Friday, June 24, 2011

My boobs want to be free.

It's getting to be hot out these days. Swimming weather, sunbathing weather, Frisbee weather. Lots of guys running around shirtless. They look so carefree, their burns and tans, abs and guts, open to the sun and the wind.

Me? I gotta wear a shirt. I got shame on my chest.

The frustrating thing is that this isn't even a legal issue, not really. Female toplessness is legal in a lot of places in the US (although not where I live), and I'd be meeting the letter of the law with a couple of Band-aids. But I have a gut feeling that if I go anywhere that there are people--and particularly anywhere there are children--nobody's going to be too happy about my Band-aids. The enforcement is social; women just don't go around topless in the US.

It bothers me because it's unequal, but it also bothers me in its implications: that my body is inherently sexual, and a man's body isn't. It feels like men are being viewed through the first-person lens of "it's nice to feel the sun on my skin, and I don't mean anything by it" and women are being viewed through the distinctly third-person lens of "it's inappropriate for me, a heterosexual man, to see her sexy parts." It ignores the experiences of people who are turned on by male chests and somehow manage to contain themselves when they see one.

And hell yes, it does bother me that it's unequal. I don't want to gloss over that. I don't know how we can act like gender equality is a big deal in this country, then turn around and claim that the same body part that's innocuous on men is obscene on women. That's glaring discrimination in the plainest form: treating one group differently from another for no reason but custom.

Like many taboos, the boobie taboo is self-perpetuating. You never see breasts in public, so it really is shocking and attention-grabbing when someone walks by you on the sidewalk and WHOA DOES SHE HAVE HER BAZOOMS OUT? Whereas someone walks by you on the sidewalk and she's got her hair out, and you don't register this at all, not because hair isn't sexy but because you see a bazillion bareheaded women a day.

This is a sex blog, but this isn't really a sex issue. Or shouldn't be. I don't want to do stripteases in public, to caress my breasts or twirl tassels on my nipples. I just want to be able to go "whoof, it's hot out" and peel off my shirt. This isn't about my breasts; it's about my chest.


  1. I have a question. I don't necessarily disagree with your post, but let me play devil's advocate for a moment.

    Wouldn't you say that during sex, having your boobs played with is pretty awesome? They are erogenous zones, right?

    Wouldn't you also say that men lack boobs and as such, don't have the same erogenous zones on our chests? Sure, we have nipples, but they're not really the same.

    Wouldn't you also say that people tend to cover their sex organs, i.e. penises and vaginas?

    So wouldn't you say that, by extension of the whole "covering your sex organs" thing, a woman's boobs should be covered as well?

    1. until you can get a girl pregnant through a good titty fucking, breasts aren't sex organs

    2. It's a little known fact that after a man has a vasectomy, his penis is not a sex organ.

    3. To address both of your points...

      I know many men who are turned on by nipple play, nipples are super sensitive... some men love it, while some women hate it.

      Breasts are not sex organs. They do not aid in reproduction, other than providing sustenance for the child. Penes and vaginas should be covered because they ARE sexual.

    4. I'm sorry since when are nipples an erogenous zone for men? They still get hard when it's cold out or they are played with. Many men enjoy having their pecs massaged, much like one would a woman's breasts. My boyfriends eyes cross just as much when I suck on his nipples as I do when he sucks on mine.

      And, quite frankly, as a large chested person, we wind up with a lot more body heat in that area, so it would in fact be more beneficial for us to be able to take shirts off and air things out.

      I'm sorry but I respectfully find your devils advocacy to be invalid on all levels.

    5. Anon, that definition of what's a "sex organ" is silly. Is a woman's vagina a sex organ after she goes through menopause? Is a man's penis a sex organ when he's wearing a condom?

      And second anon, I guarantee you, nipples are quite erogenous on some men. I've got video.

    6. The clitoris doesn't aid in reproduction either, yet it's pretty fucking clearly a sexual organ.

      In addition, the purpose of breasts really is to turn men on. Breasts are a fairly recent evolutionary development: most other mammals don't have breasts (even if they have nipples and mammary glands), and the deposits of fat around the breast don't really serve any purpose other than to get men off.

    7. Wow I feel like a dope, first sentence should have been "since when are nipples NOT an erogenous zone..." I hope it didn't come off as a troll post, but this level of social gender binary just makes me crazy.

    8. Whoa whoa, fifth anon (May 27 9:07 AM), "the purpose of breasts really is to turn men on". Excuse me? My tits' purpose is to give a guy a boner? The purpose of my breasts are to feed babies, you jackass. If I did not mean for them to "get men off", then that is not their goddamn purpose. Society makes women's breasts seem sexual. In reality, I don't find it at all satisfying getting my tits pinched by greedy men, and I don't find it satisfying having men think that the purpose of my breasts are to make them hard.

    9. Jess, that is really not how it works. If I choose to use a wheelchair for transportation, does that mean my feet and legs were not developed for walking and running? No. Just as how you choose to use your breasts is your business, your choice to not view them sexually does not remove the sexual purpose of their development.

    10. "Boobs are there for men's erections" - Can you please site some current anthropology, evolutionary biology or any kind of academic report (preferably that reviewed by peers in the field) where there is evidence for this?

      If you are trying to express your opinion about women's bodies, please think about the phrasing.

      And you could help your argument by clearing defining your terms - your idea of a sex organ seems to be part of your idea of what is sexual, sexually attractive, etc. The mechanics of attraction, sex, and reproduction are complex and indeed these things may intersect, but to assign the term sex organ to something that you view as sexually attractive is confusing at least, and problematic in terms of conflating scientific/medical definitions with personal preferences. It's also dangerous as it allows a medical definition to be assigned to any part of the body.

      To clarify an important definition in this thread - the sex organs of a female mammal do not include the breasts. To be fair, this can be confusing because the development of breasts is often taught as a secondary sex characteristic (which develop during puberty) in middle and high school science classes. What this concept is referring to is the development of mammary glands, which allow female mammals to produce milk for their babies. These glands basically live in fatty areas because of how hormones and milk production works. While dogs and cats have multiple nipples and not "breasts" as we understand them, higher primates (and yes, that includes us) tend to develop breasts because of a whole host of evolutionary/physiological reasons. While not the most academic site, the wikipedia entry may help start to frame this: - you can follow their citing for more.

