Breastfeeding is often at the center of controversy, from debates over nursing in public to “how old is too old.” But there’s one aspect of the act that feels so taboo, so intimate, women rarely mention it for fear of being shamed: Many mums become aroused while nursing, some even to the point of orgasm.
I first discovered this secret of secrets while researching the evolutionary role of breasts in sex, stumbling on it as a mere footnote in an academic journal. Intrigued, I quickly found my way to confessional YouTube videos on the topic. A few academic studies have also explored the phenomenon. While firm numbers are hard to find, research suggests that between 33 and 50% of women have experienced arousal while breastfeeding.
“It’s common, but women don’t talk about it,” according to Viola Polomeno, an associate professor in the University of Ottawa’s School of Nursing and a sexuality researcher.
Watch the Mamamia office discuss their most embarrassing sex stories below (post continues after video).
This reticence makes sense—it can feel uncomfortable to associate the act with sex. And indeed, a 1999 meta-analysis of 59 studies regarding breast feeding found that at least a quarter of women who report arousal while nursing feel a sense of guilt over it. Many are too scared to discuss it even with their partners. “The breast is an erogenous zone,” explained Mary Jo Podgurski, a nurse and childbirth educator in Pennsylvania. “But if a woman feels anything sexual while performing a motherly duty,” she may wonder, “What’s wrong with me?”
The answer is: nothing. Arousal during breastfeeding is completely normal, according to nurses and lactation consultants, and it shouldn’t be a source of shame or anxiety. “It’s not a woman’s choice, it’s how we are wired,” Podgurski told me. “But if a woman knows in advance how this works, she’ll be a little more comfortable with it.”
So how does it work? There are a few theories. One anthropological explanation is that, since breastfeeding can be painful and exhausting on the female body, the act evolved to eventually feel good as a sort of “reward”—suffering gives way to pleasure.
There’s a biological theory, too, which boils down to the fact that many of the ingredients present during sexual experiences are also present during the act. When a woman breastfeeds, her body releases two very important hormones: prolactin and oxytocin. Prolactin stimulates milk production and helps with bonding. It also makes women feel relaxed and sleepy. Meanwhile, oxytocin, famously known as the “feel good” bonding hormone, creates feelings of pleasure for the mother—and causes the uterus to contract. The other instance in which oxytocin is released and the uterus contracts? During orgasm.