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January 25, 2016
By A. Weinberg, Contributing Columnist
Oddly enough,personally, I had never really asked myself that question
before. Because they are aesthetically pleasing? Because why not?
Maybe they are an evolutionary extra, like so many other things in our
Maybe it's something I never questioned because they look so
“natural”, kind of like having a belly button. There are male animals
without nipples (such as mice), but we tend to be pretty species-
centric, looking mostly at human characteristics.
Well, it turned out that I was correct in a few of my theories. Whether
nipples are aesthetically pleasing is really something that only you can
decide, although you can't argue that they do have a nice, balanced
Why Not Indeed?
It turns out that for men, nipples don't have a particular evolutionary
advantage, but then again, they don't have a disadvantage either. And
that is probably why they have persisted over the years.
Our natural genetic default when differentiating between men and
women is to share characteristics, so nipples are there more because of
a lack of selection against them rather than a selection for them.
Sexual dimorphism (differences in structure between two sexes)
occurs in cases where it is biologically beneficial. For example, women
lactate and grow breasts in order to feed their young. Men don't
because they don't need to. But the nipples stay. This means that I was
right about them being an evolutionary extra.
Guys --Is It More Natural to Be Female?
This isn't a sexist statement. It's just science. Up to week four in
development, male and female embryos develop identically. We all start
out as female, and male characteristics are developed later. It isn't until
about week eight that the cells undergo sex determination. Then
testosterone or estrogen effects the development of male or female
Mammary glands develop before week eight, when that differentiation
takes place. This means that nipples develop in humans when we are
still there in the uterus, without any consultation from us. The body
develops these naturally and without much effort. It isn't until later,
when women undergo puberty, that breasts become more full and
developed. For men, the nipples just stay there without puffing up or
producing as much hormone output.
Can Men Lactate?
One persistent question people often ask is if men can lactate. Pregnant
mothers probably figure that it would be handy to have an extra
person to help out.
Well, men don't usually lactate, but they can. However, it doesn't
generally happen under positive or natural circumstances.
Both men and women have hollow cavities in their breasts called
alveoli, that contain milk-secreting cells. But the most important factor
in the ability to produce milk is prolactin, a hormone secreted by the
pituitary gland. Even non-pregnant women have two times as much
prolactin as men.
Despite this statistic, prolactin in men can also surge, but this is usually
the body's reaction to something abnormal.
For example, scientists observed lactation in male prisoners of war from
WWII. They had been starving for months, and after they received
proper food, the body reacted by a flood of hormones. The hormone-
producing glands recovered more quickly than their livers, which
metabolize hormones. This resulted in an unusual peak in pituitary
gland reaction, causing lactation.
There is also a condition called liver cirrhosis, which produces a similar
reaction. The liver can not metabolize the hormone as it normally
would, causing an excess of prolactin. Indeed, any disruption of the
pituitary gland or hypothalamus, which are responsible for inhibiting
the release of prolactin, has the potential to cause lactation in males.
But, as you can see, it isn't something without its side effects. Maybe
one day, if we're lucky, it will evolve to be a non-harmful evolutionary
advantage. But for now, if you're male-bodied and lactating, it might be
time to go to the doctor and have it checked out.
And are They Sensitive?
Male nipples and female nipples function in basically the same way.
Both have the same smooth muscle fibers that give them the ability to
become erect when they are cold or aroused. And both fill with blood
when stimulated, which can cause even more sensitivity. So, the short
answer is yes, possibly. There is a gender stereotype that women have
more sensitive nipples than men, but it really depends more upon the
individual than it does upon their sex or gender. So, if you are male,
and/or have a male sexual partner, it's worth it to experiment and find
out. Some people have that function and others don't.
Do Men have the Overall Advantage?
Breasts are great for, well, a lot of things. But they do come with an
added risk of breast cancer. Women are probably around 100 times
more likely to contract it. However, while it is unusual for men to
develop it (under 1% of the male population has breast cancer, or an
estimated 1900 a year in the U.S, according to an article in Men's
Health), it is not impossible. Breast cancer in men and women could be
rooted in family history, age, and/or obesity, but it is still a mystery
what really causes it.
So, while men are avoiding certain things without breasts, there is
actually no guarantee that they won't grow them too. The official name
of the condition is "gynecomastia" and it can happen during various
stages of life.
Gynecomastia is common in infants, and it occurs a result of being
exposed to the mother's hormones through breastfeeding. At this time,
it is common for gynecomastia to last for a few days to two weeks. It
can happen up until the child is 2 years old.
That is probably the best stage of life to have gynecomastia, because
there are really no psychological side effects. But, unfortunately, it can
also occur during puberty, when hormone levels fluctuate. One or both
breasts can become bigger and also tender. At this age, it is also a
temporary condition, lasting only a few months. In adult men,
gynecomastia more pathological, as it often stems from weight gain or
hormonal imbalance. Other possible causes include kidney failure, liver
disease, tumors, therapeutic drugs, and androgen hormones taken by
The human body is a plethora of possibilities, some nicer than others.
Because Nipples are Fun
Since so many people have hypothesized on the men and nipple
question, The Guardian put together a list of quotes, where people
opine on the topic. Here are some of my favorites.
1. “So we can have them pierced.” Michael, Barnstaple, UK
2. “So you can point if your hands are otherwise engaged.” Richard
Williams, Isle of Wight, England
3. “Just in case!” Jimmy, Sydney, Australia
Just in case, indeed. Male nipples continue to be that evolutionary extra
pair of socks or toothbrush you pack in your bag when you go out.
Because you never know.
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