If you’re reading this wondering if you’re the only person out there with concerns about breastfeeding and sex…. I promise you’re not!
The Sexualization of Breasts
There are so many issues around breastfeeding and sex, or the sexualization of breasts.
For some people, just the idea of breastfeeding is uncomfortable because of all of the sexual associations with breasts. For people who have started breastfeeding young babies, it might continue to feel uncomfortable. In most cases though, our focus shifts pretty dramatically to breasts as a feeding tool once the baby arrives. But that can also cause difficulties, because sex with our partners, or parts of the sexual relationship, can begin to feel uncomfortable.
For those of you who are thinking about getting pregnant or are currently pregnant, consider how you feel when you think about allowing a baby to feed from your breast. This might be uncomfortable! In many cultures, including ours, breasts are sexualized. We are not conditioned to thinking of them as just another useful body part. We keep them hidden (mostly), unless we want them to serve a role in attracting a partner, or as part of a sexual experience.
For many people, breasts are sexually attractive, and so we see them displayed prominently in advertisements and in films and TV shows. This has not been true for every culture in every era. There have always been, and still currently are, places in the world where seeing a breast is normal. It is not considered a “private part”. People in these communities feed their babies everywhere and don’t even think about covering up. There are still some cultures in warmer climates, where it’s normal to see men AND women going topless to stay cool. In those places, people are not constantly running around being sexually aroused and trying to control themselves! It is just normal…..another body part like a nose or a foot.
Fun fact: There have been times in certain parts of the world where FEET were highly sexualized body parts and women had to keep them covered up to avoid attracting the “wrong” kind of attention!
Getting Past the “Weirdness”
I have heard many people express concerns about being able to breastfeed, because while they are pregnant they can’t imagine that it won’t be way too weird or even “icky” to breastfeed. For a few people, that continues to be the case after the baby is born. A lifetime of conditioning makes us believe there is something “wrong” with allowing a baby to come into contact with this body part. That might mean that breastfeeding is very difficult or even impossible. If that is what happens for you, it’s OK. It can be really hard for some people, and very understandable.
For some of those people, pumping is an option that is not as difficult as direct breastfeeding, and that’s still a great way to provide milk for your baby. However you choose to move forward, I would definitely recommend working on some of those distressing feelings ahead of time. Continue to tell yourself that breasts have this other very important purpose, and that it is good for you and your baby to allow the body to do what it’s designed to do. Breasts are not just supposed to be sexual objects. We have other body parts that serve multiple purposes. The clitoris and the penis are obviously designed for sexual pleasure, but they’re also right there at the spot where urine needs to come out! Imagine if it became difficult to urinate because you were worried about becoming sexually aroused at an inappropriate time! We can separate those different functions. Both are natural and normal. It might even be helpful to get some therapy around this if you’re having a big struggle.
The good news is that for most people this quickly changes when the baby arrives. Our amazing hormones usually get those “icky” feelings under control pretty quickly, and we become much more focused on the instinct to nourish our babies. The breasts become a most important and useful tool for keeping our babies alive and healthy.
Covering Up or Not?
A lot of people even find that they lose modesty around the breasts and have no problem exposing them while they’re feeding their babies. I definitely fell into this camp. I thought for sure that I would need to cover up, because I have always been a very modest person. I even put multiple cute nursing covers on my baby registry. Once my baby arrived, I didn’t even think about it. When I needed to feed her, a breast came out and all else was forgotten! I actually recognized that I wanted to stop and be more careful to consider the feelings of other people in the room. Our dads, brothers, uncles, aunts, and grandparents might not be all that comfortable seeing our breasts, and whether or not we think that’s a healthy thing, covering up might be a considerate thing we choose to do. We can’t “fix” them or change their lifelong conditioned responses, so some of us choose to compromise in this way. In those cases, I personally didn’t leave the room, but I tried to stay more covered up.
It’s also OK to breastfeed your baby however you’re most comfortable. Other people can choose to stay or leave. Because we live in this culture where breasts are sexualized, it’s not necessarily going to be an easy path, but we can continue to normalize breastfeeding by at least bringing it in the room!
Breasts Are More Than Feeding Tools
If you have an easy time making that adjustment and feel very secure and comfortable with breastfeeding, you might notice that a different struggle comes up. When we do make that shift to thinking of breasts as a feeding tool, it can actually sometimes mean that using breasts in a sexual way feels very WRONG! There are actual logistical reasons why breastfeeding can interfere with sexual intimacy. Sometimes, sexual arousal can lead to milk ejection and that can get messy and sticky, so you might have to keep a top and breast pads on! For some people, it might actually be painful or uncomfortable to have your breasts touched in any other way. For others, it just might feel weird.
Maybe you’ve started feeling that the breasts are the baby’s domain and no one else should mess with them and it feels “icky” to try. Maybe you feel “over touched” spending so many hours each day holding and feeding a baby and you want to minimize that. Whatever you might be experiencing, it’s important to recognize that this is a temporary thing. Your baby will grow and change, and so will your breastfeeding relationship. In the meantime, it’s important to maintain a healthy relationship with your partner and find other ways to connect and be intimate that might not involve breasts for a while. This means having open conversations about what each of you are feeling and how you can work together to move through this period in your relationship with the most respect and ease.
If you are having any struggles considering breastfeeding and breasts having a sexual function, just know that you are not alone. It is a very common concern, but one that is usually overcome without too much struggle. If you can, It’s important to get it out in the open more and share your thoughts and feelings with other people so they don’t feel like they are the only ones! Join our free online support groups to talk about all things pregnancy and new parenting. Join us on Mondays at 1pm (CT) for Bosom Buddies New Parents Support Group and every Friday at 1pm (CT) for Belly to Birth Pregnancy Support Group.