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J Hum Lact. 1995 Jun;11(2):111-5.

Cultural paradoxes relating to sexuality and breastfeeding.


Despite the widely acknowledged evidence supporting the benefits of breastfeeding, the prevalence and duration of breastfeeding in the United States and other Western countries remain low. To investigate this phenomenon, we conducted an analysis of the socio-cultural factors that influence women's infant-feeding decisions and examined how breastfeeding is treated in the mass media and by U.S. legislation. We found that cultural notions of the female breast as a primarily sexual object place the act of breastfeeding in a controversial light and can be one of the most influential factors in a woman's decision not to breastfeed. This notion is often supported by the media and legislation. Further research needs to focus on the relationship between sexuality and breastfeeding to help our understanding of breastfeeding behavior. This research should assist policymakers and health workers in their efforts to protect and promote breastfeeding and to increase its social acceptability.


This commentary report analyzes the sociocultural factors that influence women's infant-feeding decisions and examines how breastfeeding is treated in the mass media and by the US legislation. Most mothers in the industrialized countries prefer not to breastfeed, although they were aware of the breastfeeding benefits because of the cultural notions behind breastfeeding. Media and legislation often support this notion. Few of the cultural paradoxes affecting infant breastfeeding behaviors in our society were discussed. Of these cultural paradoxes, sexuality seems to be the most powerful. In the industrialized countries, women often do not breastfeed in public, if at all, because they are uncomfortable and embarrassed. The eroticism of the breast and the incompatibility of motherhood with sexuality present a unique dilemma, which has cross-cultural implications. Men also contribute to this paradox. Furthermore, for some women, breastfeeding can be a sexual experience. Many scholars have documented how breastfeeding can trigger sexual arousal. It is therefore, the role of mass media and of the legislators to help the society in transforming the social views of the breast as a primarily sexual object and of breastfeeding as a suspect activity. Only then will a woman in the society have a true choice in her decision about infant feeding. Yet, further research should be developed to have a broader and deeper understanding of the essence of breastfeeding within the society.

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