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The Complex Relationship Between Boobs And Sex

Boobs are staring us in the face. They lurk in the pages of magazines, on the boxes of video game covers, on billboards, in movies and TV shows, as food for Olivia Wilde's childVICE's Dave Schilling calls this phenomenon "Peak Breast."

We're a culture surrounded by boobies.

Whenever there are boobs involved, regardless of how ubiquitous they are, there's always a complex sexual implication. If we're surrounded by boobs, we're surrounded by sex.

Western societies, however, have such a narrow-minded view of sex that we are only able to attribute "breasts" to "sexual objectification."

We immediately picture horny dudes clutching themselves while watching RedTube or staring at the cover of "Tomb Raider" and girls in tight Hooters shirts, prancing around in their short-shorts, just to name a few examples.

Either that, or we're making a spectacle of breastfeeding moms and scrutinizing their right (or lack of right) to feed their children in public.

Several months ago, there was a very interesting Reddit AMA featuring an anthropologist who was asked if there's any society that does not sexualize breasts. The anthropologist challenged users to define what they meant by "sexualize":

Usually we talk about sexualize and sexualization as what happens when you take an act, person, demographic, body part, etc. and turn it into an objectified focus of sexual desire. The personhood and agency is removed in this process. It is usually seen as detrimental to the person who is being sexualized or at least potentially damaging.

The American Psychological Association says an act of sexualization has occurred if one or more of the following factors is/are present:

A person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics; A person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy; A person is sexually objectified — that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; And/or sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.

Sexualization of breasts is, of course, real. Breasts are always sexual in nature, though not always in the "dirty" way in which we've come to associate sex.

The engorgement of breasts indicates that a woman has gone through puberty, a process through which our body becomes ready to conceive a child. Once a woman has a child (via sex), erect nipples indicate a good nozzle for her baby to latch on for breastfeeding. Ironically enough, erect nipples also indicate sexual interest.

Breasts are associated with overall body fat, which means they may be associated with fertility. Although it varies from woman to woman, most women who lose or gain a relatively significant amount of weight will notice a change in their boob size.

Women need about 17 percent body fat to be fertile, so larger breasts -- and therefore, a higher weight --  reflects an increased ability to have a child. And, yes, this involves sex, too.

There's a constant sexual element to breasts that doesn't necessarily mean they're being sexualized as per the APA definition. We are also, plain and simple, sexually attracted to breasts.

Is it possible that we can find breasts sexually attractive without sexualizing them, or have these two ideas become one in the same?

Authors Brian Alexander and Dr. Larry Young -- one of the world's leading experts in the neuroscience of "The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction" -- recently cited a study that demonstrated how breasts stimulate the reward and pleasure center in the brains of men, which signifies that there truly is something chemical happening when we look at boobs.

In the study, men were offered money under two conditions: they could either have a small amount of money immediately, or wait a few days and receive a larger monetary amount.

After the deal was offered, some of the men watched videos of sheep and cattle while the others watched scenes of hot women running in slow motion.

Researchers noted that the men who watched the breast scene were much more likely to take the the smaller amount of money immediately than those who watched the farm scenes.

Alexander writes,

This likely indicates that parts of their brains associated with 'reward,' the pleasure centers, and the sites of goal-directed motivation, were shouting down the reasoning centers of their brains, primarily the pre-frontal cortex. Neurochemicals were activating those reward and motivational circuits to drive men toward taking the short money.

It's entirely possible that this study fails to indicate that the "lighting-up" of such a pleasure center is a learned behavior, acquired through the bombardment of breasts in the media and the expectation of how excited they're supposed to make us -- and therefore our brains -- feel.

Which means it's possible that we've only been socialized to find breasts appealing.

It's also possible that the omnipresence of breasts in society is exploiting our "natural" attraction to them and turning it solely into frowned-upon objectification.

And maybe none of these things are true. Maybe breasts don't have to be as dichotomous -- used as either sexual objects or food -- as we make them out to be. Maybe we should be allowed to enjoy boobs for the sake of enjoying boobs because they're part of our bodies.

What about the pleasure that comes with being sexualized in a relationship or otherwise? Are you going to tell a woman she's using her boobs wrong when she wears a low-cut shirt for the sheer purpose of turning on her boyfriend?

What about the 82 percent of women who desire nipple and breast simulation during sex? What about the same pleasure-inducing oxytocin released during breastfeeding that's also released when a woman's partner touches her breasts?

In a Psychology Today article entitled, "My Breasts Are for Me, Not Just for Feeding Babies," April M. Herndon, Ph. D writes,

Many criticisms of mainstream representations of women’s bodies suggest that the sexualization of female body parts is always oppressive, and sometimes such images and criticism are used to actually promote breastfeeding, which was the case with several posters that juxtaposed images of women in bikinis with images of women breastfeeding and proclaimed that finding breastfeeding offensive but not bikinis meant the viewer was a hypocrite.

There's far too little conversation about the variety of ways breasts are used, especially when those uses involve pleasure.

There are women out there who will never have babies and, consequently, will never breastfeed, and I would hate for them to feel like those two "sacks" hanging from their chests now serve no purpose. I would also hate for women to be afraid to play up their boobs for the sole purpose of feeling hot.

While it's definitely important to talk about about how hurtful and oppressive sexual objectification is, it's also equally as important to teach women that they can be sexual and sexy with their bodies -- and their boobs -- without being sexual objects.

Photo Courtesy: We Heart It