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Boobs Are Sexualized, but How Important Are They to Women’s Sexual Pleasure?

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Aug 23, 2019

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A key concern in feminist rhetoric has always been the unwarranted sexualization of breasts. The argument goes: Breasts might be secondary sex organs, but they aren’t inherently sexual in nature; breasts serve a purpose in reproduction, i.e. producing milk and feeding a newborn. But the sexualization of boobs in popular culture — from celebrating ‘sexy’ cleavage to shaming women who breastfeed in public to banning women’s nipples on social media — has led them to be a privately celebrated and consequently publicly taboo organ in society. They are believed to be sexualized without any fundamental basis in sexual activity, yet their representation in pop culture to satisfy the male fantasy has made them a mainstay in sexual rhetoric. But do breasts have a role in the sexual pleasure for those who have them?

“Sometimes it’s just hilarious to watch men be so fascinated by [boobs] during sex. Like, it’s just a bag of fat you’re fondling. How’s that making you so happy?” said Simran, 23, who doesn’t enjoy breast stimulation during sex. “It does nothing for me, but because my partners are into it, I don’t mind it. It’s because they enjoy it, it adds to my overall experience but individually it’s just whatever. I’d rather be having their hands and mouths getting busy somewhere else, to be honest.”

The sexualization of breasts, while off-putting for some, is also the reason why some women find their own breasts stimulating, both during and outside of sex. For Ankita, 23, a sexual perception of boobs is a cultural thing she has grown up with. “On days when I dress up and my cleavage is visible or my boobs look lifted, I feel very sexy and confident. I find looking at boobs of other women mildly arousing as well,” she said. “A lot of times, while looking at myself in the mirror while bathing or wearing a nice outfit or sitting idle, I play with my boobs or squeeze them. The feeling is sensual but not so arousing that I’ll masturbate to it.”

With partners, however, Ankita feels breast stimulation considerably adds to her sexual pleasure. “If I’m making out with a guy, I love if the guy touches my boobs, fondles them or just plays with them. It’s very arousing. I feel that this arousal is milder and only intensifies the pleasure of intercourse,” she said. “Only, boob stimulation can put you off after a while … It’s good foreplay.”


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According to science, there may be something to breast stimulation and its link to sexual arousal. In the 1960s, two of the first researchers of human sexuality, Drs. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, found breast volume and the size of the areola (darkened regions around the nipples) increased during sexual arousal; they also found nipples became erect when female subjects were aroused. When they studied lactating women, they found a link between breastfeeding and sexual arousal — nipple stimulation during breastfeeding, coupled with increased sensitivity, increased sexual arousal of new mothers. Breastfeeding also led to the release of the feel-good hormone oxytocin in their brains, which is also released during sexual intercourse and has been linked to sexual arousal; Masters and Johnson found three women who had also achieved orgasm during nursing, through breast stimulation.

The duo’s experiments, however, have often been criticized for their lack of a controlled environment, which throws into question their inferences. In another study of 121 lactating women, only 11.3% said they experienced sexual desire due to nipple stimulation during breastfeeding, as opposed to 62.65% reporting no sexual desire during or after nursing. The inherent non-sexual nature of breastfeeding, combined with another study that shows women took approximately four weeks after childbirth to resume sexual relations with their partner (because they feared it wasn’t safe to have sex), could explain the lack of sexual desire during breastfeeding.

In another study, 153 women were asked about sexual pleasure arising out of breast stimulation, and 82% confirmed it enhanced their arousal. 60% of women reported explicitly asking their partners to touch their nipples. The study also polled men — out of 148, 51.7% of men reported being aroused from partners stimulating their own nipples.

People’s varied experiences with breast and nipple stimulation signal that an absolute conclusion cannot be derived about the sexual nature of boobs. Whether or not a sexually active person gets pleasure from breast and nipple stimulation might very well depend on how they view the cultural sexualization of boobs, and how sensitive they are to specific types of stimulation.

“The greatest sexual organ is the mind. When the mind is really turned on, it’s like that does all the work. How do you think people develop fetishes and fantasies?” said Suguna G., 23, who believes her sexual response from breast stimulation is both a product of how she’s viewed and of biology. “It’s all in the mind.”

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Written By Rajvi Desai

Rajvi Desai is The Swaddle’s Culture Editor. After graduating from NYU as a Journalism and Politics major, she covered breaking news in New York City. Back in the homeland, she spends her free time trying to dismantle societal beauty standards, laughing uproariously at comedy shows, and fervently following her football team, Arsenal.

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