In North America and in many other westernized countries a woman's breasts are a taboo: they are supposed to be hidden. Exposing woman's breasts in public is considered shameful and inappropriate ("indecent exposure") even on beaches, or while breastfeeding. In other words, breasts—or at least the nipple—are supposed to be covered at all times.
Parents tend to teach their children the same way, and many times children DON'T SEE a single naturally nude breast (apart from their own) while growing up. It is totally possible that a child grows up in North America and NEVER sees a baby breastfeeding!
However, while exposing breasts in public is a “no-no”, children and young people often see breasts (although practically never the nipples) displayed in a sexually provocative fashion on television, on the Internet, and in magazines. Breasts are actually emphasized in the advertisements, which signals to our young people that breasts are a sexual object, and supposedly only "beautiful" when big and protruding.
However, we know that the larger breasts in the media is often just a FALLACY, since the models and actors use push-up bras and breast enlargement to artificially enhance the way their breasts look. Besides that, the photographs are always airbrushed to look just "right." Just think: if young girls continually see this propaganda without a balancing view of natural naked breasts, it is no wonder they also start seriously worrying about the size and shape of their own breasts—even to the point of suicide!
And women do greatly worry about their breast size as proven by the huge amount of augmentation surgeries: according to American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, in 2006 383,336 women had a breast augmentation. This number was 318,123 for the year 2010 (down possibly because of economic downturn).
"Even at the age of 27, I have probably seen only 10 or 15 pairs of real breasts. Most of my knowledge about breasts comes from movies and magazines. But actresses use body doubles to give the illusion of a more "perfect" body, and photographs of models have been airbrushed to remove any "unsightly" bumps or discoloration. ...
When girls as young as 12 talk about getting breast implants based on this standard, I say we have a serious problem. Three 14-year-old girls have told me separately that they need breast enlargement surgery, with nothing to base their body hatred on but a stolen copy of Playboy. ...
How can we say that to view a woman's breasts will damage children, when it is so clear what not seeing them is doing?"
Allison Roberts as quoted on TERA website
"I would say most women are not happy [with their breasts]. I took a bunch of slides of women's breasts, as part of a slide show I put together, and every single woman who took off her shirt for me, had something to say, "Like, my breasts used to be great, but now they're saggy." Or, "I bet I've got the smallest breasts you've ever seen." So, unfortunately, many of them are not happy. ...
But you know, of the women I interviewed, the ones that were happiest with their breasts were the women while they were breastfeeding. They weren't thinking about, "Is it too small? Is it too big?" It's just doing something wonderful."
Carolyn Latteier, in Berman & Berman's TV program "All about breasts", aired June 4, 2002.
While nearly all women in the U.S. are worried (or even obsessed) about their breast size and shape, a lot of the men have definite obsessions with female breasts; to them breasts have become a source of sexual fantasy / turn-on. For these men, it is not just a general attraction to the whole female figure, or an appreciation of the various body parts, but a fetish, an extreme fixation or obsession. They get sexually inspired by looking at pictures with cleavage, where breasts are enticingly almost visible, yet hidden. While these men probably realize that this is happening, and feel they enjoy it, they are nevertheless "bound" by this behavior.
The general breast taboo and the provocative visual images in the media greatly encourage men to view breasts as objects of sexual arousal and play. Men are actually being conditioned to see breasts as sexual — breasts become almost like inanimate objects to them that automatically "click" their brains to the "turn-on" mode.
This "obsession" is to be distinguished from a general appreciation of breasts for what they are (source of nourishment & comfort for children). Boys who were breast-fed as babies have a deep-seated "built-in" appreciation for a woman's breasts due to the child-mother relationship. This feeling can then enhance a man's sexual feelings towards a woman, but it is not in itself a major source of arousal — the arousal happens more because of the whole woman, not because of some specific part.
A comment we received (2006):
Images in the media are so screwed up!
So who benefits from this total taboo of female breasts? That is not hard to answer: the pornographic industry can now earn good money by showing men bare breasts that they can not see elsewhere. And truly: if this taboo was any less, for example if topless sunbathing was widely accepted and practiced, everybody would know how female breasts looked like, men would become desensitized — and the sales of porn publications would plummet.
Fortunately, not all men are obsessed in this manner. Please see below a comment we received from a man with a healthy attitude:
"...breasts are just one of the MANY things that compose a lady's physical appearance; and physical appearance is just one of the many things that influence my attraction to her. Physical appearance is important, but when I imagine the woman of my dreams, I think of a woman who is confident, loyal, and loves me with all her heart. Everything else is negotiable."
European women commonly go topless on beaches, and many European countries also have nudist beaches where people sunbath naked, yet the atmosphere is decent and non-sexual, and people are at ease. In Finland, people are USED to seeing nude bodies due to their sauna culture, and they don't view breasts as such a taboo. Primitive tribes in hot climates wear very little clothing and it is no big deal to them.
Naturists from all over the world always emphasize how sexuality does not equal nudity; nudity is NOT sexually stimulating IF the atmosphere and attitudes are non-sexual. In fact, seeing bare breasts on a topless beach can de-sensitize men's minds, and do away with the automatic connection of "breasts → sexual stimulation".
Now, of course there is nothing wrong in seeing breasts as beautiful female body parts. But let's let them be like the legs, hips, neck, face, and all the other parts of a female—and not like some nearly INANIMATE OBJECTS that automatically "click" men's brains' to the "turn on" mode.