We’re hung up on tits.

A woman’s sexuality and attractiveness is defined by them. But pert or pendulous, plastic or product of a generous puberty; the prized possessions that front every woman cause controversy. Men love to ogle them, women love to show them off, infants love to feed from them – so in our current cultural climate, can breasts really be all things to all men, women and babies?

Some women can climax purely through stimulation of their breasts and we’re provoked by images of them at every turn: lingerie models in shop windows spilling out of fuck-me bras; the Sun page-3 ‘stunnersof recent times thrusting their nipples in our faces over morning coffee; women in the office showcasing their racks for all to admire, in tight or low-cut clothes.

And happily we lap it all up. Well, mostly we do.

However, some are provoked in a different way: those (mainly men) who get really hot under the collar because a woman exposes a breast in public to feed her child. To some extent I can sympathise: one moment he’s covertly fantasising about gifting this MILF a lovely pearl necklace or swapping places with the lucky baby she is suckling; the next he feels like some despicable old pervert. The fact is, we’ve created a society that’s conflicted about the purpose of breasts, but relentless in its mission to hyper-sexualise them.

“How stupid that all I have to do is grow two squishy lumps and suddenly I’m man’s best friend.”

Christine Heppermann

At one time, probably around the 50s and 60s (despite all the freedoms and positive developments in sexual attitude that have come about since), society had the breast balance right. Then, men could appreciate a breast for all its erotic beauty if they were lucky enough to see or fondle one; moreover they were unlikely to come across nursing mothers in public unless travelling to the third world, where occasionally they might have seen a long, leathery boob and been starkly reminded that breasts weren’t simply for their personal titillation. (No pun intended.) Uncomfortable though it may be for the ‘breast is best’ brigade to admit, some onlookers will always struggle to shift their perception of breasts whenever the situation demands it.

Thankfully, there’s no sign of breasts becoming any less erotic, despite the banning of Page-3 as well as a venomous backlash against the anti-breastfeeding-in-public lobby. Far from it. In fact, when I was in hospital having my son, a campaign by the charity Best Beginnings was encouraging new Mums to give their baby a breast instead of a bottle and it shamelessly squared right up to the sexual nature of tits. One poster showed a woman breastfeeding in a leopard print bra, another featured a baby’s hand on one breast and a man’s on the other, bearing the slogan ‘Bond with your baby & bond with your man’. And underneath – ‘You can give your baby the best start in life and still feel confident your breasts will put a smile on your man’s face.’ You have to give them credit for daring to acknowledge than men love tits too. They boldly went where the usual mumsy breastfeeding propaganda has feared to even tiptoe.

If this idea catches on, we’d better brace ourselves for a bevy of sexy, breastfeeding beauties proudly hauling out their surgically-enhanced hooters everywhere, latching a baby on whilst winking at passing men as they walk into lamp posts. Of course, it’s not really like that. In fact, as a mum myself I can vouch for the fact that when my tits served breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, supper and a midnight snack to a small person, their sexual purpose seemed all but gone. Hardcore breastfeeders know that nipples soon start to resemble the well-worn thumb on an old gardening glove and that they’re sore and desensitised to anything but pain. So much so, that for the short time that I breastfed, my poor tits lost their amazing ability to bring me to the brink of orgasm and that was depressing. They’re such a big part of the arousal process for me that sex became a huge disappointment.

There’s also the issue that they don’t look their best when they’re fulfilling their natural purpose in life. They’re engorged, veiny and leaky with rubbery nipples the size of dinner plates. Could these be the reasons that less than 2% of babies are exclusively breastfed by the age of 6 months? Have breasts become so integral to our sex lives, that they can’t properly fulfil their nurturing purpose anymore?

At the time of writing this, I enlisted willing Twitter followers to take part in a survey asking men and women different questions about their attitude towards breasts. Men were 100% unanimous in their admiration for them; women were 100% unanimous in their desire to use them to generate sex appeal. 87% of women said their nipples were highly erogenous areas that they enjoyed being stimulated during sex and foreplay. This affected the decision to breastfeed for 15% of women, who said they would avoid it because it just seemed too weird.

It’s true that nipple arousal sits pretty uncomfortably with the idea of a baby sucking on them. It’s a fear for a lot of women and was for me too before I had my baby. Fortunately my son sucking my tits didn’t feel like my boyfriend sucking them. At that point I didn’t know if I was relieved or disappointed! It would have been weird to be one of those women who orgasms with her baby’s mouth around her nipple (it happens – Google it); for me it was far from any sort of orgasmic experience, in fact it was bloody agony. I quickly switched to formula.

So which is more important? Protecting the rights of an infant to suckle – or protecting the erotic appeal of those fun bags? Ideally, there should be a compromise: a world where we’re still allowed to ogle breasts; where people don’t feel embarrassed or need to look the other way, and one where nursing mothers aren’t offended. Because you can’t hoist them up in a Wonderbra one minute, then dish out dirty looks to onlookers the next, when the whole lot is on show. That’s almost as selfish as turning to formula.

Women can have a strange and equivocating relationship with their breasts: contradictions abound when they open up about them. For example, 96% of women admitted to having purposefully accentuated their breasts in sexy lingerie or low cut tops for the benefit of men; 29% of that same group later said that breasts shouldn’t be perceived as sexual, and that their purpose of breastfeeding should be made the priority.

On the other hand, men are clear and confident in a conflict-free love of all things boob, with 100% of survey respondents enjoying some kind of foreplay or sexual contact with breasts; including 75% who like to rub their penis on a woman’s nipples, 71% who at least sometimes ejaculate over their partner’s breasts and 17% who like to incorporate lactation into foreplay and sex.

But my favourite statistic is this: 10% of men admit to only finding it acceptable for a woman to breastfeed in public if she’s attractive.

The only way public breastfeeding can become a cultural norm is if men feel that they can glance admiringly at a nice pair without disapproval. A woman’s breasts are part and parcel of our sexuality and that’s not going to change.

The act of sex creates life and breastfeeding sustains it, the two are inextricably linked. Someone tell those mumsy types that pretend not to understand this. If someone feels uncomfortable watching you breastfeed, it might be because they quite like gawping at your jugs, but they’re scared you’ll bite their head off.

Or it might be that your tits (or face) just don’t do it for them.

(An original version of this piece was published by The Erotic Review)