“You’re disgusting,” the Donald said to the opposing lawyer during a court case when she asked for a medical break to pump breast milk for her three-month-old daughter. The Donald’s reaction reminds me of what a past lover once said, “the only reason some men have mouths is so they can suck breasts.” When you put these two comments together you can assume, the only reason some men (and the Donald) have mouths is so they can talk trash about anything, and especially women. Are breasts really disgusting?

I read an article in 2012 by Larry Young that appeared in the Huffington Post, Breasts: The Real Reason Men Love Them.” I am not going to repeat the arguments from that article, but suffice to cite two quotes that sum up the arguments in that article:

                Men are the only male mammals fascinated by breasts in a sexual context … We are also the only species in which males caress, massage and even orally stimulate the female breasts during foreplay and sex.

The writer of that article, Larry Young, and his co-researcher, Brian Alexander, are the authors of the book The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction, in which they analyzed the emotional, biological, and cultural reasons behind why men love breasts. They affirm a woman’s chest is an area that naturally revs up a man’s sexual drive. Naturally? I thought every man has a body part preference. Legs rev some of us up, you know. I don’t want to believe most of the men who dated Tina Turner were more revved up by her breasts.

Then Young wrote:

            Some evolutionary biologists have suggested that full breasts store needed fat,           which, in turn, signals to a man that a woman is in good health and therefore a top-notch prospect to bear and raise children.

Are men really slaves to breasts? When I read this I imagined some dusty lab-coated men around a prehistoric female with huge breasts and the picture (taken by the anthropological scientists) of the dead female with her brood of sixty children, and the unfortunate man who fathered the brood lying wasted under a baobab tree drinking oral-rehydration liquids from a funneled hose hanging on a wall. 

Seriously, breast swelling is common to all women because of naturally occurring cycles, nutrients and supplements, and the construction of the female body – puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding, menopause, exercise, contraceptives, and cancer can cause a woman’s breast to swell.   I am not going to discuss all the symptoms and causes of breast swelling here, just enough to give an alternative impression of Young’s claims of their indication of good health. Breasts are made up of four main tissue structures: fat tissue, glands, milk ducts, and connective tissue. The fat (or adipose) tissue in particular is subject to fluctuations in fluid volume, which can cause breast swelling. For instance, milk ducts in the breast enlarge with the increase of estrogen production at certain points during a woman’s menstrual cycle. When estrogen production reaches its peak just prior to the middle of a woman’s cycle her  breast lobules, the milk glands, are stimulated to grow by an increase of progesterone, which reaches its peak around day 21 of a 28-day cycle. Swollen breasts can also be a symptom of several things – not all dangerous. For instance, breast swelling can occur in women who take birth control pills – their symptoms are, however, milder. Other conditions that can cause breast swelling include benign (noncancerous) breast conditions, such as papillomas and atypical hyperplasia (abnormal proliferation of cells), duct ectasia (widening of the milk ducts discussed earlier), fat necrosis (damage to the fatty tissue of the breast), fibrocystic changes, and breast infection (mastitis or abscess). Breast swelling rarely occurs with a more serious condition such as breast cancer. Let me reiterate, the vast majority of breast changes are not breast cancer related. For instance, fibroadenoma is a smooth, firm breast lump made up of fibrous and glandular tissue. Fibroadenoma is also known as ‘breast mouse’. My research didn’t give me any clues on what causes fibroadenomas – but all my research confirmed that, though they are more common in younger women and may become tender in the days before a period or grow bigger during pregnancy, they are, however, not cancer and rarely change into breast cancer.  And then there is, Gynecomastia, which is triggered by a decrease in the amount of the hormone testosterone compared with estrogen. The cause of this decrease can be conditions that block the effects of or reduce testosterone or a condition that increases your estrogen level. If you haven’t guessed, I am talking about breast swelling in men. I added this to show breasts swelling isn’t a female preserve, and that in men, it may not be a sign of good health. I will save breast swelling by breasts implants for another discussion, but say here that big doesn’t mean good health, and silicone is upsetting the bounce of nature.

To me, Young’s view is similar to that raised by Desmond Morris of The Naked Ape fame. The English zoologist, ethnologist, surrealist painter, and popular author in human sociobiology, wrote in 1967, that the breasts we know today are an evolutionary side effect of bipedal locomotion. That is, walking upright gave our ancestors an edge by freeing up appendages for carrying things, manipulating tools and having a higher vantage point when they walked on the ground. He also claims that human breasts are so large because they’re supposed to mimic the buttocks. By his reasoning, most primate sex was from behind, so the butt was the focal point for attracting mates. Morris claims, face-to-face sex became commonplace once our ancestors learnt to walk upright, and so the ventral region became the target of attraction rather than the dorsal region.

I don’t want to go into an argument on this or what Morris assumes about missionary sex being the norm since we evolved into humans. But I will add my two cents regarding human breast size:

  1. First cent: Humans are in estrus much more often than most primates, and
  2. Second cent: humans are the only mammals with permanently swollen breasts. All other animals only have them when nursing.

