Last week I wrote about the orgasmic potential of nipples. In researching that piece, I came across tons of fascinating pieces on how breastfeeding changes the relationship people have to their nipples. As someone who has never breastfed, and who is constantly curious about where reproductive uses of the body intersect with pleasure and arousal systems, I called in the experts to explore the realities of pleasure during and after breastfeeding. I’d like to thank the Mamis Unite Facebook group for enthusiastic participation in this conversation!
Khalia René, 32, Black. Class is “’in-betweenie’- makes too much to be low, don’t make enough for middle”, lives in Harlem, NY, breastfeeding since June 28th, 2017.
Femi, 32, African American, and broke (but on the bubble) in New York City.
Ruby*, 34, white, cis, hetero. Breastfed two children for two years a piece. Detroit.
Roan, 35, white, queer, transmasculine spectrum person, from an upper middle class background. Breastfeeding (two babies, now toddlers) for almost three years. North Carolina.
Trina*, South Asian, upper middle class, cis female, hetero. Breastfeeding for 22 months in Brooklyn.
Connie, 28, Black, cis, hetero, middle class, Scotland. Almost two years of breastfeeding.
Bridget*, mid 30s, white, cis woman, mostly straight, middle class, east coast. Breastfeeding for last six years continuously.
Janah, 42, white, middle class, cisgender female, mostly heterosexual. Breastfed for 33 months, New York City.
Is/was the act of breastfeeding physically pleasurable to you?
Bridget: At night when I nurse her I find the effort soporific. And smelling her little head is definitely pleasurable. But I am more neutral about the nursing sensation itself.
Khalia: Not at first because it was a job and my nipples became really sore.
Trina: I had nipple trauma with my first—a breastfeeding infection from her not latching correctly that turned into a major ordeal.
Ruby: The most physical pleasure I got from breastfeeding was the relief from engorgement. I enjoyed being able to witness my children fall asleep at breast, but I wouldn’t say that was a physical pleasure.
Janah: Prior to having my son, I wondered/worried about feeling aroused during breastfeeding because my nipples were always/still are very sensitive and an integral part of my sexual life (I’ve had orgasms just from nipple stimulation). It was pleasurable, but not really sexual. It was a tender, intimate experience. You are flooded with oxytocin and early on those hormones are super strong and give you an all-around good feeling. Connected. Content. And sometimes there was a pleasant physical feeling, but it wasn’t ever arousing.
Femi: My son is 2 1/2 years old, and still nursing. It’s not very sexy or pleasurable in my opinion, just kind of a process that I do/perform.
Roan: I love breastfeeding. It is absolutely pleasurable for me, in an oxytocin-releasing, snuggling with babies kind of way. I love being able to manufacture a legit food source from my body without even trying; I love the peace and downtime that breastfeeding creates; I love the magic of solving babies’ problems instantly with a boob; I love that I have built-in backup if I forget to pack a snack or water bottle; and I love the physicality of connecting through nursing. That part isn’t for everyone and touch can be something a lot of parents get burnt out on. I get that and feel it sometimes, especially when nursing toddlers who love to twiddle, scratch, yank, kick, etc. But I’ve always been a person who loves touch. It really works for me.
Are there other aspects of breastfeeding that you found pleasurable?
Khalia: Yes, once my daughter and I got the hang of latching. It’s pleasurable when she “dream feeds” [because] it’s small, soft sucks. At first it was weird as hell, but now I’m used to it.
Trina: I remember consciously focusing at moments on how this could be pleasurable with the babies, like the sensations of it. But truthfully, the pleasure was in the sensation of relief from them feeding. I connected with them deeply through breastfeeding.
Connie: I love the intimacy and connection. I love when I pause. I love the presence of my baby and I together.
Bridget: It is so powerful to be able to know you are providing antibodies, soothing, food, connection to a tiny human, and to know that that baby is still connected to you after you grew her. There is something magical about hefting your little one in a sling, lowering her to your breast, latching her on, and feeling her quiet focus, calm, relaxing energy grow. Also I feel badass that I can nurse while doing things like grocery shopping, reading to bigger kid, cooking and gardening, doing a conference call, organizing a city hall hearing, and leading a training.
How did pregnancy and breastfeeding impact your desire for other adults to interact with your breasts/chest? And did it impact how your partner/lovers/other adults desired your breasts?
Janah: While I was pregnant I felt verrrry sexy. I enjoyed sex and the attention I got because my breasts were so large and full. After having my son, my interest in sex decreased. My need for touch decreased because I had this little person attached to me all the time. I did NOT want my partner to touch my nipples. You leak from everywhere, so it didn’t feel sexy to me! I also had a traumatic C-section so that experience was in play. It was a while before I was interested or felt desirable.
