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10 Interesting Facts About Breasts

For all their popularity, what do we really know about them?
 
 
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Boobies, boobies, boobies. Nothin’ but boobies. Who needs ‘em? I did great without ‘em.” So Neely O’Hara famously said in V alley of the Dolls while eyeballing strip joints. If she could see how much more tit-smitten pop culture has become in last half-century she’d probably need to do another shot, though frankly, if the  Venus de Willendorf is any indication, humans have been boob-centric for as long as 25,000 years.

And why not? Breasts enhance the lives of owners and visitors, and you can’t say that any other body part produces food. Still, for all the times you’ve ogled them, snuggled them or ensconced them in a bra that cost more than your Internet bill, what do you really know about breasts?

1. A singular duo. Among humans, some breasts stand out more than others but among animals, humans stand alone. Carole Jahme, the “Evolutionary Agony Aunt,” columnist for the Guardian says that the breasts of the human female are unique among primates in that they grow before we start menstruating, stay full whether we are lactating or not, and stay big after menopause, whereas most primates’ only enlarge when lactating.

There’s an evolutionary reason for our hourglass shape. Jahme writes: “…it has been widely theorised that the plump buttock and bosom of modern women are sexual ornaments, selected for by ancestral males. Seen from a distance the adult female form, either from behind or from the front, can be recognised as distinct from the male of the species. An hourglass figure, plus youthfulness, would have attracted male hominids looking for mating opportunity.”

So maybe that’s the evolutionary reason some women want to have  breasts that signal “female” from clear across the Grand Canyon.

2. What are breasts made of? Food and sex, food and sex…maybe we’re so enamored of breasts because that’s what they’re all about. Discovery Health tells us that the female breast contains 15-25 milk glands connected to milk ducts inside the nipple all held together with fatty and connective tissue (and yes, you can still breastfeed if you have implants). As for the pleasure part, there are thin muscle fibers in the nipples that make them become erect, signaling arousal, and also lots of nerve endings which make them sensitive.  New Scientist’s Linda Geddes writes that a 2011 study using MRIs found a direct link between women’s nipples and genitals: when the study subject’s nipples were stimulated, the brain’s sensory cortex area corresponding to the genitals lit up (in addition to the chest area).

It’s a link women knew about long before 2011, but it’s nice to have it on paper. 

3. Nip nip hooray! Since breasts are so fun and fabulous, why stop at two? Some people don’t. Polymastia and polythelia are, respectively, extra breasts and nipples. Diane Mapes of NBC’s The Body Odd writes they’re more common than you might think: about 6% of people have accessory breast tissue and a number of celebs have piped up about their third nipple (which they should really just call a tripple), including Mark Wahlberg, Lily Allen and and Tilda Swinton. 

Extra breasts can lactate and respond to regular hormonal fluctuations, i.e., become more sensitive during menstruation which is often the first time women notice it (women are more prone than men, although men also get it).

It’s not all fun, though. Polythelia, according to  Medscape, is associated with some health issues,  primarily of the urinary tract. Plus it sounds like it could get a little awkward…extra breast tissue usually runs along the “milk line” (armpit to groin) but sometimes shows up in other places. Mapes writes that in 1980, Journal of American Academic Dermatology reported on a 74-year-old man with a female breast on the back of his thigh, and in 1827 it was reported that Therese Ventre of Marseilles had “an extra breast on the outside of her thigh.”

 
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