      I hope this helps clarify the conversation here.

      ... Because my breasts are part of my body, and my body is part of my self, and no part of me will be objectified. Especially by someone who can't cite their claims. Because Science.

    11. Eh, in the extreme... any real reason why penises or vaginas should *need* to be covered in public? Other than tradition and custom? I mean, I recognize that the right to bare chests is one that´s unequally distributed, so yeah, by all means lets fix that first. But this whole discussion about what is or isn´t a sexual organ is kinda moot unless there is a reason why sexual organs should be covered in public...

    12. I'm really into my ears nibbled, should I wear earflaps all the time?

      My boyfriend likes having his fingers sucked should I buy him gloves so no one sees the filthy hands in public? I mean, his hands give me orgasms so they must not for public viewing right?

    13. Just to clarify the comment made by AnonymousMay 27, 2012 at 9:07 AM, large female breasts were sexually selected in evolution, that is a long long time ago females who happened to have bigger breasts were more likely to be chosen for sex and thus the genes for large breasts increased in frequency in the population. Breasts do not functionally need to be very large , They can produce milk despite however much fat resides around the glands(hence why there are many women who have quite small breasts who quite easily produce milk for their offspring). So in a sense, they were (historically) selected by men because they were enjoyable to men. BUT! In my opinion that does not in any way make a woman's breasts simple property to be looked at by men. It may be the reason they evolved but that doesn't mean that's the reason they should be covered up. That was a product of society. I mean look at many of the tribes in Africa. Both men and women feel clearly comfortable with bare female breasts. Our culture treats breasts as mere objects for the pleasure of straight men and it drives me crazy.

    14. Their erogenous zones in men too. I sould know, I'm a man.

  2. Robin - I know a man who just about crumples in ecstasy when he gets his nipples played with.

    Me, I'm not that into it. But I love having my hair pulled.

    Erogenous zones are personal and quirky things, and I don't think they make a good standard for which body parts should be "private" or not.

    Frankly, I wouldn't mind if people exposed sex organs in public either (as long as it's not a sexual activity--for those, I believe it matters whether someone consented to watch you), but at least that one's fair.

  3. I read an article once about body image, where a bunch of female friends sat around discussing the "beautiful" women around them.
    In an attempt to make themselves feel better, they joked that a conventionally beautiful woman walking by probably has "huge areolas!" because they wanted for her to have some sort of flaw, even if it couldn't be seen.
    Once a norm is introduced by common exposure, women will be made to feel inadequate yet again in a previously inoffensive body part.

  4. Wouldn't you also say that men lack boobs and as such, don't have the same erogenous zones on our chests? Sure, we have nipples, but they're not really the same.

    I would say that nerve endings are in the surface of the skin, and it's odd to think that fat deposits under that skin would have any effect on the nerve endings (in fact you'd think it might even stretch the skin and move those nerve endings further apart...). But then again I'm not a doctor.

    However, I've known a lot of guys who love having their nipples sucked and played with. One of whom couldn't orgasm without it.

    I've also known legions of guys who get really aroused by having their ears licked (really, anywhere can be an erogenous zone, but ears seem to be a really common one) and nobody's wearing earmuffs in 80 degree weather...

    My understanding (although I could be wrong) is that exposure laws originally revolved around covering up areas on a person that stuff comes out of. Everyone pees and poops, so the crotch and ass get covered - but women lactate and men don't, hence boob coverage. It's still kinda stupid but there's at least some tenuous logic there.

    1. I never thought of the excretion idea. I have wondered, though, if a woman had no nipples, would she violate any public nudity laws? If the nippleless woman does not violate nudity laws, then it is not the breast itself that is offensive, but the nipple? But men may expose their nipples... maybe it is the combination of breasts with nipples. Just as a breastless man (or for some reason, breasted ones too) is allowed to expose their chest, maybe a nippleless woman would be tolerated (at least legally, if not aesthetically).

    2. >men cant make boob milk

      They can and do, search it up.
      Some african tribes have the dads feed the babies even!

  5. If we're going with censoring erogenous zones, everyone's mouths should be covered up, too. Lips and tongues are extremely sensitive and mouths generally play a pretty big role in sex.

    We should probably cover up men's backs, while we're at it. I know a few guys that get off on the right kind of back scratching.

  6. Hear, hear. One of my friends has talked about holding a bare-chested walk with people of all genders to highlight the foolishness of this double-standard.

    Robin: what is considered an "erogenous zone" is also very much culturally contingent. In Victorian Britain, uncovered female ankles were considered scandalous. In contemporary tribal culture in the Solomon Islands, women's breasts are uncovered but their knees are considered highly sexual and must be kept covered in public.

  7. Amen.
    It always strikes me as an oddity whenever there is discussion on the topic of Muslim veil, whether it the niqab or the hijab. The logic is: this is sexist because only women do/has to do it. They "choose" it but only because of an enormous pressure from the family, the religion, etc. It hides without reason (other than moral) a part of the body (hair, face,...) that is completely acceptable in the other gender and it shame women on themselves which leads to more sexism in relationships.
    Why did we decide that "we" were morally superior to "them"?

    If the problem is the erogenous zone, I can take off my shirt right now, as long as I cover mys stomach and my ears. That could be fun: everybody cover his sensitive parts, and only that. ^^

    perversecowgirl: Then we should cover our mouth, because saliva can come out of it. And no need to cover the breasts of any girl who hasn't been pregnant.

  8. This is something that I've always thought about. If I didn't think I'd be arrested I'd do it.

    I like the idea of a bare-chested walk, but Perth is shit so I doubt anything like this would happen until 20 years from now.

  9. Yes! And for that matter, why don't men have to wear bandaids on their nipples?!

    Generally, I'm in favor of much more nonsexual nudity - I only learned to see my own body, with all its wonders and flaws, as normal when I started going to hot baths here in Korea and saw women of all shapes and sizes, with tattoos and scars and saggy bits and fit bits, large nipples and small nipples and all kinds of shapes and pubic hair trimmings...really is an image adjustment!

  10. And we should cover up guys' necks, because I have met a lot of guys who moan when you lick their necks juuuuust the right way...

