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"Breastfeeding is sexual" - but isn't it?

post #1 of 35
Thread Starter 
Hi,

I'm posting this as a general chat because i really don't want to offend or hurt anyone's feelings, i am just wondering how other people see this issue.

To me breastfeeding is sexual in the following senses:

It involves the breasts which are secondary sexual organs (serving a sexual purpose as in a sex-specific task in the reproductive cycle of the species).

It involves sex hormones (i.e. hormones which feature in all the psychosexual responses like oxytocin).

It involves a bonding experience between the nurser and nursling similar to that between partners during sex (because of those hormones).

Now, it goes without saying (hopefully) that i don't think breastfeeding is the same as/comparable to sexual intercourse, or to do with sex between adults. Nor do i think breastfeeding a child can be abusive in the sexual sense. I think breastfeeding is sexual AND that is how it's meant to be.

I think i find it difficult when someone says "breastfeeding is not sexual" because to me in the biological sense and the emotional sense breastfeeding IS sexual. And i know a fair few people who object to breastfeeding or think it should only be done for 6 weeks or 3 months or 12 months or whatever their "line" is because they recognise it's sexual, and are alarmed by that and some of those people have said to me they find the argument from those who support BFing that "breastfeeding isn't sexual" to be empty and those people making it to be suspicious people (one compared it to a creepy neighbourhood guy sitting your kid on his lap again and again and insisting "it's not sexual" - yuk, but i have to speak with te people around me).

I wonder if it's simply that one man's "sexual" is another man's "sensual" or "loving" or if it's not...? My temptation when people say it's sexual in horrified tones is to tell them to grow up and examine what is actually WRONG with that.

For some background - i was sexually abused as a child and obviously my experience of that allows me my own perspective on how "abusive" breastfeeding is/can be. Also i'm a bit autistic so i tend to miss emotional cues sometimes. I really REALLY don't want to upset anyone.

I guess my stance is breastfeeding IS sexual and there is NOTHING wrong with that. Am i a crazy loon? Or am i making some sense?
post #2 of 35
I guess it depends on what the word "sexual" means to you, then.

I think the argument about a creepy neighbor sitting in your lap is completely irrelevant. HE would make it a sexual act by having sexual feelings about it. My kids are just eating and snuggling with their mama - that is a not a sexual act.

The hormones and sensations affect different women differently. I can only speak for myself - I've never, ever had any kind of sexual feeling about nursing my kids. I've never had an issue with intimacy with my husband, either, but I know some women do have conflicting feelings about their partner touching their breasts when they have a nursing child.

To me, it's ALL about the context. Feeding my children is not sexual to me. Others may feel differently, and that is ok.
post #3 of 35
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by LianneM View Post

I think the argument about a creepy neighbor sitting in your lap is completely irrelevant. HE would make it a sexual act by having sexual feelings about it. My kids are just eating and snuggling with their mama - that is a not a sexual act.
I totally agree - i think her point was that sitting on someone's lap when you're a little kid isn't a sexual act either, but that the creepy guy's denial made it seem icky - like when you KNOW someone is creepy and they maintain what they're doing is not it's worse. Please remember that this comment came from a person who is VERY unfamiliar with BFing and frightened by the idea of abuse in the abstract hyped-by-the-media way. She has never BFed and as far as i know doesnt intent to, hough she doesn't have kids yet.

I definitely agree that it depends what "sexual" means. For me a sexual vibe is a loving open one, with physical intimacy in there, and warmth and caring. I think perhaps my experience of abuse makes the physicality of the sexual act between adults starkly seperate from a "sexual" feeling because i have had a lot of that and it was "abusive" "violent" "controlling" but never sexual in the sense i gave above. For me without the vibe the act isn't sexual it is violent or at least malign. Equally the vibe can be there (as with BFing) without it having anything at all to do with intercourse. Clear as mud aren't i!?
post #4 of 35
I don't think it is sexual.

Oxytocin is not just a sex hormone. It has very specific functions that are not related to sex but feelings. Though it can and does occurs during sex, it is the hormone primarily responsible for love, bonding, trust etc.... It also is of course responsible for letdown and maternal behaviours, and uterine contractions in and after labour.

Breasts are not secondary sexual organs, though I agree that our society has made them such, it is not like this everywhere. For example, In many places in Africa, breast are not sexual at all... but thighs are a different story.

Bonding is a result of the hormone ocytocin. Oxytocin is stimlulated by certain actions like sex but is also created other ways...

