From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The term breast refers to the upper ventral region of an animal’s torso, particularly that of mammals, including human beings. The breasts of a female mammal’s body contain the mammary glands, which secrete milk used to feed infants. This article focuses on human female breasts, but male humans also have breasts which are usually less prominent, but structurally identical and homologous to the female, as they develop embryologically from the same tissues. All men have remnants of breast tissue. Gynecomastia is breast growth or enlargement in men.
Breasts play an important part in human sexual behavior; they are also important female secondary sex characteristics. On sexual arousal breast size increases, venous patterns across the breasts become more visible, and nipples harden. Breasts are sensitive to touch as they have many nerve endings, and it is common to press or massage breasts with hands during sexual intercourse (as it is with other bodily areas representing feminine secondary sex characteristics as well). Oral stimulation of nipples and breasts is also common. Some women can achieve breast orgasms. In the ancient Indian work the Kama Sutra, marking breasts with nails and biting with teeth are explained as erotic.
Some religions afford the breast a special status, either in formal teachings or in symbolism. Islam forbids public exposure of the female breasts. In Christian iconography, some works of art depict women with their breasts in their hands or on a platter, signifying that they died as a martyr by having their breasts severed; one example of this is Saint Agatha of Sicily. In Silappatikaram, Kannagi tears off her left breast and flings it on Madurai, cursing it, causing a devastating fire.
Breasts are secondary sex characteristics and sexually sensitive. Bare female breasts can elicit heightened sexual desires from men in certain cultures. Cultures that associate the breast primarily with sex (as opposed to with breastfeeding) tend to designate bare breasts as indecent, and they are not commonly displayed in public, in contrast to male chests. Other cultures view female toplessness as acceptable, and in some countries women have never been forbidden to bare their chests; in some African cultures, for example, the thigh is highly sexualised and never exposed in public, but the breast is not taboo. Opinion on the exposure of breasts often depends on the place and context, and in some Western societies exposure of breasts on a beach may be acceptable, although in town centres, for example, it is usually considered indecent. In some areas the prohibition against the display of a woman's breasts only restricts exposure of the nipples.
Women in some areas and cultures are approaching the issue of breast exposure as one of sexual equality, since men (and pre-pubescent children) may bare their chests, but women and teenage girls are forbidden. In the United States, the topfree equality movement seeks to redress this imbalance. This movement won a decision in 1992 in the New York State Court of Appeals—“People v. Santorelli”, where the court ruled that the state's indecent exposure laws do not ban women from being barebreasted. A similar movement succeeded in most parts of Canada in the 1990s. In Australia and much of Europe it is acceptable for women and teenage girls to sunbathe topless on some public beaches and swimming pools, but these are generally the only public areas where exposing breasts is acceptable.
When breastfeeding a baby in public, legal and social rules regarding indecent exposure and dress codes, as well as inhibitions of the woman, tend to be relaxed. Numerous laws around the world have made public breastfeeding legal and disallow companies from prohibiting it in the workplace. Yet the public reaction at the sight of breastfeeding can make the situation uncomfortable for those involved.
Since the breasts are flexible, their shape may be affected by clothing, and foundation garments in particular. A brassiere (bra) may be worn to give additional support and to alter the shape of the breasts. There is some debate over whether such support is desirable. A long term clinical study showed that women with large breasts can suffer shoulder pain as a result of bra straps, although a well fitting bra should support most of the breasts' weight with proper sized cups and back band rather than on the shoulders.
Plastic surgical procedures of the breast include those for both cosmetic and reconstructive surgery indications. Some women choose these procedures as a result of the high value placed on symmetry of the human form, and because they identify their femininity and sense of self with their breasts.
After mastectomy (the surgical removal of a breast, usually to treat breast cancer) some women undergo breast reconstruction, either with breast implants or autologous tissue transfer, using fat and tissues from the abdomen (TRAM flap) or back (latissiumus muscle flap).
Breast reduction surgery is a common procedure which involves removing excess breast tissue, fat, and skin with repositioning of the nipple-areolar complex (NAC). Cosmetic procedures include breast lifts (mastopexy), breast augmentation with implants, and procedures that combine both elements. Implants containing either silicone gel or saline are available for augmentation and reconstructive surgeries. Surgery can repair inverted nipples by releasing ductal tissues which are tethering. Breast lift with or without reduction can be part of upper body lift after massive weight loss body contouring.
In western culture, breasts are commonly viewed as symbols of sexuality and sexual attraction, and the size of breasts can be particularly important in relation to the view some people have of females. Some people are more attracted to larger breasts, while others are attracted to smaller ones; or to a particular shape or state, such as those of pubescent girls. This idealisation of breasts has created a market for surgery for females to alter the shape and size of their breasts by either enlargement or reduction, or by devices worn to enhance cleavage.
Breast cleavage or breasts covered by a bras or tight T-shirt may be appealing for some people, while other breast fetishists may be more focused on observing bouncing breasts, during events such as jogging. These departures from the attraction to the naked breast may also be accompanied by voyeuristic behaviour.