  11. Funnily enough I've notice more and more guys who keep their shirts on all the time in the summer. Where I live, if a woman walks onto a construction site the guys will put on their shirts. It's kind of interesting to see younger guys - some of whom look really fit - covering their tops even on the beach and it doesn't seem to be a sun issue. There have been plenty of societies where women are bare chested, where men exercise naked, where family nudity is common. It's actually kind of disturbing how sexually oriented the US is. In other countries people will have seen their parents nude as a matter of course - part of life - but when I mentioned this to a group of people in college they freaked. The fashion of what's permitted - like all fashions - changes.

  12. Fingers. Fingers are generally heavily involved in sex, and some people seriously get off when you suck on them.

    A true danger to the public. Year-round mittens!!

    Holly, I spend summers in a place where its regularly above 90 and very humid. I would very much like to be able to whip off my shirt when I'm walking home from work. Or to be able to just lay out in the sun topless. I'd like that a lot too.

    @Flying Turtle - "It's actually kind of disturbing how sexually oriented the US is."
    Agreed. I can understand requiring underwear of some kind in public, simply for the sake of hygiene, but the whole OMG BODIES...THEY ARE ALWAYS SEXUAL thing really bothers me.

  13. The underlying idea here is not "men's chests are not erogenous zones and women's are," it's "men's chests are not sexy and women's are." Women's chests are overwhelming, men's chests are irrelevant. But at least our chests are not so horrifying as to be a possibly criminal offense to anyone who might be unfortunate enough to see them like our genitals are.

    I can certainly see why you'd like the option of going topless, but trust me, you do not want to be viewed the same way as a man.

  14. I regularly go to nudist places on vacations, with the following effect:

    The first couple of days among other nude people, my brain goes 'Whoa! All those nude people, and here, and there, and there's another one...' Mind you, I don't ever stare. (I've learned how to be a polite happy nudist minding my own business since when I was a little girl going on vacations with my family. Successful nudist places make an effort to create polite environments without rude staring or harassment.) My brain just gets somewhat overwhelmed at the beginning of a vacation.

    After two or three days, I don't notice any more.

    Everyone's nude. Well. Let's hop on our bicycles and go to the beach.

    Based on these experiences, I think something similar would occur in a society's public environment which made an effort to normalize going around topless for women just like topless for men – and effect mutual social control for maintaining a minimum of human politeness. A few days, or possibly weeks of people thinking 'Whoa! A woman nude from the waist up! And there's another one!', and then 'Well, let's happily go about our business.' I'd like to live in such an environment.

    To anyone who doubts he/she could, too, go from 'Whoa' to 'Well then' in the course of some days, I can advise trying it out. Take a nudist vacation and see what happens in your brain. It's great fun and healthy as well. Bring sunscreen.

  15. Mousie - Women's chests are overwhelming, men's chests are irrelevant.
    To whom? I don't find male chests irrelevant at all. They're not "overwhelming" either, because I'm used to being around them and still exercising self-control, but believe me, when I get in private with a male chest I particularly like...

  16. Anon - I would love to organize a bare-chested walk in Boston, but coming after the Slutwalk, I worry people would take it as "wow, feminists just want to be hobags these days!" instead of understanding the completely non-sexual intent of the thing.

  17. I was thinking about the same thing a couple of months ago, when it started raining during a walk with some friends. One of the guys took off his shirt, and another took off his pants, because they were getting wet and uncomfortable. It really bugged me that if I did the same thing (wet clothes are gross), it wouldn't be ok.

    It's not about sex, it's about comfort and freedom.

  18. If a topless-women walk would be too difficult, how about a men-in-pasties walk? Same message, less scandal?

    1. Or both at the same time, to really highlight the inequalities.

  19. I don't find male chests irrelevant at all. They're not "overwhelming" either, because I'm used to being around them and still exercising self-control

    Yes, exactly. 'Overwhelming' is mainly a function of 'I'm not used to it'. I don't think there is any need to feel afraid of being overwhelmed all the time by seeing bare-chested women and never getting used to it.

    Which clothing people in a society consider necessary in a public environment is an arbitrary choice. I'm thinking, for example, of times here in Europe when it was considered basic good etiquette to go out on the street wearing a hat or other head covering. If a particular society values equality of the sexes, it's consequent to set this arbitrary required amount of clothing the same for anyone.

    In nudist environments, getting used to interacting casually and politely in a non-sexualized context with people of all ages who are completely nude can work easily without great effort. It is simply a matter of time.

    Getting used to seeing women's bare chests in public without feeling an urge to stare or other problems with acting rudely is simply a matter of habit and practice. For some people getting used to it may take longer, for some shorter.

  20. I like the men-in-pasties idea

  21. I totally agree your frustration on women's bodies being assumed to be sexual rather than functional. But I was curious about this sentence:

    But I have a gut feeling that if I go anywhere that there are people--and particularly anywhere there are children--nobody's going to be too happy about my Band-aids.

    It seems socially acceptable to me for women to go around in the summer in bikini tops, which can be pretty damn close to band-aids. I could be regional, since I have been living until recently in Philadelphia, a paradise of letting it all hang out, literally and metaphorically. But I think that a woman in a bikini top can go pretty much anywhere a shirtless man can, and maybe more places. The park, walking around town when it's hot out, maaaaybe the grocery store. It still leaves you with the sexualized nipple discrepancy, but I like it as a practical solution for when it's super hot.

  22. I so agree. I love the sun on my body. My breasts rarely get to enjoy the sun and a nice breeze; only when I have time to sunbathe in my yard which is rare.

    My boobs want to be free!


  23. I like this discussion :) When it gets hot and sticky out, I would also like to be able to take off my shirt and air things out a bit...and I'm relatively flat-chested so I don't have to worry about "support" without a bra. I hate the feeling of a sweaty shirt sticking to my skin all day.

    I could even make it a hygiene argument. When I first moved to a very hot and humid climate for grad school, I quickly developed a skin rash between and underneath my boobs because the sweat runs down there and then gets trapped by the band of the bra and yeah, hot, wet, biological growth incubator right there. I was disgusted and pissed off! "Why did I move here? How can people live here? I have ATHLETE'S FOOT underneath my boobs, which are neither athletic nor feet, WTF?" My skin eventually adapted to the climate and I got somewhat used to be sweaty most of the time. Then I moved way north and am much happier. But I still want to take my shirt off on hot days.

