Welcome to this illustrated guide to breasts and chests. Here you’ll find out about how similar but also different people’s breasts and chests are and also some interesting facts.
You might be surprised to learn that breasts and chests are pretty much the same thing. All breasts and chests are mammary glands. They are made up of fatty tissue, connective tissue, nipples, muscle, ligaments, nerves, ducts, and lobules. Some people have more of this breast tissue than others and this is something that starts to kick in during puberty.
During puberty, some people’s breasts or chests will grow as hormones like oestrogen start to kick in. Their breasts or chests will develop more fatty tissue and connective tissue. They will also develop lobules at the end of their ducts, which are the glands where breast milk comes from. For people who produce more testosterone their breast tissue won’t develop as much. They may develop a small number of lobules but not as many for people with mostly oestrogen.
Breast or chest
It’s at this point that a lot of people start to call these glands ‘breasts’ or ‘chests’. Although we all have breast tissue (even if you have had surgery to have some removed) some people would prefer to say they have breasts and others would prefer to say they had chests. Some people might use both terms. Often this is all depending on their size, but that’s not the only reason.
Obviously how you feel about your gender might have an affect on what you want to call your mammaries. There are a lot of rules about what boys/men should call their body parts vs what girls/women should call theirs. It’s up to you what you call yours.
There are probably more words for breasts than there are for chests. Like tits, boobs, or bewbs (same word, different spelling), bosoms, bust, or knockers. You should only use that last one if you are in a Carry On film. Another word that people use for chest is ‘pecs’ which is actually the muscle behind the breast tissue that we all have. You could make up some of your own more neutral words: like chust, choobs, or Bernard.
We’re all different
You might notice that I am really trying to avoid saying that men will have chests and women will have breasts. That’s what they said in pretty much all the research I did for this article. However I don’t want to do that because
- there are more genders than men and women, and
- everyone’s bodies are different and change all the time, and
- the only anatomical difference between everyone’s breasts/chests is how many lobules there are, so it’s a spectrum innit
If I were to say that ‘men are supposed to look this way’ and ‘women are supposed to look this way’ then I would be making many people feel really crap about their bodies. Breasts and chests are pretty much the same thing but on a spectrum of how much overall breast tissue there is and how many lobules a person has. Have you counted your lobules? Of course not, because you can’t.
The problem with talking about ‘the right size’
For example, 50 – 60% of boys get enlarged breasts/chests during puberty due to an increased amount of tissue under the nipple. In most cases their breasts/chests will usually reduce in size again during puberty after a year or so. It may also continue after puberty and it can also happen again later in life. But because we are told ‘men have to look like this’ and ‘women have to look like this’ it makes people feel crap if they are men who have larger chests or breasts than they ‘should’.
See also when girls are going through puberty and get bullied or sexually harassed because their breasts/chests are bigger or smaller than they ‘should’ be. Also trans and trans non-binary folks might have a difficult time with their chests or breasts depending on how their bodies develop.
Also choobs are constantly changing. They can increase or decrease in size depending on your overall body fat. If you get periods then you will find that your chreasts can vary in size a lot during your menstrual cycle. Also most Bernards are asymmetric, ie they are a different size or shape to each other.
Everyone’s bodies are different, and they develop differently. So please, Goldilocks, can we just chill out and stop policing other people’s bodies. As I say above, call your breasts and chest whatever you want. Just don’t assume what someone else will call theirs.
Okay to back to the actual anatomy. One of the reasons that this article has been on my (really massive) ‘To Do’ list is because many people really enjoy their breasts and chests to be touched. The nipple area in particular can be really sensitive for a lot of people.
Many people have surgery on their breasts or chests: such as top surgery to reduce breast tissue, or for breast enlargement, or for breast cancer treatment. Sometimes there can be a loss of sensation for people after surgery, but relatively newer techniques mean that this can be minimised. But for some people the sensitivity can be orgasm.
Breasts and chests nipples and orgasms
In this study most of the men and women who took part reported that their sexual arousal was either caused or enhanced by their nipples or breast/chest being touched. There have been studies of women who can have orgasms as a result of touching their breast/chest/nipples. Men can also have orgasms from this. In fact, there have been studies of people being able to have orgasms from most parts of their body being touched and also from no touch at all (see this about non-genital orgasms if you’re interested).
