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12 May 2008
Our Breast Obsession
by Paul Aitken

I've always been a tit man. I tell my wife I became one when she first undressed in front of me - my wife has a pair of all natural wonders the equal of Salma Hayek's - I kid you not. But the truth is a pair of large nicely shaped breasts has always been something of an eyeball magnet for me. I spent my early childhood in those glorious dayswhen lift-and-separate met spandex-cotton for the first time. I wasted the better part of grade five trying to imagine what my teacher's breasts looked like naked when released from such constraints. And what I imagined was probably very close to the reality. I'd never seen a naked breast but I knew what one should look like and it wasn't like my sister's Barbie. A breast without a nipple was missing something essential.

Later, as the snug ideal drifted to loose fitting hippie garb I became mesmerized by the image of an unfettered breast falling against a man's shirt and the way the fabricwould conform so obligingly to its shape and proportion. Sure, I loved a pretty face but the face was always on display. The breasts required effort to fully visualize and suffice to say I was undaunted by the undertaking.

What underlies this obsession? The socially and intellectually accepted wisdom is that a man's appreciation of the female breast is a social construct. It grows out of a media-generated ideal that shifts from decade to decade. The oft-cited example being the flat-chested flappers of the 1920s. If men were naturally drawn to full breasted women, how did the flapper become the sexual ideal? But the sexual appeal of the flappers was more to do with attitude than cup size. If a woman was willing to kick up her shoes then she was perhaps inclined to kick them off later. The dress styles may not have accentuated the breast like the corsets of earlier times but I'm betting that even in the 20s, male attention would have gravitated to the parts that jiggled while she jitterbugged.

Another favorite theory is that we derive our sexual ideals from our mothers. We learn to sexually crave the breasts we suckled as infants. But there's a whole generation of men (and I'm one of them) who were primarily bottle fed. And I'm guessing we're as breast obsessed as any other generation in history.

Others say we're drawn to the breasts because they're warm and soft and comforting. But pillows are warm, soft and comforting and no guy has ever whacked off to pillow porn. Still another theory posits that breasts represent forbidden fruit. We tend to sexualize the parts of the female body that are hidden from view. There's some truth to this but it's far from the whole truth. In cultures where women are completely covered, the breasts hold far more sexual allure than a woman's navel. There does seem to be less breast obsession in cultures where women's breasts are always on display, which suggests that it's possible to become inured to the sight of a bare breasts, although I swear I could gaze upon my wife's breasts all day, every day and I'd still find them enormously alluring.

Perhaps the most satisfying theory comes to us by way of evolutionary psychology. The reasoning here is that breasts, especially young nubile breasts, signal fertility. This makes a lot of sense and goes a long way to explaining why we're drawn to plump gravity defying breasts. When women breastfeedtheir breasts become thinner and longer. Age and gravity take their toll as well. The reason why somany middle aged women like my wife still have great breasts is that they wear bras and likely didn't have to breast feed five kids. But during the Pleistocene era when our sexual tastes evolved women didn't have such luxuries. The breast of a thirty year old woman would have been markedly thinner than those of a twenty year old. A child produced from a sexual encounter with a plump breasted women likely stood a better chance of survival. And men who had a natural hankering for such breasts produced more surviving offspring.

Evolutionary psychology may go a long way to explaining why we like young breasts, but it doesn't explain why we like big breasts. It needs to be stated clearly that this is not a universal thing. Lots of guys like women with small breasts. In a recent survey of the ten best celebrity racks, Jessica Alba was listedfifth. Brittany Murphy squeaked in at number ten. A lot of 14 year old boys saw The Fantastic Four just to see Jessica run around in her painted-on suit.

But it's also worth noting that the top four played out thus: 1) Scarlett Johansson. 2) Jessica Simpson. 3) Salma Hayek. 4) Halle Berry. Breast size in reverse order: big, bigger, bigger still, biggest.The top ten are at least a cup size above average.We love breasts. All breasts. But we love big breasts even more. Why?

On the face of it, it makes no sense. A larger breast is extra flesh that must be nourished. Natural selection works hard against such extravagance. Sexual selection however, does not. Sexual selection is the tail that wags the dog. Its effect is much more powerful. It's the process that allows for such extravagances as the peacock's tail. Disadvantageous in every way, apart from attracting a mate. We're sexually attractedto large breasts because... they're sexy. End of story.

Well not quite. The impulse that drives us to larger breasts may be a simple genetic algorithm. Breast = Good. More breast = Better. It's a principle that shows up again and again in nature, especially in genes driven by sexual selection. I remember watching a PBS documentary on some flying insect that was attracted to a mate with a certain attribute, a red dot on her abdomen. Experiments showed that the insect couldn't enough of this red dot. Scientists built fake mates with red dots that dwarfed the rest of the body and the insect always chose the mate with the biggest dot.

We're not quite so extreme. There is a limit to what we'll think is sexy. For most men, anything over an E is probably too much (although Keeley Hazell has become famous in England for her spectacular E-cup breasts). A recent survey showed that men were maximally attracted to a C-cup breast, with D-cup scoring a close second. Jessica Alba = good. Jessica Simpson = better. Jessica Rabbit...too much of a good thing.

Related:
Dress For Reproductive Success
Evolution And The Penis
Moobs
America's Body Image Obsession




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