  24. We have the same problem up here in Canada. For the most part it is Legal for lassies to go around topless, but no one ever does it! A woman get's enough flack for breastfeeding in public that I don't have the guts to strip down when it's hot.

  25. I'd say that there could be another positive effect to living in the hypothetical culture where a woman's chest is just her chest. Cause as a girl the sort of social stigma around being bare-chested really just means that the only boobs you ever see are your boobs and the lad's mag/porn boobs on the top shelf in petrol stations and on the internet. Which can lead to totally unrealistic expectations of what your boobs should look like. Generally women don't really get the opportunity to compare their naked unsupported boobs with the naked unsupported boobs of other "normal" women. Surely raising awareness that boobs come in all shapes and sizes can only be a good thing for every ones' self confidence.

  26. I like the idea of a walk where men and women, ideally in equallish numbers, were bare-chested with pasties. That way we'd be hitting the ridiculousness from both sides, (it's weird and shocking for men to cover their nipples! it's weird and shocking for women to be shirtless!) and fulfilling all legal requirements.

  27. Fuck yeah! My boobs wants to be free too. I'm applauding :)


  28. I am a trans guy who's had chest reconstruction surgery, and it took me over three years to get up the nerve to take my shirt off in a public place (other than for swimming). It wasn't the scars or feeling self-conscious about my body, but just that I'm used to being one of those people who's just not allowed to go shirtless in public.
    I did it for an hour or so on a beautiful day in Dolores Park last fall and felt like I was getting away with something the entire time. I walk around shirtless at home all the time but it feels very strange to be able to do it in public.

    I'm at least as sensitive in my chest area as I was when my breasts were around, so the erogenous zone argument doesn't hold water with me at all.

  29. @Emma You'd think, right?

    I--for some reason--am always cold. On days when other people are walking around in shorts and t-shirts, I usually have a sweater on. Buuuut this summer, my doctor told me, "GET SOME VITAMIN D FOR #&#*%'S SAKE." So I actually made the strange sacrifice of putting on a bikini-top and some long pants and sandals and going for a walk at a park near my house. This particular top looks like fake jean, so it's obviously not a bra, but it's shaped like a sports bra, not a string bikini.

    As I'm walking, I hear someone behind me calling, "Madame! Madame!" I turn around and this little 8-year-old girl comes up to me and asks me, "Why aren't you wearing a shirt?"

    She asked me in French, which is my second language, so I had to sort of grope around for my words before I replied to her, "I want to get vitamin D from the sun."

    What I really wanted to say is, "Why aren't you wearing any manners?"


  30. "I can certainly see why you'd like the option of going topless, but trust me, you do not want to be viewed the same way as a man."

    And _that's part of the problem_. Women's bodies are uncomfortably or dangerously sexualized while men's aren't, even in non-sexual contexts.--that's a problem. Men are seen as horrible sexual monsters who can't control themselves--that's also a problem. BOTH problems are issues with society, and just because someone talks about one doesn't mean she's ignoring or downplaying the other.

  31. Although I consider myself sex-positive and body-positive, being raised by my fantastic WASP of a single mother, I developed a few of her pickle-up-the-ass sensibilities. One of these is an aversion to *all* strangers revealing their chests to me in public. Maybe it's just baggage or a weird quirk. But I think it's that for me, seeing others' bodies is an act of trust, an intimate (though not necessarily sexual) moment between friends, roommates, chosen family or, you know, sexy people... or at the very least, fellow members of one's community.
    Weird modesty tic aside I think we're on the same page. I find it irritating when strange men I don't know walk around pecs-in-the-air-without-a-care in the city without regard for the ways in which their exhibitionism may be triggering, sexual—or, you know, just awkward—for those around them, and women are expected to always be clothed. I went to a Christian summer camp once where girls were told they needed to be wearing modest swimsuits or they weren't respecting themselves, while the dudes at said camp had trunks that were showing off their pubic hair. wtf.

    But social codes aside, I agree that women should be allowed to take off their shirts in public more, especially so they can breastfeed their child without being demonized or looked at like they're vulgar. What's vulgar is someone not being able to feed their kid because her body is only entitled to look hot or be hidden.

  32. The underlying idea here is not "men's chests are not erogenous zones and women's are," it's "men's chests are not sexy and women's are." Women's chests are overwhelming, men's chests are irrelevant

    I'm used to men going topless because it happens all the time; if a guy I'm not attracted to is shirtless, it's just furniture. If a guy I am attracted to is shirtless, then you can be assured that I'm enjoying stealthily checking him out. Only stealthily, though, because I understand that he's not deliberately being sexy at me.

    And that's where the gender divide happens: a lot of men still have a hard time understanding that a woman's body is a functional piece of machinery that gets us from place to place and not some kind of sex-weapon. These guys believe that if they look at a woman and want to fuck her, that's something she's actively doing to them and not just a thought happening exclusively inside the guy's head. Hence breasts (and legs) being sexualized.

    ...I can certainly see why you'd like the option of going topless, but trust me, you do not want to be viewed the same way as a man.

    The complete disregard you speak of for male bits is coming from men, Mousie. We live in a patriarchy and most men are straight and straight men don't give a shit about naked men.

    I would fucking love to be viewed in the same way as a man (the way I view a man): as an actual human being who is presumed to be dressed for comfort and/or style and not because they're "asking for sex".

  33. I am occasionally surprised that at a kinky/play party some kinksters seem to have in the back of their mind (if not the front): "boobs. so many boobs" as if the presence of topless/naked women somehow makes their day better.

    This quite accurately explains a major reason I don't like wandering around topless.

  34. @ Andy, lol at "Why aren't you wearing any manners?" What an obnoxious kid. I guess it depends where you live, and how well-behaved other people's kids are.

  35. I think that the distinction between legally enforced conduct and socially enforced conduct is interesting; particularly how hard it can be to change social restrictions. In those places where women going topless is not a legal issue, it seems similar to the "no men in drag" social convention.

