Why are men attracted to women's breasts?

Researchers believe that the phenomenon actually develops in early childhood.

 Front views of the Venus de Milo.  (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Front views of the Venus de Milo.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

For years, scientists have tried to discover why men are attracted to female breasts. It has taken a long time to come to a conclusive answer; this may be because the question is a difficult one and the answer is murky. Or, perhaps, they just like to keep returning to the question for personal reasons. 

Authors Larry Young and Brian Alexander recently released a book entitled, The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction. They analyzed all the emotional, biological and cultural elements behind heterosexual men's attraction to breasts.  In a column he wrote for the Huffington Post, Young - an expert in the neuroscience of social relationships - explained that biologically, the straight male obsession with breasts is "pretty weird."

"As the success of Hooters, 'men's' magazines, a kajillion websites, and about 10,000 years of art tell us, men are extremely drawn to breasts – and not because boys learn on the playground that breasts are something that they should be interested in, " he wrote. "It's biological and deeply engrained in our brain. In fact, research indicates that when we're confronted with breasts, or even breast-related stimuli, like bras, we'll start making bad decisions (and not just to eat at Hooters)."

 A woman breastfeeds her baby while posing for a photo with her partner.  (credit: CREATIVE COMMONS) A woman breastfeeds her baby while posing for a photo with her partner. (credit: CREATIVE COMMONS)

Previous studies have shown that a man is biologically attracted to breasts, specifically larger ones because they signal to him that the woman he is looking at is healthy and fertile. However, Young and Alexander believe that the phenomenon actually develops in early childhood.

A lifelong relationship 

The authors posit that the obsession originates in infancy when the powerful neurochemical oxytocin is released while breastfeeding, which creates a strong bond between mother and child. The chemical is released both into the mother's brain and into the breastmilk being fed to the baby.

"This bond," wrote Young, "is not only the most beautiful of all social bonds, it can also be the most enduring, lasting a lifetime."

Moreover, they believe that adult men who were breastfed as infants grow up with a natural instinctive desire for a strong, nurturing relationship with their partners.

Young and Alexander put forward the idea that when a man sees or touches a woman's breasts, it triggers the same "feel good" chemicals as breastfeeding did. 

There is more than one possibility 

In a 2016 study entitled "Men's preferences for the size and shape of women's breasts in 4 cultures," published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, researchers determined that is the shape of the breast rather than the size that determines attractiveness.

They hypothesized that something about the shape signals fertility and overall ability. Women's breasts change shape with age and subsequent childbirths, so perhaps, the study posited, a firmer breast shape indicates relative youth and therefore points to a woman's ability to bear children.