Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sexuality and Gender Traits

I'd like to go back and re-analyze the "breasts are private" thought. I once had a discussion where the other person insisted that breasts are inherently sexual and to be honest, I think we just didn't have our definitions straight. We were discussing two different things: sexual traits and gender traits.

From what I can tell, the "breasts are private" argument goes like this: women generally have breasts and men generally don't. Women and men are different sexes so breasts must be sexual. So breasts should be private.

Since we are forward-thinking people, we wouldn't want to single out women and discriminate against men, so I'll continue with: Men generally have facial hair and women don't. Men and women are different sexes so facial hair must be sexual. Facial hair should be private.

The issue here is an understanding of gender traits. Gender traits are the physical differences between the sexes. They are usually generalized and aren't the same across the board. For example, not all men have chest hair, but chest hair would be considered a gender trait.

Now, an organ or body part is sexual when it is being used for sexual gratification or arousal, ie sexually. This can include any part: breasts, shoulders, elbows. But if that body part isn't being used sexually, then it isn't sexual at that moment.

This is why breasts, wrists, chins, etc. are not inherently sexual. When they are being used sexually, then yes, they are sexual. If not, then they aren't.

I'm not saying body parts can't be found sexy or attractive; they can. Perhaps a man has particularly attractive ankles. They might be sexy to some people if he's wearing sandals while walking his dog, but he isn't using his ankles sexually so they aren't private and he doesn't need to hide his attractive ankles.


  1. Well said. Well, well said. Bravo.

  2. Excellent post! I have also heard the analogy to kissing. I find my husband's lips irresistible! And let's just say they have separate uses in public and in private. Should he wear a face mask so as not to tempt other women with a sexually-attractive image?

  3. Mmmm... sexy ankles. :^)

  4. I think that it's great that the pro-breastfeeding movement has gotten a lot of attention lately, but unfortunate that it's being overshadowed by the less-important aspect of whether or not women should breastfeed (with an exposed breast or two) in public. Let me clarify: not just that public breastfeeding should be culturally acceptable, but that we should flaunt our breasts just because we can. They're not sexual, so why not??

    Have you ever considered that not all women want to make their breasts public? I'm a little put off at the thought that "public breasts" are what we're all aiming for, and that people who don't agree consider breasts sexual.

    Also, I noticed that you didn't bring up penises. Outside of an art gallery, how can a man's penis be tastefully presented, in a non-sexual way? Obviously a penis doesn't perform the same function as breasts do, but the same goes for facial hair, ankles, lips, etc. That's why I feel like your argument/comparisons don't really hold water. (Also, who likes seeing other people making out in public either? But that's a whole different discussion.)

    I don't view a breastfeeding woman's breasts as sexual. However, I don't think that it's an excuse to force other people to feel uncomfortable because of public (again, with exposed breasts) breastfeeding.

    Our culture has never had a history of this being an acceptable practice (a nation founded by Puritans, remember), so it also doesn't hold to say that other cultures don't view breasts as sexualized, because I think that's obvious.

    (In hindsight, obviously the pornography industry doesn't fall under the Puritanical heritage part. [Or maybe it does, because people were tired of being prudish.] And as a result, Americans have a good reason to be confused about breasts and sexuality. But obviously you're talking about breasts in a broader sense outside of the entertainment industry, etc. I digress.)

  5. My goal is the make breastfeeding acceptable in all its forms. I know there are some women who simply can not be "discreet." Sometimes children pop off unexpectedly and breast gets exposure. With this post, I wanted to address the "breasts must always be private" issue I've run into a lot because of how sexualized breasts are in our culture. There's sometimes an attitude of "I breastfed X number of kids with a blanket- what is your problem?" which divides breastfeeding moms and doesn't address the issue that using a blanket or cover doesn't guarantee that you won't face harassment or discrimination for breastfeeding.

    I have no problem with women who want more privacy- no one should be required to breastfeed in any one way.

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  7. Hinibinini obviously didn't misunderstand TopHat's argument. She clearly considered it in her response. Your insinuation that Hinibinini was of sub-par intelligence because she holds a valid and educated but different opinion on breastfeeding is a demonstration of your own dim mentality.
    Lest you misunderstand my comment, I'll make it clear:

    Sweetheart, you are not of abover average intelligence just because your opinion is different from someone else is.

  8. Naomi, I give you props.

    Some women do have facial hair. They bleach it or pluck it, hopefully. And a lot of people (including BYU) consider most facial hair to be inappropriate. Have you ever seen an apostle (nowadays, anyway) who sports a beard? Nope. And I doubt you would see a member of the General Primary Presidency nursing her baby with her boob hanging out in the middle of Sacrament Meeting.

    Have you ever considered that perhaps a physical characteristic can have two inherent purposes? Are you really going to try to convince us that your husband has never approached your breasts during sex (even though right now, their primary purpose is to nurse your daughter)?

    So if I look at porn without getting sexually aroused, is it not porn?

    In earlier centuries, women did cover their ankles because they were considered sexual. There was a movement among the younger generation to uncover the ankles. Guess what fueled that movement? Sex. They wanted to flaunt their assets. It wasn't because they were trying to show that ankles are inherently used for walking, so they shouldn't be considered sexy.

    I like that you are an advocate for breastfeeding. Breastfeeding a baby is a good thing. Feeding a baby, whether with breastmilk or formula is a good thing.

    I don't like this idea that just because a body part isn't intended to be sexual means that it isn't and can be shown openly in public.

    When a man pees, he's not using his penis for sex. Its still immodest to whip it out in the middle of the street. In fact, its not legal to do that.

    When it comes down to it, shouldn't we err on the side of modesty anyway? Why even get near the line? Its not that hard to nurse without exposing your breast. Yeah, accidents happen and you might expose yourself on accident. But thats very different from having your entire breast hanging out over the top of your shirt for the world to see. Thats not an accident.

