shaming is often misplaced!

  7. I disagree that breasts aren't sexual. I think breasts can be both sexual AND for feeding babies......just like genitalia are sexual AND used in the elmination process. I think when people talk about "sexual body parts" they talk about body parts that differ significantly between the sexes. Clearly the chest/nipple area on a man is extremely different from that on a woman and I do think that leads to a sort of inate sexual nature to breasts.

    I think there is a hidden danger in saying the breasts aren't sexual because they are used to feed babies. It can lead to the idea that mothers are not sexual. In a society where the ideal female body type is one which has never born children (slender hips, perky breasts, tiny waist, flat stomach), in a society where many married couples struggle with their sexuality after the birth of a child, in a society where many wives feel unsexy after ther birth of a baby.....saying that a body part which was likely once considered "sexy" is no l "sexual" can lead to thinking that mothers themselves are not longer sexual...they are just mothers. I think this is something a lot of couples struggle with after the birth of a child...going back and forth between the role of mother and wife. And, I think this idea that the breast is not sexual can possibly be part of that, because people only think about that once they have a baby. It can lead to the idea that mothers need to hurry up and wean to "get their body back".

    Mandi...I think this paragraph you wrote is key. "Because "sexual" often goes hand-in-hand with "shameful". It upsets me when people insist that breasts are sexual because that thinking produces shame and perpetuates a disordered view of the female body that emerged from disordered sexuality."

    -I agree, however, the solution is not to say that breasts aren't sexual. The solution is to say that sexuality is not shameful. Society has such a disordered view of sexuality because it seperates sexuality from reproduction to an extreme degree. Just because the same female part that is used to conceive a baby is also used to birth a baby doesn't make it any less sexual. Likewie I think that just because breasts are used to feed babies. The reproductive processes are part of sexual processes. After all a women who has never had sex, never gotten pregnant and never birthed a baby is not able to use her breasts to feed a baby (at least not totally or without a lot of extra help from herbs and other methods to induce lactation) Sexuality is tied into reproduction.

    I'm a huge fan of breastfeeding and breastfeeding in public...and I don't make a big deal out of being super covered up. I don't worry if a tiny amount of breast shows. However, I do believe that my breasts are both for feeding babies and are sexual and learning to reconcile those two functions has been very beneficial in my marriage and for my own body image.

    1. I think that breasts can be used both for feeding babies and for sexual pleasure. But I still don't think that means that breasts at their core are sexual body parts or that both aspects have "equal importance". I agree with you that sexuality is linked to reproduction but that doesn't mean that every part that has to do with reproduction is automatically sexual. I don't think that the analogy of the vagina is a very good one. It is required for sex and for birthing a baby. Breasts are only biologically necessary for lactation. They can be a bonus for sexual attraction and stimulation but are not needed for it. Just like my lips are needed for communicating and eating, etc. but are only a bonus for sexual arousal and pleasure.

      I don't understand how labeling breasts as non-sexual labels moms as non-sexual. If breasts are always not sexual, then breastfeeding women are no different than non-lactating women (mothers or not). If breasts are labeled as sexual, then breastfeeding women might be seen differently (if breasts suddenly become non-sexual while breastfeeding) or breastfeeding itself might be seen as sexual. I don't see how a society who viewed breasts as always not sexual would push a woman to wean a child in order to be sexy again. If breasts are viewed as always non-sexual but always have the opportunity to be sexy and produce sexual pleasure, I don't see how that would produce the dichotomy you are discussing. Maybe I'm just missing something.

    2. Well, in some ways, breastfeeding is sexual. Not sexual in that it's part of sex, but sexual in that it is part of the reproductive process. The normal process is a woman has sex, she gets pregnant, she gives birth, she lactates and feeds the baby. That is most normal biological order of things. Of course, that doesn't mean that a woman gets pregnant every time she has sex....but that is the natural biological order. So, lacation is the very end of the sexual reproductive proces.

      I think men are attracted to the qualities of a woman that most different from their own bodies (breasts, round hips, etc) and women are attracted to the qualities of men that are most different from themselves (defined muscles, broader shoulders, etc.).

      I think the problem is that our current society will ALWAYS view non-lactating breasts as sexual. That is just the way our culture is, breasts are viewed as sexy and as part of sexual arousal. I think that is inherent because breasts are one of the main differences between men and women and it is those differences that are so attractive. So, when the lactating breast suddenly becomes non-sexual than it almost implies that mothers are non-sexual.