Khalia: I never liked/allowed men to suck on my breasts or play with my breasts before or during sex because it never felt right. Now I know how to guide them.
Femi: At first, I was a bit apprehensive to have my husband touch my breasts after I had my son because they had, through the process of becoming a parent, become “his.” This is all the more amplified by the fact that I nurse on demand. But I was able to get over it, and my husband was able to touch my breasts without me getting weird on him. If anything, I would say that I wanted it even more, because otherwise, my breasts are just a food source, which is not pleasurable. I once had a friend refer to me as a human snack. We joke around and say dudes look like snacks in a sexual way, but to actually be an (on demand!) snack really kills your sexy. I have a sex drive, but I haven’t felt as sexy as I used to before I had my son. Sad, but true.
Trina: My boobs were huge and uncomfortable and at first breastfeeding was a major turn off. And I don’t know if it was the hormones or what, but I was not feeling it or sex or sexy.
Ruby: Breastfeeding really impacted my desire for anyone else to touch or play or try to stimulate my breasts in any way at all. Only now, just over one year of not nursing a child, have I SLIGHTLY gotten into nipple stimulation, and even now it’s not all the time. No one told me that would happen. However, not until I had children did I realize that breasts weren’t for sexual purposes. Wholeheartedly.
Connie: I loved my breasts a lot more. During pregnancy, I really liked the idea of liquid nourishment coming out of them. My partner became tentative about my breasts.
Bridget: That is what sucks. I want my partner to have nothing to do with my breasts. Neck, back, legs, feet, kissing are all great and erogenous. But breasts are way less fun for me since having kids.
Many people experience a drastic change in the physical appearance of their nipples during pregnancy and breastfeeding (longer nipples, wider and darker areolas). If you experienced this, did it impact your feelings about your body?
Khalia: My areolas got bigger and darker and no, I still feel the same, I still feel sexy. I had a baby so my body changed, but it didn’t impact how I feel about my body.
Janah: My nipples and areola definitely got darker, but I didn’t experience those changes in a negative way. They’ve gone back to normal now (I haven’t breastfed for over three years).
Ruby: I didn’t notice much change to my nipples besides a more durable appearance and texture. My breasts, however, took a real hit, and it has affected my self esteem and the way I see myself as attractive or confident. I miss that pre-children upright sitting of my gals. Now they just sag.
Connie: At first, I was saddened because they grew and got darker. Now I’m okay, but sometimes feel wistful for the nipples of yore.
Bridget: My nipples got longer and areolas darker, but I didn’t feel unhappy about their appearance. I mainly felt awesome that I could make milk!
Roan: Breastfeeding hasn’t really changed my relationship to my chest, or made me feel more or less sexual about it. Sex and breastfeeding are just such different contexts, and there doesn’t feel like a lot of crossover for me. However I do—when such dynamics are consensual/invited—find lactation really hot in others, including my partner. That has nothing to do with parenting or nurturing, and everything to do with an abundance of delightful bodily fluids that respond to arousal and oxytocin by leaking, spurting, spraying, etc. Fullness, engorgement, heaviness—you know, boobs—but with extra excitement.
On a scale of “pedophile” to “honey me too,” how would you rate the act of breastfeeding while engaging in sex, as this woman claimed to do recently?
Khalia: Hell Fucking No.
Janah: I haven’t read much of the story of the woman who had sex while breastfeeding other than headlines. My gut reaction is no way! And yeah, babies don’t have language, are barely aware of what’s their body/their mom’s body, but it definitely makes me feel a little judgmental. It makes me uncomfortable.
Femi: I am kind of on the fence about breastfeeding while having sex. I can see how it can happen. The same muscles that get flushed when aroused are contracting while you breastfeed (mother nature just worked it out like that for us to help shrink our uteruses back down) and so I understand how if you close your eyes, or have your partner there, it can go down.
Bridget: So as a parent whose kids both end up in the bed at some point every night, my partner and I find time to have sex when they aren’t in the bed. It is harder and therefore less frequent. But I can’t see any universe where we would do the above. Also this article seems like clickbait at best, and a hell of a lot of tabloid style patriarchal crap at worst, right?
amb: Right. *closes tab*
Ruby: I’m not here to rate the act of engaging in sex while breastfeeding. I haven’t read the article. However I will say that I have done it with at least one child, if not both. We are very much in a family bed situation, and when my children were infants sometimes they would wake during a “session,” most often it was just to nurse. At those moments it was easier to nurse them to bed while engaging in sex, but it was internally challenging at times like “is this right?” But it helped with the happiness of the family.
