Dear Dr. P: “What do you make of our preoccupation about nipples?”
The reason we are mammals, as opposed to birds or amphibians, is because we as a species possess in both sexes mammary glands and nipples.
In the female they function both as primary erogenous zones and as the source of sustenance for our infants during lactation and nursing.Â In the male the breasts and nipples are less developed but can serve also as primary erogenous zones.Â However, if sufficiently stimulated, or augmented by hormone treatments, a male’s breasts can also serve as a source of sustenance for our babies!
Yes, it is true that intact otherwise heterosexual males have successfully nursed infants.Â It is an extremely rare phenomenon, but it does occur.Â If you can’t believe this, see the website “Milk Men, Fathers who Breastfeed” at unassistedchildbirth.com
In about 15 percent of young adolescent males, gynecomastia occurs as they go through puberty.Â This is the temporary swelling of breast tissue on one or both sides with sometimes secretion of fluid from the nipple.Â This freaks out the young man who does not know what is happening to his body (“I’m turning into a girl!”).Â A visit to the physician, or pediatric endocrinologist, corrects the situation with an injection or two of androgens.Â In rare cases, as was told to me by a tall, strapping young man who claimed to be a successful high school footballer “I had to get breast reduction surgery to correct my case!”
But why do we have a fascination with the all-but-taboo nipple?Â According to Freud, the nippleâ€”and the mouthâ€”is the locus an infant’s first sexuoerotic experience with another person, the mother during the oral phase of sexuoerotic development.Â Some of us never get beyond this stage and become “fixated” or arrested at the oral-nipple phase because of insufficient satisfaction during this stage of development.Â We were not sufficiently nursed by our mothers so as to successfully pass beyond the oral phase.
Our culture for a long time thought that breast feeding was old-fashioned and nasty, almost obscene.Â We were stuck trying to get that elusive and denied nipple.Â This is the caseâ€”if you believe in Freud’s psychoanalytic theoryâ€”and there are many who do.
Thankfully, there seems to be resurgence in natural wholesome breastfeeding.Â This may very well reduce our fixation with the nipple.
There are some cultures in which bare breasts and exposed nipples are no big deal.Â These cultures seem also to have extensive breast feeding sometimes into the fourth year and beyond of the child’s life.
We are fascinated also because the nipple is indeed a primary erogenous zone, which when stimulated can produce an orgasm in some women without any other additional manipulation.
Nipples telegraph responsiveness by enlarging and increasing sensitivity.Â But there are also some women who are relatively non-responsive sexuoerotically with nipple and breast stimulation.Â It does nothing for them.Â This may be a form of hyposexual anhedonia due to a repression of response because of learned sexual negativity.Â What is learned negatively can be unlearned.
Nipples have not always been objects of taboo.Â During the Napoleonic era in France, young women proudly exposed their rouged nipples (or painted gold) over the tops of their Empire gowns.Â Generally, in the modern era women were somewhat self-conscious and wore thick bras and other clothing to hide the bulge of their nipples.Â During the late 1990s and early 2000s, nipples were augmented (or you wore false nipples) so as to show them through sweaters or shirts.
Today it is quite the fashion for nipple jewelry or piercings to be worn by ordinary young womenâ€”and even men.
Fashions change, but we, males and females, always are concerned with nipple appearance.