    Sure, there's no law against it, and we should all be able to do it without getting hassled, but there's plenty of places where you end up dealing with so much aggression if you do it that it's just not worth the trouble.

    Unfortunately (for the chicken among us, like myself) it's just easier to conform and let the stupid social conventions perpetuate than to deliberately flaunt them to widen the scope of acceptable behavior. No good answers here.

  36. Love most of the comments on this. All through high school I was told that my shirts were too low cut, and my response was always, "Low cut shirts are fine because my body is not a sexual object." I would become so frustrated because other 32A girls could wear deep v-necks with no comment, but if I, a 34C (at the time) wore something similar, everyone would be on my case.

    It has always seemed ridiculous that women have spent, and still spend so much time fighting for equality and to eradicate the view that we are objects. But so many women feed into it daily without a second thought.

  37. I am sexually involved with my boyfriend. We engage in sexual intercourse. Sometimes I'm naked, sometimes I'm not. When we're doing something else nonsexual- like cooking, reading, palying video games, etc.- I'm often naked because there's no reason for me to wear clothes. He doesn't gawk continuously at my breasts because they're "overwhelming" or because he can't control himself. And my continuous nudity certainly doesn't detract from our sex life due to immunity, because he appreciates my body sexually and is properly aroused by it **when I use it in a sexual manner**.

  38. I live along the Gulf Coast and it is hot and humid and gross here. Often. I've stopped wearing a bra completely -- not because I want to pretend I'm in the 60s, although that would be kinda cool, but because it is really uncomfortable to have wet linens all rubbing up against your skin like that. Gross.

    But it's even grosser than that here! And so I've been trying to take active steps to steel myself to maybe sometimes in some places walking around shirtless. It's one thing to want to do it, and a totally other thing to be comfortable doing it. Like another commenter though, I don't see many men topless here either. In fact most people wear long pants outside, and I assure you it is in the upper 90s and incredibly humid. And if it's becoming socially unacceptable for guys to walk around shirtless (in certain places, it seems), then I feel like it's not socially acceptable for a person with mammary glands to walk around without a shirt either.

    Bummer for me. I just gotta be uncomfortable.

  39. Natalie - Men have functional mammary glands too! The only difference between male and female chests is the shape--the parts are all the same.

  40. It makes my day to view such a healthy conversation on this topic. The way society takes everything natural and makes it taboo is severely frustrating. I would love to see topless walks or any sort of movement to support natural human rights.

  41. I agree with this completely. Also, why should a naked body be such a fuss? We are all born naked and we will all see naked bodies some times. Everyone has one. Every one of them is different. Why hide them? I find from personal experience at naturist campings: You really don't get turned on by just seeing a naked body. As long as the owner of said body acts normally it shouldn't be a problem. A naked body is not erotic. It can be made erotic by focussing attention on certain parts by movement or decoration, but inherently there is nothing erotic about a naked body.
    Your body is a part of who you are. And besides the fact that it is an inequality I find it completely alien that more of a fuss is being made over nakedness then about violence. If I have children I know that sooner or later they will see naked bodies and have sex. Hell, it's pretty much what we're on this planet for. To pass on our genes. I prefer my children to learn about the body and applying what they've learnt over them learning all about violence and applying that. Somehow people get their priorities the wrong way round...

  42. When puberty hit and I started getting boobs I HATED it because the difference between me and guys became "you have to wear extra clothes and can never take off your shirt but they can whenever as long as it's not, like, church or something." An awakening I didn't appreciate.

    Nowadays my main gripe is that we can't be topless when swimming. I have yet to find a single swimsuit that really lets me swim without ballooning or falling off because of my boobs (and they're not even large). But yeah, if I'm on a public beach on a family vacation, even if it's legal, I'm not going to go topless...because of the CHILDREN. Because of SEXBOOBS. Because of stupid social norms that would draw way to much attention to someone who just wants to swim comfortably.

  43. I'm also reminded of this shirt, tangentially.

  44. @Holly - true! That's why I added "and boobs". Putting "female" in there might have helped, but not all females have boobs either (assuming "boob" equates to "protusion from chest") and not all boobs belong to females and so... yeah, I just left it. **hangs head**

  45. Oh, I didn't actually, did I? I had, and then erased it, I guess. Well! Proof that I at least thought about it.

  46. "straight men don't give a shit about naked men." - perversecowgirl

    I thiiiiink they probably would, ya know...

    Many, many thoughts crossed my mind reading this post. Not least of which - female breasts are secondary sexual characteristics. They're like, um, *thinks hard* ... peacock's tails, I guess. Yes, they're showy and wonderful to look at, but then so's any attractive feature of anybody. They may turn heads for a few seconds, maybe even get a "Wow!" and a smile, but then so can hair, or eyes, or legs, or someone's clothes, or even just the way they move.
    I'm puzzled by the modern fetish for breasts, and can't figure out why they've become so highly sexualised. It's frankly a bit creepy.

    Also, breasts are primarily and fundamentally for producing milk. It's what they do. Public breastfeeding should be far more widely accepted than it currently is. Perhaps that's the ultimate non-sexual "gateway activity" for getting people used to breasts just being *ahem* "out there". Once they're cool with the feeding, they're cool with visible breasts, and your breasts will be cool all summer long...

  47. Like others, I'm enjoying the reasonableness of this post and conversation. Probably my favorite part of not having roommates is not having to worry about shirts in hot weather.

    Relatedly, I found this book awhile back and have been meaning to get sometime - I think you would appreciate it, if you aren't already familiar:

    "Jordan Matter's Uncovered is a book of portraits and personal statements from over 80 brave women, who posed bare-breasted for the project in public locations across New York City."

  48. Sorry if I repeat anything others have said. I was too lazy to read all the comments.

    I'm a guy and I love walking around with my shirt off. Every time I do it I think of how it sucks that women don't. In fact, I may be projecting, but it seems to me that some women do look at me with a face that says, it's unfair that you can do that and I can't, particularly if I am just out walking on the street as opposed to sunbathing.

    I think this taboo actually could be broken fairly easily and quickly at least in large cities like New York, where I live. The occasional demonstration where women march with shirtless men certainly seems in order alongside women just taking their shirts off whenever they fucking feel like it. Sunbathing in parks seems like a good place to start.

