Thursday, 21 March 2013

Breastfeeding: Sexual vs Sensual

Oh Jesus, the thoughts of writing this are just getting my blood boiling, but I'm going to do it to get it off my chest.
What made me want to write this was watching an art collector on tv talking about the "latent sexuality" of a medieval painting of Mary breastfeeding Jesus.
Am I right in assuming he meant "sensuality"? To me, "latent sexuality" describes a hidden sexuality, and brings to mind a gay person who hasn't yet "come out". There was nothing "latent" about the breastfeeding in the painting he was describing, it was like this:

The breastfeeding is pretty open and explicit, like the little willy in the background. Where is the sexuality? Are we turned on by it? I, as a breastfeeding mother, am not. Perhaps he (the middle-aged art critic) was, maybe he gets turned on by watching babies sucking on their mother's breasts. Maybe that's why I get lots of middle-aged men looking at me as I go around breastfeeding in public. Maybe they're just curious. Maybe they never get to see a tit in the flesh, maybe it's all Daily Mirror / The Sun boobs they see, and mine look smaller and more veiny. Maybe they never got a look at their ma's tits and their wife will only do it with the light out, or not at all, and they are so desperate for a glimpse of female flesh they're fascinated. Maybe they are repulsed by my "brazenness" or maybe they're turned on by it. Maybe my red lipstick denotes "whore" to them, and that added to my tit-flashing really gets them staring. Maybe my miniskirt / tight jeans already had them ogling me from behind, so when they get in front of me and see a BABY sucking on my TIT they can't believe their luck.

Maybe the world is so fucked up that my CHILD can't have HIS MILK without someone judging me, calling me an exhibitionist and marking my slate as a "Brestapo" agent or a "Breastfeeding Nazi". Maybe I should wear more discreet clothes, so that not one square inch of flesh below my neckline is exposed, and nobody sees my baby being fed. Maybe I should go and sit in a designated "Feeding Area" and keep out of everybody's way. Maybe I should wear a nursing cover so that I can't see my baby and he can't see me, but at least nobody gets a flash of my boob. Maybe I should do all these things, and keep my breastfeeding to myself, because it's nobody's business but my own.

Or maybe I should keep doing IT in public. Maybe that 8 year old girl who nudged her ma and got dragged away will file that image in her mind and consider breastfeeding when she becomes a mother. Maybe that shop assistant will NOT call the next breastfeeding mother "fucking disgusting" when she encounters it again. Maybe middle-aged men will stop ogling breasts when they remember they are serving a function other than getting them all excited. Maybe my sons will grow up knowing that I breastfed them proudly in public and in private because I had NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF. Maybe younger women who have yet to become mothers will appreciate the path we are beating for them. Maybe in a hundred years, breastfeeding mothers will be welcomed and spoken to WITH EYE CONTACT by members of the public, not with an embarrassed sideways glance.

Just maybe.

So back to my original point, because this fast became a rant of gigantic capitalised proportions. Yes breastfeeding is sensual. It's as sensual as kissing in public, as hugging, as stroking someone's face. It's as sensual as smelling a perfume sample in a department store, or touching a velvet dress on a hanger. It's as sensual as tasting cheese at a deli counter. It is sensual because it involves touch, and taste. The senses, people.

Sexual it is not. If it was sexual, trust me, I'd be doing it at home behind closed doors, enjoying every minute of it, but not daring to lose control in public. If it was a sexual experience do you think I'd do it standing in a line in the post office? It is not a sexual act. It is sensual.

But the most depressing thing here is, I think in Ireland at least, we are so out of touch with our bodies, that even someone having a sensual experience is too much for many people to handle. We are fine with porn images, naked bodies in perfume ads, we love our topless girls calendars, sure that's all a bit of fun. But see a lady breastfeed her child? Disgusting. Has she no shame? How dare she do that in public etc etc. Heck, Irish mothers don't even use the term "breastfeeding", because it includes the word "breast". We say "feeding him myself". Far less provocative.

Don't get me started on the "urinating is natural, but we don't do that in public" argument. (And you can bet the very ones saying that ARE the ones urinating against a wall / my car after a night on the beer).

Rant over. Thanks for joining me. That one's been building for a while.
Nee x


  1. Love it, love it, my thoughts precisely, only much better put! Just been editing my chapter on sensuality and creativity in The Rainbow Way this evening so it felt totally appropriate.

    Great post!

  2. *applauds wildly*

  3. Such a valid point - I remember Fiona Looney talking about this on television at one point - explaining that breastfeeding is sensual and not sexual. I think it's the perfect way to explain it. It also makes it clear why it is a lovely - and let's be honest, a satisfying experience, without being sexual.

  4. How I hope that art collector reads this! He doesn't even have the right vocabulary for his job. I enjoyed every word of this wonderful rant, well said.

  5. Oh god as an expat living in Canada. I pity any Mum trying to give her child the best start in life. So judgemental. There is such a need to get educating the Irish nation. Forget about the ones that have already judged and continue to judge. Teach kids in school early. Not wait until they have kids of their own and have to bottle feed formula because that's what their Ma did.


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