  9. Sexuality is not the only reason why I feel that breastfeeding isn't a modesty issue- just part of it. Breastfeeding is also an eating issue- and I don't feel that eating a meal is a private act. I eat meals at food courts at the mall.

    I have written about my view concerning the LDS modesty issue and breastfeeding previously, but I'll reiterate what I said there. Modesty is about respecting the image of God and breastfeeding isn't disrespectful to God, so it isn't a modesty issue. If there are any more comments about that, please post it on the relevant post.

  10. This pretty much sums up my views of modesty and why I cover up when breastfeeding in public:

    "You can recognize women who are grateful to be a daughter of God by their outward appearance. These women understand their stewardship over their bodies and treat them with dignity. They care for their bodies as they would a holy temple, for they understand the Lord’s teaching: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). Women who love God would never abuse or deface a temple with graffiti. Nor would they throw open the doors of that holy, dedicated edifice and invite the world to look on."

    I don't really think that leaves much room for interpretation, but I'm sure you do. (obviously bfing isn't being disrespectful to your body, but we don't go around sharing the ordinaces of the temple just because they are good.) I think you have 2 separate issues: breastfeeding, and respect for God. It's kind of a long shot to say that because nursing isn't offensive to God, everyone should do it without covering up. Don't throw open the doors, don't uncover your body for the world to see.

    Part of me wonders if you are achieving your goal, which is obviously to promote breastfeeding. At the risk of offending you, I have to say that the only people who agree with your are the (few) people who already agreed with you. Most people don't (from reading comments on KSL it's obvious people misunderstand your goal, but your actions have been a little too shocking for most Utah mormons). Maybe you should approach it from a different angle, such as promoting working mother's rights to have a safe place to pump, or stopping hospitals and OB offices from handing out formula samples. Maybe if you start off on a less controversial subject, people will see the good you are trying to accomplish instead of feeling like they are being forced into something that makes them uncomfortable. If we can make breastfeeding in general more of the norm (rather than a weird thing, you wouldn't believe how many people are shocked that I still nurse my 1 year old!) then slowly you can gather support for breastfeeding HOW you want. Just my thoughts, I know you well enough to know you'll take it or leave it. :)

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  13. Great post! You might also enjoy TechyDad's post on the topic:

  14. Breastfeeding in public is very much a multifaceted issue. I am currently working on another post which looks at it from the view of discrimination.

    As for being "extreme" in my lactivism, I don't feel that expecting the laws of the State of Utah to be followed through on is extreme. The state of Utah states that breastfeeding, even if breast is exposed is not obscene or lewd or indecent exposure. I would just like the citizens of Utah to respect that law.

    Crystal- with breastfeeding, I don't feel that I'm putting my breasts out to display, they are being put to work.

    Jessica- I'm not asking for people to be comfortable, I'm asking that my baby and I not be discriminated against- perhaps a cessation in discrimination is too much? Nope. Also, no one is being forced to look at a breastfeeding mom.

    Carrie and Naomi- there were personal attacks on both sides there. Let's not do that anymore, ok?

    PhD- I saw that on your twitter. :) I'll probably link to it later.

  15. Hello top hat. First of all it seems that all of your comments are HIGHLY intelligent, as are you. I on the other hand am not so good with words or spelling. I am simply a stay and home mom that loves to nurse. And I couldn't agree more that it is hard to nurse while trying to cover your baby. It is easy when they are little and don't really care...but when they get older they don't like it. There have been mulitple times when I have thought "I wish I could just sit here and nurse and not worry about it". Usally I just go to a dressing room, or find a private place. I would love it if every store I went to had a lovely nursing room with soft chairs, that smelled nice. That is want I want to campain for!
    I fall under that "live and let live" modo. If nursing your kid, and not covering up floats your boat...THEN DO IT. If it makes you happy and puts a smile on your face then go for it. But I also believe that some people find happiness in not nursing, or even being a little more modest in doing it. I think that if we want them to except us for what we believe in and what makes us happy then we have to show them the same respect.
    I don't want to make anyone feel that I am pushing my feelings in their face, or even trying to belittle your post. I thought it was well written.
    I just like that everyone is able to share feelings, and I thought I would share mine.

  16. You are right, I apologize. I have erased my comments.

  17. PhD - And here I was going to post my own blog link. ;-)

    CSL - You should read my post that PhD linked to. In it, I discuss some Victorian attitudes towards bared legs.

    Jessica - About: "It is very wrong of you to think that just because you are comfortable bearing your exposed breasts in public that everyone around you has to be comfortable watching you do so"

    Nobody has a right to not be made uncomfortable. When you're out in public, you or your children are bound to see or hear things that you would prefer to not see or hear. This doesn't mean that those other people need to stop to ensure your comfort.

    Going topless is obviously not something that every woman would want to do. For example, I know for a fact that my wife wouldn't want to. However, other women would want to have the option. (Even these women wouldn't go topless all the time, I'm sure.) If people are uncomfortable with topless women or breastfeeding in public, then there's an easy solution: Look away. Nobody's forcing anybody to look.

  18. As for penises, when they are being used in a nonsexual way (eg urinating), they aren't sexual. The reason why we pee in private is not because the penis or vulva is inherently sexual, but because of sanitation considerstions. As for penises being displayed, as someone who is LDS, we do follow modesty standards (front, back, legs to knees), not because of things being sexual but because of respect to God. I blogged about it a little while ago. In the comments of that post, I mention that I'm ok with breastfeeding showing more skin because I consider it to be a health issue. Just like somone who would have to move their garments out of the way while using a feeding tube, I feel it is appropriate tomove them out of the way while breastfeeding.


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