I was inspired by Like Water for Chocolate to look into the food we all fell in love with first: breast milk. Breast milk is a food that most of us drank when we were babies, but probably haven’t tasted in years. But it turns out that many adults do taste milk throughout their lives. Breast milk, though it is primarily thought of as a maternal and very nutritional substance, can also be a very sexual substance. I found some articles that explained how breast milk can both encourage and discourage sexual relations.
I read an article called “The Milk Tie” by Jeremy MacClancy published by the Anthropology of Food in September 2003. The article discussed the ways in which breast milk mediated social relations between adults in different cultures throughout history. Most often, a man was made to suck a woman’s breast and was thereafter declared her son. Often these relationships were established to keep people’s reputations: “A Palestinian woman who wished to adopt a stranger boy or man, could do so by publicly putting her nipple into his mouth, saying, ‘Thou art my son in God’s Book, thou hast sucked from my breast.’” One of the reasons a woman would do this is so she could travel alone with the man and her reputation would not be affected.
A similar milk-tie relationship could even be established when a woman’s reputation was on the verge of being ruined! In Georgia, if a woman was having an affair with another man (or suspected of having an affair), her husband would make the suspected man come to his house, put salt on his wife’s right breast, and ask the man to kiss it. If he kissed it, the man was milk-tied to the woman and therefore having a future affair with her would be considered incest (a crime legally punishable). If the man refused, this would serve as evidence that he was having sexual relations with another man’s wife (a crime also legally punishable). As McClancy described it, “Once the deed was done, the husband would address the couple: ‘Man, behold your mother. Woman, behold your son’. He could now rest assured; his wife and new milk son-in-law could meet openly without fear of raising any suspicion, for incest was out of the question.” Similar rituals were also carried out in Afghanistan. Apparently the practice worked: “So sacred is the tie thus established esteemed, that it has never been known to be broken.” I find it kind of strange that no husband in any of these cultures ever felt a desire to kiss his own wife’s breasts!
Thus, breast milk was used to quell sexual desires, or at least make them undesirable. In other cultures (our own, for example), quite the opposite is often true. It is no secret that breasts and nipples, for both men and women are areas of the body that are especially sensitive to sexual arousal. Many couples suck each others nipples or actually breast feed for sexual purposes. Wikipedia has an entire article on erotic lactation, the act of, “achieving sexual arousal by breastfeeding or sucking on a female’s breast.” The Sunday Times published a survey on March 13, 2005 that found that 25 to 33% of all British husbands surveyed had sucked milk from their wives’ breasts. The practice can almost be seen as biological. According to the article, many lactating women involuntarily release milk from their nipples when they are sexually aroused (Rogers).
There is even such a thing known as an “Adult Nursing Relationship (ANR)” which basically is a long term breastfeeding relationship with a woman and another adult. It has to be long term so that the woman continues to lactate. Often the relationship is established by the woman switching from breastfeeding a child to her partner. Woman can continue lactating for years after their child is weaned off their milk if someone continues to suckle. The relationships often express close intimacy and are actually known to “have a strong stabilizing effect on the partnership,” (Buttenstedt).
Not too surprisingly, there are entire porn sites devoted to erotic lactation. A New Zealand brothel even advertises lactating women who have agreed clients can drink their milk. But the practice isn’t just for male pleasure. Women also find breastfeeding stimulating and some have even had orgasms from breastfeeding!
I think it’s really sad that many women have even stopped breastfeeding their children and turned to formula because they were embarrassed that they felt aroused from breastfeeding (Levin). All I could think about during this article was the story of when my mom was breastfeeding me and she froze some of her milk in an icecube tray so that my dad could feed me while she was gone. One day when my maternal grandpa was over and unwittingly used some of the milk ice cubes for his drink. When he found out he drank his own daughter’s milk, he was extremely angry.
P.S. I even found out that women like Tita (from Like Water for Chocolate) can lactate even if they’ve never been pregnant! It’s called induced lactation and usually involves long term and frequent stimulation of the breasts and nipples (which I’m not sure Tita did).
Buttenstedt, Carl: The “Marriage of happiness”: the revelation of woman: A study in nature
Levin, Roy J. (May 2006), “The breast/nipple/areola complex and human sexuality”. Sexual & Relationship Therapy. 21 (2):237–249
Rogers, Lois (March 13, 2005), “Earth dads give breast milk a try”. The Sunday Times. Retrieved on 2008-01-14