    I recently spent about a month in Berlin and one of the things that struck me was the comfort they have with male and female public nudity. People of all ages and body types sunbathe nude in the parks and in designated beach areas. I was also surprised that, at least at my gym, there were no segregated steamrooms and saunas and that women and men seemed quite comfortable with this. I found it a little daunting at first but quickly became very blase about it.

  49. Ok, now I am reading through some of the comments.

    I find it really odd that so much of the for/against hinges on the extent to which nudity generally and breast specifically are erotic. Of course, they're erotic. So what? People are erotic. It's a pleasure to look at people and have erotic thoughts. Yeah, some guys are going to find all those nude breasts as intoxicating as gay dudes like me find hot guys with their shirts off. Presumably most of them will know not to be rude about it as they obviously have in countries like Germany where naked breasts are a dime a dozen.

    It is really weird the way denial of just plain, everyday eroticism is the default position that has to be catered to. Why are its adherents never called upon to defend it?

  50. I think Mr. Monster has a point there about the functionality of breasts being the gateway to normalizing female chests in public. For one, nobody could whip out the "think of the childrenz!" excuse for covering boobs up. Kids love boobs...probably more than anyone else, because breasts SUSTAIN children.

    I also agree that my breasts aren't any more erogenous than a man-chest. Men play with boobs because they like boobs, not because it feels better to us than another part of our body (unless it does, but as Holly said, erogenous zones are extremely individual). Nipples are more sensitive because the skin there is thinner (but it is on a man too). I would guess that the percentage of women who can boob-gasm is the same as the percentage of men. If it's different, that's more about the taboo of female breasts than about actual sensation.

  51. Frankly, I wouldn't mind if people exposed sex organs in public either (as long as it's not a sexual activity--for those, I believe it matters whether someone consented to watch you), but at least that one's fair.

    I guess I am way out in the vanguard on this because I believe people should be free to be sexual in public also, at least up to a certain point. I recall a month I spent in Barcelona and being struck at how passionately some couples made out on the beach, breast and penis fondling, nipple sucking etc. Who can fault them? Beaches are erotic. Why should they fight the impulse to fool around anymore than one should fight the impulse to have an ice cream cone under similar conditions. Even on a crowded beach no one HAS to watch.

    All of this shit is predicated on the idea that sex is just so potentially toxic and destructive that it constantly has to be regulated and constrained. I have to see and hear all kinds of shit I don't want to see and hear, and the people around me, quite correctly don't give a shit whether I consent or not. Why is sex in some special category where children and prudes set the rules?

  52. Thank you for posting this. I've been complaining about this since I hit puberty; it's nice to hear agreement!! - Laura

  53. "straight men don't give a shit about naked men." - perversecowgirl

    I thiiiiink they probably would, ya know...

    I meant that straight guys don't find naked dudes sexy, not that straight guys would be fine hanging out with each other without any clothes on (although I can't say for sure that they wouldn't, either).

    And since the patriarchy kind of filters everything through the lens of the male point of view, a shirtless guy is just a guy without a shirt on - no big deal - but a shirtless woman is never just a woman without a shirt. She has breasts and she is deliberately, um...deploying them. Or something.

  54. I once was involved in a nude Pagan ritual, sixty people, mixed genders. We were passing around a cup, and the ritual leader said "If it's empty when you get it, bring it up here and I'll refill it."

    So, it got to me, it was empty, I took it up to be refilled. It went around again and it was empty *again* when it got to me. (I blame stage fright on the part of people clockwise of me.) So I took it up again, and the ritual leader looked at me and said "What, back for more?"

    And there I was stark naked in front of sixty mixed-gender people *laughing at me.*

    It was incredibly liberating, because you know, they were nice folks and it really didn't matter. I have been way calmer about all public speaking since then. I hadn't expected much from the ritual--I was mainly curious--but it made a valuable long-term impression.

    My only problem with being nude in public would have been periods, back when I was having them; I am not built for tampons and I bleed like a fire hose. So I'd have been wearing underwear for five days every month and worrying about accidents. Other than that, I'm for it.

    Well, okay, and all-over sunburn would be bad. But hopefully I'd have been smarter about it if more skin were showing....(If you are fair-skinned and shave your mons, are you risking sunburning your labia? Ow.)

  55. I have to see and hear all kinds of shit I don't want to see and hear, and the people around me, quite correctly don't give a shit whether I consent or not. Why is sex in some special category where children and prudes set the rules?

    Maybe my answer is prudish, but I think viewing other people having sex does in some way involve you in their having that sex. Otherwise exhibitionism and voyeurism wouldn't really make much sense. I don't want to be involved in other people's sex lives without my consent. It's true that going out in public I experience things I'd rather not. Some of this is on a mundane level, like subway stations that smell like pee and Bush/Cheney bumper stickers. Obviously I deal with this in the course of my day and move on. But just because we put up with some things from our fellow people doesn't mean that anything goes. When it is the social norm not to have sex in public, I think it's actually a huge asshole move to subject other people to the sex that you're having, and that you're forcing them to participate in.

    Why is sex so subject to moralizing, prudish dipshittery? I'm sure there are a lot of reasons, and a lot of them are dumb. But it's still an emotionally powerful, intimate act, and that makes it more important to be kind to others about than what fork you use for salad.

  56. Emma you realize you've made a series of declarations that argue from the authority of convention, right?

    Looking at people having sex is not the same as having sex with them. And like I said, you are always at liberty not to look. A couple once started to fuck on a nude beach in P-town and people looked for a little bit and then continued about their business. It actually becomes quite mundane very quickly. In my view, the onus is on people public spaces to attempt to give people privacy by not looking and not listening to things that are private.

    It's also the social norm not to bear one's breasts. Is it 'a huge asshole move' to take off one's shirt when the guys do?

    I mean i am not talking about people having sex whenever and wherever. But the couples on the beach fooling around seemed perfectly natural and I don't think they are obliged to make you more comfortable than the dude who pees in a subway station. In fact, the guy that pees in the station is much more of a menace.

  57. @ghostlypresence: I agree with most of what you've said in principle, but I do think the exhibitionism thing does become a factor in some circumstances.

