THE OVERSEXUALIZATION OF BREASTFEEDING

Why do women have breasts? Are they used as a means of sexual gratification for male arousal? No, they are not. As mammals, the true purpose of breasts is to feed babies, as breast milk is often an infant’s main source of nutrition. As reported by Renee Kam, “The true biological importance of women’s breasts is to feed human babies. When it comes to breastfeeding a child, there’s absolutely nothing sexual about it.”[1] Yet, regardless of its importance, this task is constantly made fun of and sexualized. Within this blog post, I will focus on what causes breastfeeding to be heavily sexualized, and what is to blame for making it difficult for women to breastfeed in public without being humiliated such as in the United States or Britain.

One of the causes for the oversexualization of the breasts is simply that sex sells. NicoleFallon illustrates that sex attracts attention. Companies such as Victoria’s Secret and GoDaddy use sex in their marketing as it often creates effective and memorable campaigns. In sales, gaining the attention of clients and potential buyers is often half the battle.[2] And what better way of gaining attraction than the display of the female bosom. The other cause of society’s fascination of the female breasts has to do with the problem of pornography, and the way porn addicts, or users perceive women’s bodies. According to a quote by Gervais and Eagan in an article known as “How Porn Can Normalize Sexual Objectification,” they share,

The people in pornography are often explicitly presented as objects, and porn videos are listed and labeled with the specific acts they perform or physical attributes they possess so the observer can “order” porn that fits their exact expectations. With so many people consuming pornography, is it any wonder that many are developing attitudes of sexual entitlement and objectification? Reducing people to physical terms and self-serving labels is the exact type of sexual objectification that sets the stage for sexual violence.[3]

As a result of these forms of sexual exploitations listed above, a woman’s bosom has become socially perceived as an instrument of sex. As a result, breastfeeding in public is seen as gross, abnormal, and an unattractive act.[4] With this issue in mind, the display of the female nipple comes into question. As told by Silva, “A woman can show as much cleavage as she wants in public, on television or on social media, and it becomes explicit content only when she shows her nipple. If the breast is the difference between men and women, then doesn’t it follow that we should be allowed to show our nipples, but not the rest of our breasts?”[5] Truly, it is upsetting how society accepts breasts to be displayed in a sexual sense but denounces the woman when she needs to use her breasts for their intended purpose.

Now it is time to ask the question of who is responsible for allowing society to have such a bizarre train of thought. Since we live in a very patriarchal world, it is obvious that men stated this nonsense. We now have to ask ourselves, why are men so obsessed with breasts? According to Christine Hsu, from one of her sources titled, “The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction,” by Larry Young, she shares that, “The authors say that one of the reasons why heterosexual men are so fascinated by women’s breasts is because of a simple hormone released during breastfeeding that helps from the powerful bond between mother and baby. This hormone is also responsible for creating the evolutionary drive for strong nurturing bonds between lovers, according to the authors.”[6] In regard to their fascination, Hsu mentions two other authors, Roy Levin and Cindy Meston, who conducted research on the matter. From the article she shares that, “Boys don’t learn on the playground that breasts are something that they should be interested in. It is biological and deeply ingrained in our brain,” they wrote. “In fact, research indicates that when we’re confronted with breasts, or even breast- related stimuli, like bras, we’ll start making bad decisions (and not just to eat at Hooters).”[7] As a result, be it mentally or psychologically, some men view breasts through a sexual lens, which in turn, disrupts the process of breastfeeding because they see it as something that should be done in private. Nevertheless, this biological concept does not give them the right to ogle at a woman’s breast as she breastfeeds her child, nor should he feel disgusted or uncomfortable when she does so.

Besides men, it unfortunately turns out that women too oversexualize the female breasts and therefore see breastfeeding in public as an eyesore and should be done in private. They shame women who perform such acts by questioning their character. Exclamations of “Where’s your modesty?” and “Cover up!” are very common. Even women who posted pictures of themselves breastfeeding were ridiculed online being called whores.[8] This largely stems from how society relates the female breasts with sex, and because we live in a patriarchal society in which most things are in favor of men, particularly their sexual desires, women as well will follow that same ideology. Shaw continues by stating, “It seems, then, that the disgust lobbed at women—by women—who choose to publicly breastfeed arises from two sides of the same coin: disbelief that these mamas dare use their breasts for anything other than sex (thereby defying gendered norms and expectations), and concern that breastfeeding moms are going out of their way to attract the male gaze—their males’ gazes.”[9] These forms of pervasiveness just goes to show how pervasive our society has become, and sadly, I do not think it is going to end anytime soon.

I would like to see a society that does not view the act of a mother loving her child as vulgar. I would like for both men and women to have the common decency to not harass mothers who feed their young. For men to not take pictures of women breastfeeding and viewing it as a form of pornography. And for both genders to respect the mother and child by leaving them alone. Even if some see it as something that should be done in private, it does not give them the right to confront women for their “indecency.” I understand that there have been laws allowing a woman to breastfeed freely in public, but I firmly believe that they do not properly protect her and her child from the badgering of the public.

Honestly, I am very surprised at how Americans behave when it comes to public breastfeeding. Nigeria is very different. Breastfeeding is incredibly encouraged, and women are free to breastfeed their child in public without harassment. However, it is not commonly done as much compared to the past, and it is usually done by women in rural areas as women in urban cities prefer to do it in private. Nevertheless, be it outside or inside, no one disturbs you. It is shocking to learn that the United States, the pillar of democracy and freedom, fails at such a simple task.

The oversexualization of the female breasts is an unfortunate circumstance the West have found themselves in. What is really hard to contemplate when it comes to this topic is how the people who ridicule these women were once babies. In other words, they should know when it is time for the baby to eat, and as such, should allow the mother to do what she needs to do; Breastfeed! The female bosoms are for the mother and her child, and anyone who thinks otherwise should be ashamed of themselves.

-O.E.N.


[1] Renee Kam, “The Sexualisation of Breasts – What Has Caused it?” Bellybelly, October 5, 2021, https://www.bellybelly.com.au/breastfeeding/the-sexualisation-of-breasts/

[2] Nicole Fallon, “Why Sex Sells… More Than Ever,” Business News Daily, November 19, 2021, https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/2649-sex-sells more.html#:~:text=%22Sex%20sells%20because%20it%20attracts,imagery%20in%20ads%2C%20he%20said.&text=%22Specifically%2C%20alcohol%2C%20entertainment%20and,for%20much%20of%20the%20increase.%22

[3] Fight The New Drug, “How Porn Can Normalize Sexual Objectification,” Accessed February 6, 2022, https://fightthenewdrug.org/how-porn-can-normalize-sexual-objectification/

[4] Sabina Kumar, “Titillating Titties: The Hypersexualization of Breasts,” FEM, February 3, 2016, https://femmagazine.com/titillating-titties-the-hypersexualization-of-breasts/

[5] Liyanga de Silva, “Public breastfeeding is legal in all 50 states. Now, let’s change the culture,” The Diamondback, August 15, 2018, https://dbknews.com/2018/08/15/public-breastfeeding-nipple-sexualize-female-body/

[6] Christine Hsu, “Male Researchers Reveal the reason Why men love Breasts,” Medical Daily, September 26, 2012, https://www.medicaldaily.com/male-researchers-reveal-real-reason-why-men-love-breasts-242754

[7] Ibid

[8] Maureen Shaw, “America’s sexualization of breasts is so pervasive even other women think public breastfeeding is gross.” Quartz, August 16, 2016, https://qz.com/756499/americas-sexualization-of-breasts-is-so-pervasive-even-other-women-think-public-breastfeeding-is-gross/

[9] Ibid

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