Women Learn the Breast Fetish, Too
Meredith Chivers, a highly regarded psychologist at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, showed men and women, both straight and gay, short film clips of heterosexual sex, gay and lesbian sex, a man masturbating, a woman masturbating, a nude well-toned man walking, a fit woman doing nude calisthenics, and bonobos (an ape species) having sex.
Chivers then asked the men and women to rate how aroused they felt. But she also used probes to gauge penile swelling and vaginal blood flow.
Men’s responses were as expected.
But women’s genitals and minds seemed to belong to entirely different people. For instance, hetero women’s bodies were more aroused by the exercising woman than by the strolling man – though they claimed otherwise.
In other research, she asked men and women to wear goggles that track eye movement, and had them look at pictures of heterosexual couples in foreplay. The men gazed mostly at the women – their faces and bodies. But the women spent equal time looking at both sexes, with their eyes focused on the men’s faces and the women’s bodies.
In these two pieces of research we find hetero women more aroused by nude pictures of women than men, and spending more time looking at nude women’s bodies than men’s.
Chivers isn’t entirely sure what to make of it all. Since women’s blood flow rose in every sexual situation they viewed, including the bonobos – and because lubrication (and blood flow) also increase among rape victims when sex is unwanted – she speculates that women’s bodies may lubricate whenever a sexual signal arises in order to reduce discomfort, and the possibility of injury, during penetration. With this need, women’s bodies may simply be much more sensitive to any sexual signal than men’s, whether or not they feel sexually aroused.
Okay, but why were women more aroused by looking at the nude woman than the nude man? “Possibly,” she said, “the exposure and tilt of the woman’s vulva during her calisthenics was processed as a sexual signal while the man’s unerect penis registered in the opposite way.”
The notion that the women were less turned on because they couldn’t see an erection seems odd given that Playgirl, until recently, has had a long history of hiding the penis. Many women are ambivalent, at best, about the penis as a visual turn-on.
Perhaps Chivers is referring to some primal response that women aren’t consciously aware of, responding to a sexual stimulus requiring need for lubrication. Yet a nude exercising woman is no more likely to penetrate than a flaccid man.
Also, straight women spent more time looking at the bodies of nude women than nude men during sexual foreplay. Why did women’s bodies draw greater interest?
Many will seek out biological explanations, but as a sociologist, I think culture may explain the oddity.
Society teaches us how to see the world: How to think about it, feel about it, and react to it.
The male body is pretty much ignored in our culture. Billboards aren’t splashed with sexy men. No men in Speedos. Nothing much but an occasional underwear ad.
Women’s bodies are focused upon, with breasts selectively hidden and revealed, creating a captivation, leaving us wondering about that which is hidden. The camera gazes, zeroes in on women’s bodies. We talk about women’s breasts as alluring. So they become a sexual signal to both men and women. We don’t treat any part of the male body in the same way.
Men learn the breast fetish, too. In cultures that don’t selectively hide and reveal the breast, they are no big deal. So tribal men, who see them all the time, aren’t especially interested. European men’s attraction waned when topless women suddenly appeared all over local beaches and billboards. And men can become numbed to titillation with overexposure to porn.
Hetero women likely experience all this a bit differently from men. For one thing, the fetish isn’t attached to their natural sexual interest, which may weaken the allure. Homophobia may also lead to repression. Women might also see other women’s breasts as competition, distracting from the erotic. Or, they may become angered by female objectification — another distraction. But research suggests that women often do experience the fetish, none-the-less.
I’m hetero, but ask me which image I find more erotic, a nude female or a nude male, and I’ll choose the girl. Many of my hetero female students nod in agreement.
I used to think that was odd, until I realized that the breast fetish is learned, and not based in biology.
To anyone who plans to inform me that I am bi, please see this post first (I’m tired of answering repetitive comments): Men Know My Sexuality Better Than Me
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Posted on November 29, 2010, in feminism, gender, men, objectification, pornography, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged breast fetish, breasts, feminism, gender, men, objectification, pornography, sex and sexuality, sexism, women. Bookmark the permalink. 237 Comments.