The original title of today’s post was Sexualizing the Breast. I later realized that title wasn’t quite right and I changed it to be more precise: Sexualizing the Nipple.

As the post took shape, I felt that title wasn’t correct, either. After reviewing my argument, I came to believe Stigmatizing the Nipple was a more accurate title because it is, after all, the stigma of a woman’s nipple being viewed in public that prodded this post to your eye.

After a few more revisions of this post, I finally understood the core of the issue is not “Stigmatization” but, rather, “Perversion.” Perverting the Nipple is the final title and here’s why: A woman’s breast provides life for the child she births. The nipple is the point for insertion into the new life.

A woman’s nipple is accepted in American society only as long as it is kept private. The moment the nipple hits the public — even one in the midst of nursing — outrage ensues. In many countries women are bare-breasted.

They can breastfeed in public. No one cares.

In America, however, admiration follows the outline of the breast beneath a sweater and joy ensues as a bikini top is stretched to contain the flesh beneath its fabric, but if a slice of raw areola is seen with the naked eye or if a bite of nipple is visible to a view that refuses to avert — even if puckering in the mouth of a nursing infant — a line has been crossed and condemnation for indiscretion follows.

The female nipple in America appears to have immense power to dissolve morality and social mores. Nipples and areolas must be covered at all times. If we can see the outline of a nipple or an areola beneath a wet t-shirt or slightly pixilated in its naked form on television, that’s fine: Only the exposed nipple has the power to pervert.

Has the breast in America always been an object of perversion instead of an implement of nourishment? Was it the invention of the bra that started to suggest the nipple was something to be hidden and protected? How did the areola in America get so much power?

30 Comments

  1. I personally feel that we’d be better off as Americans if we loosened up a little bit about human anatomy.
    I saw a National Geographic show where they send people from the U.S. to different countries. Two couples from America were transplanted into an African tribe where it was common for the women to walk around topless. The American women wore bikini tops. Topless women walking around wasn’t a big deal to anyone living in the culture. It was part of the culture, so it really wasn’t a big deal to viewers either.
    Maybe if we were more European in our attitudes, we wouldn’t be so fixated on the human form.
    When we make topless women “forbidden fruit” the result is a national obsession that fuels the profit margins of “gentlemen’s clubs” and reactionary rules forcing breast-feeding women into hiding.

  2. Hi Chris —
    I like your take on the topic that perverting the natural body doesn’t kill the interest or desire; it only creates a subculture of strip clubs and back alley business relationships in the dark where flesh is exchanged for dollars.
    I agree we are uptight as a nation about our naked bodies. It’s too bad our women seem to get the worst of it, though.

  3. It’s sad that in certain parts of urban America, there are women who have been taught by society that the only way to get what they want and need is to sell themselves.
    I heard a story recently about a young woman who was chatting on a local telephone chatline and received an offer to join a man and a woman in certain adult activities. Her conversation with her friend wasn’t about whether this was something she might want to do for fun, or to experience, or for personal growth, etc. She spoke with her friend about how much she should ask the couple to give to her since she needed to pay the phone bill.
    It’s sad that multi-billion dollar industries financed by big business (look at the pay-per-view and adult video industries) all the way down to disempowered women who feel they can’t do anything other than sell themselves to pay bills flourish because of our national obsessions.
    Our society isn’t the only one suffering. Repression causes more problems than it cures. PBS’s Frontline had a recent program about human trafficking from Eastern Europe where there is a huge supply of young unemployed women to Turkey — the gateway to the Middle East — where the women are held in slavery by people who trade them around as commodities.

  4. Chirs —
    I saw the Frontline episode this week you mention. It was heartbreaking.
    Repression of desires can take many ugly forms because it never stays repressed — it always seeps out of other holes and into mainstream society. Expressed desires can be fully evaluated and checked in real time and that verification process is what allows mature human communication to flourish beyond the buck.
    I know there are poor people who see their bodies as a means of moving up and out of the ghetto and when your body is the only valuable thing you have to try to pay your phone bill you can’t blame them but you also can’t help but wonder where we went so wrong as a country.

  5. It all goes back to giving people hope for the future.
    Too many young women (and men) don’t have hope for the future, so they are willing to risk it all for temporary gain. They don’t see any other way of even being able to live the American dream they watch on television.
    A lot has to do with poor educational systems in urban areas that cripple students by not preparing them to be able to compete in the workplace.
    Another huge problem is the drug plague — hopelessness causes people to want to escape via drug use. Once that happens, it’s a death spiral as drug addiction means the need to obtain money by whatever means available.

  6. Right, Chris!
    Poverty kills slowly but not quietly with drugs and crime and perversions of the body that range beyond the areola and the nipple.
    If we are unable to accept bare breasts in public, how can we expect the poor to bear their breast to ask for help from a society that sees them as marginalized and in need of regimentation?