    If you're having sex on the beach because you want to have sex on the beach, and you really don't give a shit that I'm minding my own business sitting on a towel ten feet away, then whatever. It might make me uncomfortable, but I'm not obliged to look. But if you're having sex on the beach because you're getting off on the fact that there's somebody sitting on a towel just ten feet away from you (OMG!), then you've involved me in the sex act without my consent, and that isn't cool (even though I can't tell the difference unless you say something).


    "but a shirtless woman is never just a woman without a shirt. She has breasts and she is deliberately, um...deploying them. Or something."

    Now there is an image of torpedo-boobs in my head, and the lady deploying them has a navy hat and a monocle.

  58. Just out of curiosity, if toplessness is legal in most places, what do people think would happen if a substantial number of women made a practice of walking around or sunbathing topless, with the intention of doing it for an extended period (say for an entire summer)? If allowed to do so I'm inclined to believe it would eventually become a non-issue, and the few busybodies determined to not shut up about it would become the marginalized group. But would the police actually protect the women's right to go topless, at least without the women needing to fight for it?

    Also, @Holly: "The only difference between male and female chests is the shape--the parts are all the same."

    I agree with your premise and that the inequality is bullshit, but this is a pretty substantial physical difference. Of all the physical characteristics that can lead a person to being mistaken for the opposite sex, a bare chest is rarely one of them. A guy with large breasts might be mistaken for a woman at a distance; I can't think of any other possibilities off-hand.

    Yes, the problem is that women's chests are sexualized and men's aren't, and the shape is irrelevant to that. I only bring it up because you mentioned this both in the post and the quoted comment, which makes "chests are all the same" seem central to your point, and I just don't think that's realistically true.

  59. I can't remember how I found this blog post, but I do want to say something about how women's chests are, on average, more sexualised than men's.

    I am Australian, and identify as a cis-woman. When I was eight or nine, long before I started developing breasts or any other signs of puberty, I went on a camp/hike with my parents and several families from my school. During this camp, I and another child of the same age fell in a puddle. Because we were uncomfortable in wet shirts, we took our tops off and walked around bare-chested until they dried off.

    I was the target of multiple glares, murmurs of "that's gross" or "sick", laughter, and adults taking me aside and saying, "You should put your shirt on, dear."
    The other child? Nothing.
    The only difference between us was that I was a girl and the other child was a boy.

    So yes, I think that it's sexist. And that sexism extends to children, which is really quite unfair.

  60. I encourage anyone with the means to start an online group/page or something that we can utilize to put our voices out there continually. I am sure that many people agree with this issue. It could be that necessary step to get movements started.

  61. RE: accidentalbeard

    This is actually pretty timely; I just had top surgery myself, and the doc ordered me to be shirtless as much as possible.

    I spent maybe the first three days doing silly contortions to cover my chest without causing it any harm, just because even in my friend's house, I felt like I was doing something wrong. Not because I was covered in stitches and grafted tissue, but because OMG PEOPLE CAN SEE MY NIPPLES. D:

    Then I returned home in the middle of a heatwave. I have never changed my mind about something so fast. And oh god, it is SO MUCH NICER. I haven't been sweating through my clothes! I haven't been HOT.

    I still got shouted out by a random guy in a car to put a shirt on. But I don't know if it was because he thought I still had extra meat on my chest, or because I looked like I got chomped by a dinosaur.


  62. @ ghostlypresence,

    Yes, I am purposefully "arguing from the authority of convention," because a good portion of the people who would see some public sex act believe in the propriety of that convention. This is why it doesn't bother me if people on a beach in Barcelona have their own conventions - or for that matter, that there are nudist beaches and public-sex-encouraging resorts.

    Obviously convention sometimes needs to change. For instance, women should, in my opinion, be able to go topless. The difference, in my opinion, is that it's much more unreasonable to make women cover up and much more socially fraught to watch people have sex. Of course people have to draw the line for themselves.

    But that line has to recognize that the fact convention does actually exist, and does important work in people's lives. Just because convention can be oppressive and is a relic of the exercise of power in human history doesn't mean you can just chuck it out the window. It structures all of our lives! So violating it willy-nilly makes people upset. I also think it's important that people having sex in public when convention disallows it know that they make other people uncomfortable, and do it anyway. And bystanders know they are doing it despite knowing it makes people uncomfortable. Since the bystanders know the sex-havers are happy to make them uncomfortable, they are probably not too inclined to treat it as harmless and "just not look."

    Especially because, as minuteeye pointed out, the dynamic changes if the people having sex get off on a bystander watching. But the bystander can't tell why they're having sex in public. Given that they're having sex, "gets them off" is a pretty reasonable assumption about why they're doing it.

    TL;DR, having sex in public can be right, but still assholish, because convention isn't dispelled when it's violated.

  63. I get a lot angrier about this than I should. Because it's such a complete, total non-issue. I don't want to take my shirt off as a political statement, or for sexual attention or because I want to flaunt my body: I want to go shirtless because it's FUCKING HOT and I DO NOT NEED A SHIRT in order to bathe my dog in the backyard, you know? I don't really see why half the people can go topless, and the other half get the police called on them. It's not even a difference of anatomy*, just topography.

    Whenever I get really furious about this, I take deep breaths and think of a time not so long ago when women couldn't display ankles or bare shoulders for fear of shaming themselves or driving nearby men to unspeakable lusts. Eventually I'll get to go shirtless without fear of arrest, and [i]I don't care if I'm eighty[/i] when that happens.


    * Fine, mine have milk ducts and others don't, but you can't fucking see milk ducts. The milk ducts are not what makes them shameful to possess, and incidentally men with gynecomastia are free to go shirtless. The crime isn't having breasts, apparently, it's Breasts With Suspicion of Vagina Possession that'll do you in.

  64. Fine, mine have milk ducts and others don't, but you can't fucking see milk ducts.

    Ohhh yes they do. Mammaries and milk ducts are all there even for a man. It's hormones that instruct them to develop into serious functionality or don't.

    ...Yes I realizze this is an incredibly pedantic point of no real relevance, but anything of real relevance I'd have to say has already been said by someone else.

  65. "I think Mr. Monster has a point there..." - quodlibet

    Well, there's a first time for everything...

