There is a line of thought common to Christians that breastfeeding is sexual. Or, breastfeeding might not be sexual per se, but it’s still something that should be done out of sight and possibly/preferably out of the room.
In my effort to double check my theories against the bible and God’s theories, I did some research. The bible has a LOT of references to breasts. A lot. They’re all over the place. Most often, the word breast is an anatomical reference. The right breast for a sacrifice or the growth of breasts to symbolize puberty. Then, there are the sexual references. All seven of them. Four in Song of Solomon, one in Proverbs, two in Ezekiel. How many times does the bible reference breasts in the context of breastfeeding? 14. Plus 10 other references to nursing and drinking mother’s milk. Twenty-four times the bible references breastfeeding without shame. Without hesitation. Without hiding it under a blanket or in another room.
Breasts are used for feeding and comforting babies twice as often as they are used for the ‘comforting’ of a man. And the authors of the bible (talking about the penholders here) referenced breastfeeding in a way that is so tender. There’s almost a longing or reminiscing about the days of being comforted at their mothers’ breasts. Because breastfeeding is so much more than food. So much more than simple calories.
God designed women (and men!) to have a biochemical response to babies, particularly to breastfeeding babies. Not only do women let down their milk as a result of an oxytocin release (a hormone that provides feelings of bonding and love) by men are physiologically impacted by the continued presence of a lactating woman. A man’s estrogen level increases as his primary female partner (aka wife) nears the end of her pregnancy and this hormone level remains high for a period of time after the baby is born, suppressing his libido. This isn’t an accident. God didn’t let this slide as a side-effect of our design. Breastfeeding stimulates feelings of love and attachment, and those feelings are recalled throughout life by members of both sexes.
But love does not have to include sex. A man is perfectly capable of loving a lactating woman without being either turned on or turned off by her milk. Just because a man sees a woman breastfeeding a baby/child does not mean he is enticed to lust.
Breastfeeding is not enticement. Even though breasts may or may not be visible during breastfeeding (even without a nursing cover, there usually isn’t much to see), the simple presence of a breast is not enough to encourage a man to lust. Each person’s lust is wholly within themselves; as Christ put it: “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed lust with her in his heart.” The man doesn’t need the woman at all. He can lust without her knowledge or consent. And his lust is fully within himself.
Hiding breastfeeding does not help a man to avoid lust, either. Hiding breastfeeding (in another room or under a nursing cover) only furthers the separation of that man’s experience with breasts and the true function and purpose of breasts. Further entrenching him on an inescapable island of helplessness. If/when men only see breasts in a sexualized way, the sexuality is reinforced with each exposure. When you start to temper that extreme view, you desensitize him to his incorrect notion that breasts are only for him. Only for his own selfish pleasure. Breasts are first and foremost for the nourishment and care of small children. Only as an addition can we consider the sexual qualities of breasts. And if men were seeing breastfeeding twice as often as breasts as sexual toys, we wouldn’t have to have this discussion at all. Breastfeeding, uncovered, in the presence of men is the only way that I can help a man gain control of his lust. Not because I expose him to something sexual and give him the opportunity to control himself, but because I expose him to something decidedly asexual and give him the opportunity to understand that.
I wonder if that’s why breastfeeding is a more common biblical context for breasts than sex.