I will like to reiterate – every human woman has boobs all the time – some men too. So what are we to make of this? The scientists have also told us “larger breasts mean better reproductive health,” this is not entirely true. One other reason I don’t buy this sexual-selection hypothesis is the fact that the modern/Western emphasis on big boobs is not universal. Have you seen the famous Venus de Milo statue? Isn’t that the epitome of Classical civilizations’ impression of what the Mediterranean considered sexy?

I also would have liked to read Young and Morris’ take on the idea that claims human breast size is a spandrel. If you don’t know, most other female mammals have a pronounced estrus cycle – that is, they’re either sexually unavailable or “in heat”. On the other hand, adult human women have hormonal cycles that are more evened out and lack the peaks and valleys of most other mammals. So, can we argue therefore that the more constant presence of estrogen and related bio-chemicals during adolescence affects breast growth to cause permanent enlargement?

One thing we are certain of though (going by what scientists tell us, and in spite of the fact that larger boobs don’t necessarily mean better reproductive health) is, our ancestors who had no way of knowing this, may have selected mates based on breast size. In my search for an answer to this, I came across an article in the Medical Daily Treasure Chest: What A Man’s Breast Size Preference Says About His Personality Traits,” but instead of an answer all I got was an unqualified list (I will not bother to include the explanations) of male breast preferences:

  • Hungry men prefer big breasts.
  • Sexist men prefer big breasts.
  • Men who want a submissive partner prefer small breasts.
  • Men who are independent and non-nurturant prefer large breasts.
  • Men financially stable prefer small breasts.
  • Men ready for fatherhood prefer large breasts.

The first two assume hungry men and sexist men are the same or the other way round. The irony is, if breasts, as some essentialists believe, are one of the essences of women, why would a sexist, who mostly are essentialist in outlook, prefer the larger version of the female essence? The third point is loaded with patriarchal paradox. Small means more feminine, more submissive? This is a fallacy. Here I will cite female athletes as examples. Anyone associated with sports knows it’s all about determination. Now, see how this paradox runs onto the fourth preference. If small is submissive then large is non-submissive. Why would an independent man want an assertive woman? I will respond to the fifth preference with a belief in Africa that “A fat wife and fat children are the signs of wealth.” You make of that what you will. The sixth point is self-contradictory considering all the points that come before it. The three things (parenthood, fertility and good health) it suggests will take forever to deliberate on in this article.

Let me just say, most men spend a lot of time looking at, speculating and talking about breasts. For men, breasts are not just there, they breed confusion for the average man (and the scientists). Other sex organs may be more complex, sensitive, and cause of acute insecurities about size and performance. But mostly they are tucked away, they are less visible, less discussed, breasts in comparison are always on display. Everywhere you look – on TV, in films, adverts, posters, newspapers and magazines – not to mention real life – everywhere you turn, they stand forward and point at you. Breasts are difficult to get away from, difficult to ignore. In fact, for some men, breasts have become the apex of a woman’s sexual presence, the numero uno sexual signal, the very definition of femininity. Forget “and God created woman,” God, bless him, created breasts.

What is clear and most easy to understand is men’s profound fascination with breasts. It may not be universal, but to most men, breasts are overwhelmingly, occasionally, obsessively, erotic. Men may be overly interested in other areas of the female anatomy, but breasts are, to most men, the Chardonnay of sexual organs.

Breasts have a line, a feel, a sensitivity, a silkiness, a contour, and a nipple (make that nipples) that offer enormous possibilities to men. Breasts are delicate and sensual; no skin is as baby-soft and generous. Get bored with one, move to the other. Breasts are something you can fondle, kiss, stroke, caress, lick, pamper, weigh, bounce, pull, knead, mold, coax, canoodle, nuzzle, pinch, nibble, squeeze and bite. No other sex organ (apart from our own apparatus) is quite so much fun.

Yet, as simple and primeval as all this sounds, there are still layers of confusion around breasts. What men consider beautiful in breasts for example is by no means clear. The perfect breast may be one that fits in a man’s hand, or those that you can still see when the woman’s back is turned to you, but breasts mean many different things to many different men. We even have different names for them: mothers have breasts; the Queen of England has bosoms; Angela has knockers; Barbara has tits; Camille has busts; Dorothy has boobs; Emily has torpedoes; Florence has dairy boards; Grace has headlamps; Henrietta has bazookas; Itumeleng has udders; Janet has fruits of independence; Kelebogile has molehills; Linda has bobbies; Milan has limes; Nonofo has double lattes; Opelo has L1 and L2; Patience has chesticles; Queen has Ying Yang Twins; Regina has twin peaks; Sthembiso has Starsky and Hutch; Tamara has dinosaur eggs; Unami has dumplings; Veronica has airbags; Wanda has fried eggs; Xara has pechos; Yvonne has the A-Team (size specific); Zanele has Simon & Garfunkel; and Dolly Parton has melons – water melons.

Women with large breasts not only complain that men often think that, as breasts size goes up, intelligence goes down. But also that, most men do not ask how a woman wants her breasts to be handled. Men objectify breasts. Some men observe three things when they look at a woman – the woman and two breasts. It is time men stop, look at these swellings we have always viewed with distorted delight, and handle them with care, for after all, what you knead is love. 

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Copyright © Fani-Kayode Omoregie 2016