Is this popular sexual act actually the most bizarre fetish?
I'd never really given it much thought.
Usually, it'd happen somewhere between us starting to kiss and the initiation of oral sex, but it always - always - happened. It's feature was as sure as my grandmother asking me whether I'd started seeing someone at a family function - which is to say the kind of odds that would have gamblers rushing to the nearest TAB.
Despite the fact that it would always be something that happened to me as part of sexual intercourse with someone, it brought me no pleasure.
At all. Which has never meant I stopped a person from doing it, just that I'd usually drift off into thoughts of my plans for the following day. Because i've never been one to enjoy having my nipples sucked. Someone could be sucking my knee for all the arousal, or lack thereof, it gave me.
The people I've slept with, however, all loved sucking my boobs as though their lives depended on it.
Nipple sucking wasn't something I questioned - until I did.
Having a conversation about sex with a friend, I openly pondered - 'do they do it for them ... or for me?' My friend, also a woman, didn't have a clue either.
Desperate for answers, like any millennial, I took to Instagram. I posted a poll, asking whether or not people viewed titty sucking as an essential part of sex. I got 80 responses (which isn't a particularly large sample size, I admit, but it's better than nothing) and a bunch of people sliding into my DMs (mostly women) to explain their response.
Unsurprisingly, the results were mixed
Sixty-one per cent said that it was an essential part of sex for them, whilst 39% claimed not to be fussed. When extrapolating on their experiences, women were varied in how much pleasure they got out of having their nipples or boobs sucked.
One told me "I like it so much that I can almost orgasm from it alone", whilst another echoed my own experience when she said, "I am so not fussed, I can barely feel it, my nipples are so not sensitive". For some, they noticed a change due to changes in contraception, such as the insertion of an implanon, which made their nipples a lot more sensitive than they had been prior thus affecting their enjoyment of having their nipples sucked (i.e they liked it a lot more).
Why doesn't anyone ask?
In all instances, however, there hadn't been a discussion about whether or not someone enjoyed having their nipples sucked; it was just an automatic thing that happened in the lead-up to sex.
One woman, who didn't like it, summed up the vast majority of experiences when she told me: "I guess a lot of people enjoy it so it's strange to not expect it, but I've found myself doing it to women/people with breasts just because I felt I had to or should? I've never stopped to think if it's more for the other person."
What does the research say?
When I began researching the topic to support the anecdotal research I'd been doing, things became a lot harder. Would you believe there's just not a lot of research on titty sucking around? There are a handful of studies that have been done around arousal caused by sucking nipples, but a lot of it is woefully outdated and conducted by the Kinsey Institute some 50 years ago.
I was unperturbed. Surprisingly (or, at least it was to me), one study found that people with larger breasts have far less sensitive nipples than those with smaller breasts.
Also, humans are the only primate where breasts reach development around puberty, with all other primates having breasts develop as a result of pregnancy. Which leads one to believe that there is more than just nourishing functions to be explored. Moreover, the nipples on people with breasts (majority of whom are women) are more sensitive than those without (mostly men).
In the studies that have been done in this area, they found what I had already deduced from my anecdotal evidence - people vary in the degree to which they enjoy having their nipples sucked, with a positive skew towards enjoying it. For example, a 2006 study published in
The Journal of Sexual Medicine surveyed young undergraduates (aged 17-29) about titty sucking during their sex. 78.2% of women and only 39% of men said that the act enhanced arousal. Which only made me more curious: if we take as a given that some people really enjoy it while others don't, why is it such an automatic instinct?
Why is titty sucking a given?
According to Dr Juliana Morris, who specialises in sexual counselling, there are a few main reasons, ranging from Freudian explanations to impacts of porn and representations in the media.
Talking to Whimn.com.au she explains, "For those who enjoy it, that there could be a Freudian background to it that relates to the mummy issue, either in, a negative way, where they didn't get the nurturing, growing up, so this feels like a nurturing thing, or, [in a positive way] they're trying to recreate a pleasant experience that they had, not necessarily that they would remember it.
Or, rather than being Freudian, it could just be a cellular, 'This feels good, I remember this'." She builds on this by explaining that it's also just what "they think they're supposed to do", due to influences of porn and the media which have constructed the breasts to be an inherently sexual body part. "It's what they're being taught, Morris says, "it's what they're seeing in porn, because it's almost like the first base that they're going to. It's like, 'Boobs are the first thing, you'll get the kiss, then, you get to get boobs', it's the first sexualised body part.
So, they're learning that, that's something good, and it's exciting, for the first few times for some women, that when their breasts are being touched, and that becomes sexualised, for men too."
Finally, and perhaps most crucially, she believes that it's become such an assumed part of sexual intercourse because of the lack of feedback people get. As I said earlier, unless they were in a long-term relationship, people had never discussed the pleasure (or lack thereof) they got out of nipple sucking.
This feeds, Morris believes, people's instinct to perform in sex and be less in tune with their own experience of pleasure.
"I don't think a lot of women are communicating, whether they like it, or don't like it" she says, "So, men aren't getting the feedback, for, even like, their own data.
We talk a lot about faking orgasms, but we don't talk about faking pleasure too.
I think some do fake the pleasure of having your boobs touched.
Not only this, but actions like moaning, or panting, or all the other cues that say, 'I'm getting aroused', a man may think, 'it's because I'm touching her breasts', but actually, she's just excited that things are moving along and it has nothing to do with her breasts."
It's all about communication
Our conversation came back to the point of asking, and seeking consent throughout sex.
"I do think it is important for us to really check in with how someone is communicating. Asking whether they like it, or not. It can be something that you literally say, like, 'Do you like this? Does it feel good?' You can seek consent in a very sexy way; you can be actually sucking, and seeking them out by asking, ''Do you like this?', or the person who is having that can say, 'I like this', 'I don't like this', or, 'Move your hands', or, 'Move your body' to express that."
Normalising conversations around what we do, and what we don't, like are essential in making sex something that is about pleasure for all parties involved. When we perform acts 'because we're meant to' sex is a game where the goalposts continue to move without us knowing.
There isn't any 'shameful' about liking a particular sex act as long as you have sought, and continue to seek, active consent from the other person (or people) you're having sex with.
Whether it's sucking nipples, toes or having yourself tied up - if it's consensual, mutually pleasurable and safe, you're just having good sex. It's not much more complicated than that.