Connie: Probably honey me too. Like a quick pee break, I’ll just feed the baby and be right back.
Roan: The kerfuffle over someone having sex while breastfeeding seems to be rooted in some confused and unfortunate notions about breastfeeding and sexuality. There have also been many well-publicized kerfuffles over breastfeeding toddlers and older children—even breastfeeding in public. People see breastfeeding as sexual, or as inappropriately involving a child in sexuality (whether it’s the nursing child or a child who might witness public breastfeeding), but that’s just because of patriarchy and the deep sexual pathos and stigma that runs through dominant culture. A baby a few months old doesn’t have a clue what sex is or what is going on, isn’t going to be affected by that, and doesn’t care. Life can be rough with a newborn, nursing on demand is demanding, and you gotta get it where you can.
What do you wish someone had told you about breastfeeding and your body’s desire/desirability?
Khalia: That it would be awkward—everyone I knew left that part out. Apparently they felt pleasure too when they breastfed. Two of my homegirls said they stopped because they felt weird.
Ruby: I wish that someone would have mentioned that I would struggle with the thought or act of nursing and stimulation for intimacy. It wouldn’t change my decision to breastfeed, but I would have been better prepared to accept the results and not just question my mental state.
Connie: I breastfeed so much. Like more than I drink water or go to the bathroom. It’s second to breathing. I want to be desired more than I did. Before I think I was lead by desiring. My body actively functions for someone else, so when I want my body for me, that’s a stronger want than it used to be.
Janah: I wish someone had stressed the fact that while breastfeeding is natural and normal, it really isn’t instinctual/easy. I needed help with getting my son to latch, getting a good position. And like I said, one side was always a little uncomfortable/painful.
Bridget: I wish folks told me that I should communicate honestly with my partner about this. And that my partner should communicate with me about their needs. Naming our bodies and how they are feeling provides so much relief when going through the changes of new parenting.
Anything I didn’t ask that you want to share with Bitch’s community?
Roan: I think often people expect me to have a dysphoric experience of breastfeeding because it’s read as a feminine activity and people expect trans people to have dysphoria. But to me, it feels so completely un-gendered—just an amazing thing my body can do to feed and connect with my children. People seem to have a harder time getting my pronouns right when they see me breastfeeding, which is frustrating and irritating but also feels totally not about me or my reality. The more years I spend as a trans person who has not chosen medical transition or made any effort to be read as a cis man in the world, the less being misgendered feels personally offensive, and the more it just feeds my generalized deep longing that we can all be safe and liberated in our bodies in all ways.
Trina: I definitely feel I’ve lost nipple sensitivity and breastfeeding turned my boobs into empty purse sacks.
Trina: I mean I feel like a warrior in a way with the whole childbirth thing, so reading your reaction I know it sounds more dramatic. Yet, I’m not alone and there are women with battle wounds (detached nipples). And I wouldn’t not breastfeed in hindsight.
Janah: I think there’s another layer to the way the general public reacts to a woman breastfeeding. I had an experience in the airport in Austin, where I was feeding my three-month-old, mostly covered up, and a woman was so grossed out/aghast, she got up and moved to sit in a whole other terminal! So, there’s this piece of people reacting like that toward you, or the worry people will react toward you! How might that affect your sense of your own desirability/attractiveness?
Femi: I’m the first one in my family to breastfeed, so I didn’t have anyone to give me any pointers and have just been kind of winging it. And coming from a family of women who didn’t really know how to explore sexuality and sensuality as a plus-size woman (all the women in my family are plump) that too is new territory for me that I am making a conscious decision about as an adult. When you don’t have examples and have to navigate territories exploring the self around issues like this, things can get murky. But my decision to breastfeed and my decision to step into my sexuality/sensuality are tied together (even if I compartmentalize it) because it all has to do with my body. So I say all of that to say: It has been one hell of a ride for the past two years.
Roan: I’m very lucky that I get to breastfeed both of my children, one of whom I gave birth to and one of whom my partner gave birth to. It makes our lives so much easier because we have two nursing parents in our family, and tandem nursing is super tender. (Although these days it often ends in someone screaming and yanking the boob out of the others mouth.)
Femi: I had not considered breastfeeding as something tied to radical feminist pleasure, so much as a radical act of resistance against capitalism. Nothing gives a bigger middle finger to the formula industry than rejecting their products and using your own body to nourish and grow a baby. It’s like a kind of superpower really, lol.
Bridget: Our bodies are magical and change with us. Nothing is forever. Love yourself wherever you are at with your desire.
*Names changed by request