As I’ve said in this article about orgasms, and also this one, orgasms are complicated and not just about biological responses. But as we’re talking about breasts and chests and nipples I thought I’d just point this out here. Here’s a drawing of the where the nerves are in chests/breasts (adapted from here).
It’s thought the hormone that is released during breast and chest play is similar to that which is released during sexy genital times. They seem to follow some of the same neural pathways and are activated in similar parts of the brain.
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So it might seem kind of obvious, but I’ll say it anyway, there is a huge amount of variation in nipples. Some people have big pointy out nipples, others stick out less, others are actually inverted. 10% of pregnant women (that’s who they studied) turned out to have inverted nipples.
Also 5.6% of people in this study had a third nipple. It can be anywhere from the upper chest down as far as the groin. It can be as big as the other nipples or it can be as small as a mole.
The area around the nipple is called the areola, and that can be different in size a lot too. You might notice that it’s quite wrinkly, that’s supposed to be the case. Also sometimes there can be hairs in the areola. Also you might notice some bumps in this area, they are called areola glands or glands of Montgomery. These produce a small amount of liquid to help protect the area. They are totally normal, don’t try to pop them like a spot.
Nipples, like penises and clitorises, can get hard. This, like with penises and clitorises, can feel very sexy. They don’t get hard in the same way that penises and clitorises get hard but it does sometimes happen at the same time. You might not have noticed what happens to your nipples during arousal. Perhaps that’s because you might have smaller ones, or have a chest and are told that ‘chests’ aren’t a sensitive area (which isn’t true).
However there are lots of reasons for nipples getting erect and many of these are not sexy at all. Nipples get hard in the same way that we get goosebumps – and it’s controlled by the nervous system and muscles around the nipple. Stress, shock, and being frightened can make nipples erect (here’s the study). This means that we shouldn’t assume that someone desires sex because their body is showing signs of arousal. Remember desire is not the same as arousal.
What to wear over breasts and chests
Depending on how people read your gender, and how large your Bernards are, it’s either okay for you to go out in public with no top on, or people will absolutely lose their minds if you do. See also Facebook and Instagram where it’s fine to have a picture of some people’s nipples and really not fine for other people’s nipples.
But generally speaking, for warmth and comfort purposes, people like to wear something over their chreasts. Often people will like to put something over their chewbs: like a bra, or a vest, or some binding. What people wear on their breasts or chests depends on how they want them to look.
Sometimes people prefer their breasts or chests to be less, or not noticeable. Other people would prefer their Bernards to stick out a bit or a lot more. A lot of people like wearing something if they have noticeable nipples. Again, a lot of this is to do with our relationship to our bodies and the rules we are given by society about how our bodies should look.
People with larger breasts or chests might like to wear a bra. You don’t need me to tell you what a bra is do you? Bras can change the shape of breasts and chests. So as well as helping people feel okay about their body shape they are also a fashion item. Some outfits work better with a different shape.
People also like to wear bras because they want to feel that their chosums are supported. It can feel uncomfortable when out and about, walking, or running, to have them swaying around. However you don’t need to wear bras to prevent them from sagging over the course of your life. There are ligaments in the breast/chest which keep them supported. Not wearing a bra doesn’t make your chust sag. What does is age, smoking, getting pregnant a few times (though not to do with breast feeding), and breast/chest size.
Bras are just there for people who want to feel more supported over the course of the day. Some people find them more comfortable, but others don’t find them comfortable at all. It’s all very personal and well complicated. You can find out more about bras from my mate Lori Smith who is an expert. Her RWL website has lots about bra sizes, the history of bras, and also does bra reviews.
Lastly, it’s a good idea to check your breasts and chests regularly. Get to know how your breasts and chests feel so that you can spot anything that doesn’t feel right. Breast cancer is something which affects all genders (yes, men too). Here’s a page at the NHS website about this (it applies to all genders). Also check out this excellent looking charity CoppaFeel.
That’s it! Hope that’s helpful. Let me know if you have any unanswered Bernard questions.
© Justin Hancock, 2022
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Find out more about Justin here