Let’s talk about nipples. I know, I know. There has been a lot of talk about the hypocrisy of the media and social media around female nipples. It can be boiled down to this (if I could do infographics, it would be so much more impressive):
Child’s nipple = body part
Man’s nipple = body part
Woman’s nipple = sexual body part, akin to genitalia
I don’t want to talk about that because others have expressed this eloquently in art and words. See my friend Aleksandra Karpowicz’s ‘Male or Female’ images on Instagram, and countless other creative attempts by others to highlight the absurdity of the double standards around nipples. Yet the world doesn’t seem ready for nipple equality.
I want to talk about how nipples, my nipples especially, are not just decorative. To say they are a gateway to sexual pleasure would be an understatement. My nipples are connected directly to my crotch by some kind of electrical current. I would go so far as to say that my nipples are my primary form of sexual pleasure, on a par with the clitoris. Without nipple stimulation, getting aroused is almost impossible. With the right conditions, I can reach orgasm with just nipple stimulation alone. I consider myself very lucky.
A very good friend of mine was diagnosed with the BRCA2 gene mutation 2 years ago. This means she has an over 60% chance of getting breast and ovarian cancer and the only way of eliminating that risk was to have a double mastectomy and hysterectomy. She had a very young daughter at the time, so the decision was a no-brainer. She went on to have another baby with her fiancé, and then 6 months afterwards, had surgery to remove the healthy breasts. She’s a pragmatist and a trooper – her only objective was to stay alive for her children. Her single request to her surgeon was that she wanted to do headstands 3 months after the op (she’s a yoga teacher) and he duly complied by not cutting through certain tendons. 2 weeks after her op, she was performing in a gig, with her surgical drains still in place. Her Facebook post before her op was “Bye Bye Boobies. Thanks for the good times.” The brevity of the post did nothing to mask the poignancy and sadness of the sentiment. Her breasts were reconstructed with silicone implants and now look magnificent. But she says she would forego all the aesthetic beauty of her new bosom if she could have retained some nipple sensitivity, in even one nipple. For her, nipple stimulation was also essential to her sexual pleasure, and with its loss came great sadness. Unfortunately, in the case of breast cancer prevention, all the breast tissue must be removed, including the nerve endings and nipples. Her breasts and the fake nipples the surgeons have constructed, are effectively dead, sensing nothing.
A woman’s breasts and her hair are often seen as key signifiers of her outward femininity. Women who undergo chemotherapy mourn the loss of their hair, and those who have mastectomies usually get breast reconstruction to make them feel whole. But as my friend testified, her nipples were a huge part of her experience as a sexual being and as a woman. Not all women have sensitive nipples, but many who do find it integral to arousal. In my experience (which is not inconsiderable) very few men have nipples that physically trigger sexual arousal. I mourn for my friend on the loss of a big part of her sexuality and her femininity, the magnitude of which I can only imagine.
Nipples, especially on a woman, and especially if she has sensitive ones, are to be treasured and worshipped and shown off. In the intersection of my lingerie and sex life, this means I seek ways to signal that I want my nipples to be front of mind, in my mind and in my lover’s. Open or ouvert bra styles are the easy way to frame the breasts and provide an erotic signpost. Nipple clamps or jewellery zone in on the issue at hand (or mouth). My latest acquisition is the Clea Cage bra from Studio Pia which ticks all the boxes in my list of requirements. The bondage style image of a caged breast, the ring encircling the nipple, which, in my case, pokes out like a doorknob – open the door by twisting the knob, and enter the erotic scene. I want to celebrate my nipples, and thank them for giving me simple joy.
If you’re interested in the topic of mastectomies and breast cancer survivorship, there’s a beautiful piece in the GuardianWeekend by Gem Fletcher about mastectomy tattoos with stunning portraits by Kate Peters.
Featured image by Nicolas Laborie.