  7. Yeah, show all the shooting and stabbing you want on TV. Air erectile dysfunction medication commercials or “personal lubricant” (love that PC term) advertisements to your heart’s content. But please, for God’s sake, don’t show a nipple!

  8. Perhaps it is… perhaps it’s men not wanting to be teased with something they can’t have, since most men’s desire comes from visualization whereas women’s is more emotionally attached.
    Movies where a man’s penis is shown is never much of a big deal to most women I know. None of my friends or myself have fawned over an actor who’s entire front side is bared in a film. But you know, a man’s backside is okay even for television as long as that big ol’ disclaimer is played throughout the episode. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bare female backside on TV.
    Men, however, go bonkers for boobies (that’s right, I went for the alliteration). Perhaps because it is a sensitive area for women for arousal. So maybe the perversion is sort of a gender bias. Since men get aroused visually, let’s not tease them with female nudity.

  9. Hi Carla —
    I like your argument that the repression is denial based — I can’t have it so no one else can, either.
    It’s interesting that a man’s naked nipples are fine for television but a woman’s are not and, as you so rightly argue, a man’s bare rear is okay but a woman’s is not. Wild!
    Have there been instances when a man’s penis has been shown in the movies and it did not get anything worse than a PG-13 rating?
    What a country!
    😀

  10. It’s funny that you bring this up today because yesterday (or maybe it was the day before) the media was a abuzz with the cover of Vanity Fair with its special fold-out cover that features Scarlett Johansen’s bare backside.
    I’ve seen the pic. I think it was tastefully done. Hubby was very excited. :rolleyes:

  11. Can we dissect the breast into parts: The spigot, the pump, the plump, the platter? Advertising does it all the time. Religion does it all the time. Men and women do it all the time. If you break up the breast into unrecognizable parts then the entirety of its natural power is mitigated because you can make bits of it naughty and erotic.

  12. I think you’re on to it, Anne!
    Well done!
    I understand what you’re saying… if the beauty of a woman is broken up into nameless parts then her power is belittled in the process.
    Men cannot give birth, so the means of a suckling life must be diminished in order to level the gender playing field and that is done by making a woman’s natural gifts perverse.

  13. Good topic, David 🙂
    This post reminded me of the four women in New York last year who protested nudity laws by going topless in public. They had a point: it’s unfair that men can go without a shirt in public while women who do the same are charged with exposure. It’s not our fault that our breasts have been sexualized in this society!
    I wonder, though: if a law passed that allowed women to go topless anywhere men can, how many women would actually take advantage of it? The legality of it is one thing, but it would take a brave woman to put up wth all the stares she would get 😉

  14. Hey Ms. Flannery —
    It is wonderful to hear from you again!
    I remember that protest in New York! When the women were told to “put on shirts” some instead put whipped cream on their nipples, others covered their nipples with tiny band-aids and other just held two fingers over the offending nipples — the police didn’t know what to do because they had covered up the offending bits in a ridiculous way to show just how ridiculous the indecency laws were. I believe they were removed for “disturbing the peace” and not on indecency charges.
    If women won the right to go topless they, too, would probably get blamed for causing a public disturbance and for tempting men into dishonorable behavior!

  15. this is such an interesting conversation. Because I can’t tell you how many times I have thought the same thing. It’s like…a nipple’less’ breast is straight…but no nipple! the nipple makes it perverse…like you said. So strange. It’s almost like that is where the line has been drawn. at the areolas…whats up with that?
    i don’t get it either.

  16. Hi stella!
    It is nice to hear from you again.
    Now you raise a really interesting question. I have a friend who went through a double mastectomy and had silicone implants replace the lost breasts.
    For several months while she recovered she had no nipples.
    If she went into public and took off her shirt to show her naked “breasts” would she be arrested for indecency even though she really has no breasts and the replacement breasts have no nipples or areolas?
    Or is just being a woman on a DNA level enough of a crime to get you in trouble for going topless even if you don’t have real breasts because your intention is to flaunt the spirit of the law?
    What about women stuck in the bodies of men? Do they get the same bare nipple punishment or not?
    My friend later had surgery to recreate her nipples and special tattooing (finally an excellent reason to get a tattoo — to restore what was lost) so does that make her an even worse offender if she goes out and exposes her tattooed areolas and her new nipples created from her thigh flesh? Arrest or not arrest?