Yes, breastfeeding, sex, labour etc are all intertwined because of the same types of hormones. But that would make them all Oxyticin related and not "Sex" related.
post #5 of 35
In the Victorian era, exposing one's ankles was risque.

In many (most?) parts of the world, no one thinks anything of a topless woman.

Breasts are "sexual" in the sense that they're physical differentiations correlated to the 46th chromosome. Going bald or having an adam's apple is also "sexual."

The pleasurable feelings women (and men, for that matter) get from nipple stimulation are comparable to sensations one can get from being nibbled on the neck or ear. The way my husband reacts when I scratch his scalp tells me it is at LEAST as stimulating as nipples are for me.

So, while you can make a scientific argument that breastfeeding is "sexual," there is nothing save our cultural information about the role of breasts that actually make it specifically about *sex*. The notion that "breastfeeding is sexual" is part and parcel of the cultural biases we have against it.
post #6 of 35
Thread Starter 
Thanks, paxye, that' interesting. I get what you mean about oxytocin not only being a sex hormone. I guess "reproductive" fits better? FWIW i think conception, birth, and nursing are ALL equally sexual, "sex" doesn't seem very bonded to the physical sexual acts between adults to me for some reason... Maybe i think primarily sex is a feeling and not a physical act?
post #7 of 35
My gut reaction is "Eww, so NOT sexual!". I'm one of those women who can't stand having her breasts touched by her partner while nursing a child. It's just a totally different sensation and it icks me out tremendously.

I think I don't see it as sexual because it relates to such a primary need babies have-- food. Comfort, too, but food first. Food isn't sexual to me either.

I dunno, I see the gray area. It's just not gray at all in my personal experience.
post #8 of 35
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ironica View Post
The notion that "breastfeeding is sexual" is part and parcel of the cultural biases we have against it.
But that's what i mean - i DO think it's sexual, but i am certainly NOT against it. I have a Sheila Kitzinger book called Breastfeeding Your Baby which has a whole section on how BFing can give some women some sexual (as in more familiar in the context of adult exual congress) feelings and how that's nothing to worry about and normal and related to the action of oxytocin. I also know (only online though) a woman who stopped breastfeeding because she thought the random feelings of arousal which came unbidden when she was feeding her son meant she was a paedophile and a horrible person.
post #9 of 35
I have a friend who was 'weirded out' by how much she enjoyed nursing as well. She found it helpful to remember that if it didn't feel good we probably wouldn't keep doing it. It's our bodies way of ensuring our babies get fed. So while it doesn't really fit my own personal definition of sexual it certainly does feel good- for very good reasons!
post #10 of 35
We are sexual beings. My daughters have very high levels of sexual hormones floating around in them right now- one quick glance at their chests will verify that! In terms of scientific definitions, yes, breastfeeding is sexual because it involves a secondary sex characteristic and it is generally proof that the woman doing the lactation has had sex.

Yes, breasts are secondary sex characteristics, but so is body hair. It's not really "sexual" to display hairy legs or armpits or for a man to display his hairy chest or facial hair. By this definition, any time a post-pubescent man speaks it's a sexual act, since his voice changed in puberty.

The term "sexual" has certain connotations in society, that leads beyond its technical, scientific definition. When you say something is "sexual", it implies a certain level of sexual arousal or sexual intimacy- the kind of thing most people want to keep behind closed doors, and others will perceive as voyeuristic.

The goal is to normalize breastfeeding, to make people 100% comfortable whenever they see a baby or small child drinking milk from his or her mother. To try and reclaim the word "sexual" would be a huge undertaking, and it would take energy away from the true goal of normalizing breastfeeding. We're better off moving away from that word, and emphasizing the nurturing characteristics instead.
post #11 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by LianneM View Post
I think the argument about a creepy neighbor sitting in your lap is completely irrelevant. HE would make it a sexual act by having sexual feelings about it. My kids are just eating and snuggling with their mama - that is a not a sexual act.

I agree! I guess it is all depends on how you feel.
post #12 of 35
Thread Starter 
Quote:
The goal is to normalize breastfeeding, to make people 100% comfortable whenever they see a baby or small child drinking milk from his or her mother. To try and reclaim the word "sexual" would be a huge undertaking, and it would take energy away from the true goal of normalizing breastfeeding. We're better off moving away from that word, and emphasizing the nurturing characteristics instead.
Thank you so much Ruthla! THat makes so so much sense to me! And your "reclaiming sexual" bit made me laugh, i am constantly accused of being overly purist and biting off more than i can chew, it really fits with me that i would go for THAT rathar than simply trying to normalize breastfeeding in a more general-population-friendly way!
post #13 of 35
I don't see it as "sexual" but rather "intimate".
post #14 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by LianneM View Post
I guess it depends on what the word "sexual" means to you, then.