      Yes, if society suddently stopped viewing all breasts as sexual and toplessness became commonplace than yes, you are right...there would be no pressure to wean to be sexy again. But, we all know that is NOT going to happen. People aren't going to stop viewing breasts as sexy or attractive. NOT going to happen. So, we have to work withing the society we live in. And I think the solution is to admit that breasts are sexual AND that they can be used for feeding babies..and that those two purposes are NOT at odds. After all, no one seems to have a problem that genitalia are used for sex and for elimination. I mean...if you don't everyone just has to get used to the fact that those body parts have two functions. In tribal societies and before the invention of formula, if babies weren't breastfed, they died. So, society readily accepted the dual role of breasts. There was no other choice. That is why there were so many paintings depicting babies being breastfed. It is because people knew that babies HAD to be breastfed and they could recognize the beauty of that. I don't think that means that men weren't attracted to breasts back then...just that they had an easier time viewing women as both mothers and sexual beings....that feeding a baby at the breast did not take away from it's general sexiness when the baby is not nursing..

      For ages, clothing styles seemed to have in some ways emphasized the female form. Women have long worn dresses that seemed to come in at the waist...which makes the bust and hips look fuller and the waist look smaller, again emphasizing the female form and the way it differs from the male form. That is because men view the female form as attractive and breasts are a major part of that.

    3. Amelia, I don't think we're saying different things necessarily. I'm not saying that lactating breasts suddenly become non-sexual, I'm saying that breasts are always non-sexual. As I said above, I know that our society sees breasts as sexual but I don't accept that as the way it needs to be. I think we can view breasts as a functional body part (with breastfeeding being the function) that can also be considered sexy within cultural terms. And it can be sexy and functional at the same time. I think mostly we just disagree on the words to use. I do think that there are times and cultures where men didn't/don't considered breasts sexy and that it's not inevitable that they be seen that way, but at the same time there is nothing wrong with seeing them as sexy if they are not sexualized.

      Of course, I agree that breasts can be attractive to men because they signify the difference between the sexes. Yet that doesn't make them sexual any more than that makes women's larger hips "sexual". They can be sexy, yes, but aren't "sexual". The function of hips are also a reproductive function - to be wide enough to let a baby through, but that too does not make them "sexual".

    4. Yes, I think it is just a word thing...I'm thinking of the words differently than you are.

  8. Not to miss the bigger point of your post. but I've been struggling with nursing in public and reading about your use of a cover (and some reactions to that) is really helpful to me. I have caught myself feeling ashamed at considering covering when all along I've said that women should do what works for them whether that's not cover or cover. But then when I consider covering, I think I'm letting down the nursing population. Silly! I need to just do what works for me.

    And the rest of the post is great. I totally agree on sexy vs sexual.

  9. Mandi, this is fascinating and really well thought out. It seems like it's very hard to agree on terminology, but I think you are definitely on to something. As far as the word "sexual" goes, I think I tend to agree with Amelia that breasts are "sexual" in the sense that breastfeeding is part of sex--part of the end result that our culture doesn't want to think about. You could similarly call giving birth a "sexual" act. In a way, women's breasts aren't over-sexualized, they're under-sexualized--in the sense that our culture's understanding of sexuality is so impoverished.

    I have a suspicion that breastfeeding is primarily not a custody-of-the-eyes issue--are most men really turned on by a breast in that context. I feel like a lot of (less mature) men are just disturbed by the sight of a breast not deployed towards them in a seductive way, reminding them too forcibly that sex is not just fun and games. (I'm not a man, so I could be wrong, but do men have involuntary sexual feelings when they see an image of Maria Lactans? I would bet that most don't.)

    I am looking forward to reading more about modesty vs. dignity--you are drawing some distinctions that I have never thought about. I have a feeling you are not going to get to go back to your blogging break quickly!

    1. Isobel, so glad this post made you think about something in a new way! I think that truly is the utmost compliment for a blogger.

      I don't really agree with your statement that "breastfeeding is a part of sex". Breastfeeding and sex are both part of the reproductive cycle, but sex is just one part of it, as is breastfeeding, pregnancy, birth, and the pre-conception stages of the menstrual cycle. They are both part of one continuum, and sex is the impetus, but it isn't the sex cycle, it's the reproductive cycle. Again, it's probably just a wording issue. I think it's important to see them along that cycle but to turn all parts of the reproductive cycle into things that are "part of sex" is a bit to simplistic for me.

      I do agree that much of the discomfort of men has to do with that immature outlook you mentioned, but I think that the two ways we are talking about this still get to the endpoint. If men understand that breasts aren't innately sexual, I don't think they would be as perturbed by seeing them in unseductive ways, they'd understand that they breasts are part of the reproductive system first and can be seductive second.


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