  17. My opinion on breast issues comes from the perspective of a woman with size Icup, having been a DDcup at age 10. I most definitely would never go topless anywhere, not because I am ashamed of my body, but because it is painful not to have my breasts supported in some form. My breasts are not seen as part of me, but as some kind of clip on exstention. People ask me questions about them as if I picked them up at a shop on sale, talking to them as if they have a mind of their own, and commenting rudely in front of me as if I have no feelings about that part of my body. When I say this most comment about how rude men are, but it is not men that do this, it is women. It was young girls who tormented me through out school due to my breast size and their lack, it’s woman who stop and point making comments about “how much did those cost”, and it is woman who tell me I should “cover up”. Not once has a man ever made a rude remark to me about my breasts, not once. In fact, it is men who have always encouraged me to be proud of my body, and not to cover up as if I am ashamed. Regardless of if this is due to some kind of sexual perversion, this is what got me out of sweatshirts that were 3 or 4 sizes to big and into nice singlets and tops with flattering lines. When I started my course, which is eCommerce and web programing, it wasn’t the men in the class that gave me filthy looks, it was the woman. It wasn’t a man who told my breasts they didn’t belong in the class, it was a woman. And it wasn’t a man who said I belonged on a porno, it was a woman. Needless to say I have few female friends, as I find that men are far more excepting of my physical appearance, and don’t judge so negatively due to it.

  18. David,
    With regards to krome’s comment: it is absolutely jealousy, with few exceptions. I was the first in my school to develop breasts and I got teased mercilessly for it. I was told by all the other girls that they were just baby fat because I was a chubby kid; it made me hate my body. So I did the same thing as krome: I started wearing baggy sweatshirts and trying to play my breasts down as much as possible. Because of all the teasing, I wasn’t comfortable with my breasts until long after all the other girls had gotten them and were showing them off proudly. But once I started feeling better about my body, around the middle of high school, all the same girls who mocked me in grade school were suddenly *complimenting* me on the exact same feature that they used to treat with derision.
    Essentially, girls are just incredibly cruel; many of them grow up and become much kinder women, but some still remain the same girls they were in junior high with regards to the passing of judegement about other women’s bodies.

  19. To me, a Brit, it does appear weird here sometimes at how prudish society is. They won’t show nipples or female butts on TV. Go into a magazine store or regular video rental store though and you can see very explicit images.
    These same images in the UK are not allowed, even sex shop’s top shelf videos show nowhere near as explicit images as here (apparently). But the tabloid newspaper in the UK regularly feature topless women on page three.
    I grew up with these papers, my Mum got The Sun paper for the crossword, so it isn’t a big deal for me to see bare breasts. Not all men become slobbering dolts at the sight of a nipple.
    Other European countries are obviously a lot less prudish and their TV commercials feature full nudity.
    Mik

  20. I agree with Mik on the UK question : the Sun has been instrumental in demystifying the naked breast – and it’s the nation’s largest selling daily newspaper to which most children are exposed whilst growing up. Friends of mine used to have a little secret collection of page 3 girls hidden somewhere – we even went so far as to collect newspapers for charity recycling programs in the hope that we might get a Sun or two to look at and make the day worthwhile.
    The French have no problems with naked breasts. Topless girls on magazine covers, in advertising, etc. are a regular sight as you walk the streets. TV adverts in the evening may have a girl showering or advertising something else completely (including McDonald’s) with suggestive amounts of cleavage or even (heaven forbid!) soaping her breasts with the latest relaxing shower gel.
    I think that American society has a puritanical edge which is an interesting phenomenon in the “land of the free”. Somehow, it’s not even that people think that the nipple should be covered, but that they should be *seen* to adopt this kind of prudish attitude. Perhaps they fear that someone else might label them a libertarian, which along with communism or to a lesser extent atheism, haven’t been acceptable in the US since before McCarthy…
    Amazing, then, that the American porn industry is so massive. Or perhaps not, since pornography sales may well be linked to the level of sexual repression?

  21. fruey —
    Thanks for the detailed information — and I think you’re onto the point of it here in America.
    This country was founded upon the idea of a generic form of freedom but not a freedom that was against the surface faith of religion. Many religions have rules tempering the female body and behavior and publicly allowing the full female form to be nakedly enjoyed in public is to lower the high religious standard that many in American believe to be the necessary perception of the nation.
    Unapproved expressions of the repression are okay because they aren’t “sanctioned” in any traceable way to the mainstream thought or the government or the churches or other religious institutions and they become “safe expressions” because they live in the unapproved undercurrent.

  22. Male nipples are erotic. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Indeed. I am wildly excited by hairy nipples and hairless nipples. I worship a man with large aereolas and I adore tiny aereolas. I love flacid nipples and erect nipples. Pink, tan or brown, male nipples are magnificent. I always pleasure my boyfriends’ nipples and it makes their manhood throb with anticipation of incredible pleasure. And nipple pleasuring a truly masculine boy really excites me. I adore male nipples.