    Also, (possibly related but possibly just confusing the issue):
    I wonder how many women feel they really would go bare-chested if only it weren't for society's disapproval, and how many are put off by the deeper issues of media-driven body-image? As a fairly average man (I'd guess. Well, how does one tell, really?) I'd never even consider walking round shirtless. In fact, even at the beach I'd tend to feel uncomfortable walking around without covering up, unless I was directly on my way from the sea to my towel-based impression of a stranded porpoise. And even then I'd be gritting my teeth the whole way. So, yeah, I could strip off at the first hint of a heatwave. But I wouldn't. Because I don't have the ripped body and bullet-proof ego that, really, you need to get away with that sort of thing.

    I'm also not a passionate supporter of any sports team, so the "beer-belly and body paint" look is out as well.

  66. Sophia, NOT Loren!June 27, 2011 at 5:02 AM

    Awesome post, Holly!

    To the transguys who've commented -- as soon as I read the original post, I thought about how ridiculous it is that after top surgery, it's suddenly "no big deal" for the rest of society because "he's just another guy." Reminds me of a cable-TV documentary on transmen which fuzzed out all shots of "her" tits until post-op and then "his" chest was clearly visible -- same person, but half the time was "zOMG! BOOBIES!"

    I'm a transwoman, and I don't go out in public shirtless (though I'd certainly like the freedom to do so) because I don't have breasts, and if I go around without a padded bra under my clothes, then I have a whole shitload of other issues to deal with. Weather here in the SF Bay Area is heating up, had a few days in the low 90's already, and walking around topless in a cool skirt would be comfortable... but dangerous.

  67. brav-O!!

    just coz mine are big, doesn't mean i don't get hot when its freaking 92 in Boston.

    Well stated. Unfeasible because of the taboo...but it's a nice thought. The wind teasing across my chest....

    The other day my daughter took off her shirt. Then got shy and wanted to put it back on.

    She's 4.


  68. man possesses sexual organs, her sexual organs possess woman

  69. Is "this is my body. Deal with it" an enduring legacy of 20th century feminism? Most likely.

    It is pointless to try to use the law to force women to be more prudish than they want to be. With that in mind, I advocate amending state indecent exposure law to exempt women past their 30th birthday. Localities could be more restrictive by local option. If a majority of the state legislature prefers 21 or 18, I would not object. I simply suggest that the public nudity of fully adult women is in fact not controversial.

    But I see no reason to restrict women only because if the law is gender neutral, then some men will behave badly. I do not insist that both genders be treated equally here; women and children should not see the erection of a man with whom they are not intimate.

    A basic problem with the world we live in is that for a woman to reveal what's under her bikini is illegal primarily if she gives herself away for free. Nakedness that helps grease the wheels of commerce is very much tolerated. Is this where we want to be? I say not. We either cover up (e.g., exotic dancers have to wear bikinis), or we allow everyday women to strip down to the softcore porn level.

    By 2060, most places in the English speaking world will humour topless where a bikini is now accepted. And bare buttocks. I predict that most indoor pools will allow women to swim naked in the lap pool, at least some of the day and possibly at women-only times.

    Should women be allowed to go topless when they are outdoors in a rural area or on a quiet beach? Yes, of course, by the bikini rule.

    Where I live, indecent exposure is confined to pubic hair, which gives rise to the possibility that a naked adult woman who shaves is already legal, and that the only shocking beachwear in 2060 will be natural pubic hair.

    Will nude recreation give rise to new insecurities among some women? Most likely yes. My better half says that when she has been naked among other adults, she feels worshiped by the men, and coolly judged by the women.

    In 1912, an Australian woman was arrested on the beach for wearing a close fitting tank suit of her own design. Over the next 100 years, women have gradually revealed more and more of their charms outside of the bedroom. One generation's racy fashion show and softcore porn becomes the next generation's acceptable wear. Hence buttocks will be bare at the beach within 20 years. The continental European attitude towards bare breasts at the beach will eventually reach North America. Men have not forced women to undergo this evolution; women dare to bare because they enjoy it.

  70. I think the problem is that .... both sex's bodies ARE sexual, and are sexualized (just as both sexes' bodies are non sexual as well). but men's sexuality and sexual power (as embodied in their, well, bodies) is acceptable and women's isn't. No one talks about the way men use their sexuality and sexual charm to get ahead in life ... they are just seen as "charming", "sauve" "go-getters" ... .the very fact that their sexual magnetism is NEVER talked about (esp in a derogatory way) shows that it's assumed and accepted and even admired (some men's more than others, and its not to say individual men don't struggle with their sexuality) ... women are more in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situtaion, in the west at least.
    so if a dude is bare chested in public, he has the freedom to be who he is, and have people take his chest anyway they want to, and not have any negative consequences for it (mostly)
    If a lady walked around with your boobs out you'd get people staring lustfully perhaps and you'd get people grossed out. most people are used to women's boobs molded/shaped/distorted in some way to fit some "ideal" or idea of a breast, esp in public.
    i personally have mixed feelings about revealing my own body and having bodies revealed in public. i've spent some time in SE asia nepal, indonesia), and i have to admit that it was really refreshing not to be around billboards, pictures, ads, etc of half naked women all the time, it was quite liberating, whereas i think in the west being able to be naked in public is viewed as being liberating.... but even in Bali, where not even a 100 years ago the norm was for everyone to be topless, and now they aren't .... is it a loss of freedom or just a different norm (for there are stories of kings picking out women they wanted to sleep with by how they looked on the street)? people can be sexualized, de-sexualized, idealized, no matter what they are wearing ... its true the biggest erogenous zone is the brain. and its also where power is constructed, deconstructed, threatened.


    I just saw this on Ireen's tumblr , on the topic '...YET WOMENS BREASTS ARE INDECENT WHEN EXPOSED?! No, society. Just no.' With a handy guide to locate human breast tissue, areola and nipple. It's hard to make it any plainer than that.


  73. People kiss during sex too, should everybody have to cover up their lips when going outside?No, just because something is used during sex doesn't mean it needs to be covered up. As a matter of fact, sex works just the same for women without breast.I don't know why they are sexualized so much in this country (USA).