I think the argument about a creepy neighbor sitting in your lap is completely irrelevant. HE would make it a sexual act by having sexual feelings about it. My kids are just eating and snuggling with their mama - that is a not a sexual act.

The hormones and sensations affect different women differently. I can only speak for myself - I've never, ever had any kind of sexual feeling about nursing my kids. I've never had an issue with intimacy with my husband, either, but I know some women do have conflicting feelings about their partner touching their breasts when they have a nursing child.

To me, it's ALL about the context. Feeding my children is not sexual to me. Others may feel differently, and that is ok.
post #15 of 35
:
post #16 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by paxye View Post
I don't think it is sexual.

Oxytocin is not just a sex hormone. It has very specific functions that are not related to sex but feelings. Though it can and does occurs during sex, it is the hormone primarily responsible for love, bonding, trust etc.... It also is of course responsible for letdown and maternal behaviours, and uterine contractions in and after labour.

Breasts are not secondary sexual organs, though I agree that our society has made them such, it is not like this everywhere. For example, In many places in Africa, breast are not sexual at all... but thighs are a different story.

Bonding is a result of the hormone ocytocin. Oxytocin is stimlulated by certain actions like sex but is also created other ways...

Yes, breastfeeding, sex, labour etc are all intertwined because of the same types of hormones. But that would make them all Oxyticin related and not "Sex" related.
ITA, she is absolutely correct. The 'breastfeeding as sexual idea' unfortunately is the warped influence of this culture. In other cultures even breasts are not seen as "sexual" the way that they are here.
post #17 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ruthla View Post
The goal is to normalize breastfeeding, to make people 100% comfortable whenever they see a baby or small child drinking milk from his or her mother. To try and reclaim the word "sexual" would be a huge undertaking, and it would take energy away from the true goal of normalizing breastfeeding. We're better off moving away from that word, and emphasizing the nurturing characteristics instead.
This is pretty much what I've been thinking, but you managed to verbalize it much better than I would have. I totally agree.
post #18 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by GoBecGo View Post
I definitely agree that it depends what "sexual" means. For me a sexual vibe is a loving open one, with physical intimacy in there, and warmth and caring. I think perhaps my experience of abuse makes the physicality of the sexual act between adults starkly seperate from a "sexual" feeling because i have had a lot of that and it was "abusive" "violent" "controlling" but never sexual in the sense i gave above. For me without the vibe the act isn't sexual it is violent or at least malign. Equally the vibe can be there (as with BFing) without it having anything at all to do with intercourse. Clear as mud aren't i!?
I only read this far...
I think you are describing the word "sensual" as in loving, warm, caring, nurturing, releasing hormones, etc...

Our culture has amped the sexual popularity of breasts way out of proportion- I don't think breasts are inherently sexual in every use. Er, just look at your hands,

K, off to finish the thread!
post #19 of 35
I found it completely unerotic, myself. Unless "sexual" covers the entire spectrum of affection and pleasant physical contact (and I would not define it that way), breastfeeding does not seem sexual to me at all. In fact, it kind of desexualized my breasts for me for a few years -- I didn't want them touched or stimulated by my husband, because those sensations, when I was lactating, were a big sexual turn-off! My breasts reacted like baby-feeding apparatus instead of frisky fun apparatus (and I was really relieved when, after weaning, I got the frisky response back).

However, if you did experience it that way -- if if fell on that spectrum for you -- I don't think there's anything wrong with it.
post #20 of 35
Oxytocin is also released upon eating chocolate - which for most people, despite what Moritz ads attempt to portray, isn't a sexual act.

I'd agree that in one sense, breasts are superficially sexual in that breastfeediing is part and parcel of the reproductive, continung-the-species package. If the word was used in that sense I'd have no problem with it, though it seems too obvious and banal to point out. Usually though, the word is used for nefarious purposes. When it's co-opted to mean "dirty", "dirty-thoughts-producing", "bodily function that must not be shown in public" and so on, it is simply wrong. And that's the context in which lactivists insist breastfeeding is not sexual. I'm pretty sure everyone knows that only females tend to lactate.

Put it this way: people don't use the word "sexual" in a neutral, clinical sense 99% of the time. Male pattern baldness is related to testosterone; but if your balding husband couldn't walk around town without a dozen people pointing out "That's sexual, you know!", you'd start to wonder what was up. And it'd only be a matter of time before someone suggested he cover up with a hat.
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