Illustrations by Debasmita Das
Boobs. Want to know more about them? Let’s start with one question that drives scientists crazy.
The breast is made of glandular, milk-producing tissue and fat. In mammals, breasts usually serve only to feed offspring, and the enlarged breast usually exists only for a short period. Except in human beings. Some scientists believe that human breasts are only for babies. Others have argued for years that women’s breasts exist as a signal of youthfulness and fertility for men.
It is likely that human breasts exist for a combination of reasons and sex appeal is one of them. But no scientific research has established that all men (or women) across cultures find breasts sexy. Williams points out that men in Japan find the nape of the neck sexy, and in parts of South America, it’s a woman’s bottom that is considered super hot. Some cultures, such as in Swaziland, have bared their breasts and covered the thigh because thighs are too sexy to show.
What people feel about breast size is really like that line from social studies textbooks: unity in diversity. Some people like chote chote aam jaise breasts. Then there is the French legend that the perfect breast fits into a champagne glass. Scientists who recently studied men from Brazil, Cameroon, the Czech Republic and Namibia found that many preferred medium-sized breasts to large breasts. (We wonder what they would have found if they had asked women the same question.) And yes, some people like really big breasts. In 2017, the world’s largest porn site PornHub released search data indicating that millennials, aka people born after 1981, are relatively uninterested in breasts. And their data indicates that even when they are searching for breasts on the site, they are looking for small breasts – and it is male users that are driving this trend.
Some years ago, an Indian news magazine proposed that the breast was back in fashion and pointed to fashion designers and celebrities to prove the theory. The next week, the letters to the editor were full of complaints from male readers, asking plaintively when the breast had ever gone out of fashion. The truth is that breasts as sexual objects, and even breast size, go in and out of fashion.
Unless your breasts are bright blue or have recently changed dramatically in size or shape for unknown reasons, it’s likely that your breasts are normal, healthy and wonderful.
We like to compare breasts to mangoes in India and that’s great because oh, what a variety of mangoes exist in the world. Women’s breasts vary widely in size and shape, sometimes from each other. To get a sense of how wide the variety is, see photographer Laura Dodsworth’s series of pictures of breasts that belong to 100 women from age 19 to 101.
Short answer, no, not without plastic surgery. Here is the long answer. You have no muscles at all in your breasts and a lot of fat, so exercise has no direct effect on your breasts. Exercise can improve your posture and make them look firmer and bigger. If you gain weight, your breasts may become bigger but remember that you will gain fat across your body, not just your breasts. No lotion, cream, massage or pills on the telemarketing channels can make your breasts bigger. Though some varieties of birth control pills have been known to increase your breast size temporarily as a side effect. And no matter what your admiring boyfriend or your naughty friend from school told you, sex and/or marriage does not make your breasts bigger. No really, it doesn’t.
You can have so much fun. Breasts are much more sensitive than given credit for. Breasts can expand temporarily in size by as much as 25 percent when aroused. For some women, nipples darken in colour with sexual arousal. Familiarise yourself with your breasts and you will figure how exactly your breasts respond to touch.
Ever heard of a breast orgasm? Scientific research indicates that when you play with your nipples, it causes women’s brains to respond in the same way playing with their clitoris does. Which means that nipple stimulation can lead to full-fledged orgasms for some women. And if and when you are with a lover, isn’t it great to be able to tell them exactly how you like your breasts touched?
Does your partner have breasts? While breast orgasms may not be a reliable goal to aim for, paying attention to your partner’s breasts may make them happy, and that’s a better goal. You can use your fingers or your mouth to stimulate your partner’s nipples or her breasts in general. You can try massage oils, ice-cubes, feathers or your super-confident fingers, those are good too.
But if you are going to do anything energetic like bite her breasts or twist her nipples, please make sure she is into it. For many people, that level of aggression ≠ pleasure. Not at all. Doing it slowly can let your partner also figure how much she likes anything you are trying.
On a side-note, nipple play can also be great fun for men. Which brings us to the big question of why men have nipples at all. But that is out of syllabus for today.
The big, scary word often associated with breasts is cancer. For women over 35, proper breast cancer screenings are recommended every year. Frequent self-examinations are highly recommended. (Here is how to do that.) If you spot any changes in your breasts such as lumps and bumps, changes in size, sudden inversion of nipples, nipple discharge, colour changes, you should go to a doctor. So look and touch your breasts thoroughly. It’s good for you.
Breastfeeding women have another set of critical health concerns to look out for and prevent – from blocked ducts to mastitis. But on an everyday basis, in the matter of breasts, you can apply the same health and hygiene standards that you’d apply to your arms or elbows. Nothing special. If you live in a hot and humid climate, if you wear a bra, you need to wash it after every wear. Otherwise, once every few wears is enough, never mind what that girl told you back in tuition class.
Well, it can seem like the bra is a 100 percent attendance subject, but that isn’t really true. In many cultures around the world, women have worn clothes that cover the breasts. Others haven’t. Women have worn a range of garments that enhance, modify, bind or conceal the breasts. In India, every region, caste and community has its own history of garments that cover the breasts (in some parts, covering or uncovering them even formed the basis of oppression and revolt). In many parts of India, women only began to cover their breasts – never mind bras – in the last 100 years. The modern bra was patented as recently as 1889 in Germany. Bras were advertised for the first time in India in the 1950s, that’s it!
If you have breasts that are mid-to-large size, many activities are likely to be uncomfortable without a bra. Forget running, just thinking of sitting in an autorickshaw without a bra makes some of us clutch our chests. Sleep with or without a bra? Turns out it’s just about comfort. Because science has no proof to indicate that wearing bras prevents sagging. Remember that your breast is made up of a lot of fat and no muscles. Sudden increase or decrease in weight, ageing, pregnancy (not breastfeeding), can cause sag even in women who wear bras round the clock.
Here is a tit-bit to consider. In 2013, a 15-year French study concluded that bras cause sag and are just all-round bad for health. While other medical experts have been sceptical about this controversial study, there are some things to consider. Women often wear badly sized bras, forget to change sizes, wear too-tight bras and so on. These habits of ours can actually damage breast tissue, cause back pain and even affect our circulation.
Here’s the thing. Breasts pointing to the sky aren’t really standard. Perfectly round, perfectly symmetrical, anti-gravity breasts are as normal and common as that flawless skin we see in ads, and we all know that skin is achieved with Photoshop and make-up. Instead, we can dress our breasts, undress our breasts, enjoy our breasts. Go back to that Fun with Breasts section.