Erotic lactation is the breastfeeding of an adult partner primarily for erotic reasons. Depending on the context, the terms adult suckling, adult nursing, and adult breastfeeding can refer to the practice. Regular partners are said to be in an adult nursing relationship (ANR). Two persons in an exclusive relationship can be called a nursing couple, though this term is also sometimes used for a mother and her child.
"Milk fetishism" and "lactophilia" are medical, diagnostic terms for paraphilias, and are used for disorders according to the precise criteria of ICD-10 and DSM-IV. These terms are not used in this article.
Breasts, and especially nipples, are highly erogenous zones, both for men and women. Nipple and breast stimulation of women are a near-universal aspect of human sexuality, though nipples in males are not as sexualized. Humans are the only primates that have females with permanently enlarged breasts after the onset of puberty; other primate species only are enlarged during pregnancy. One hypothesis postulates that the breasts grew as a frontal counterpart to the buttocks when primates became upright, thus attracting males, a theory first developed in 1967. Another hypothesis assumes that during evolution, women prevailed who were motivated by physical pleasure to nurse their babies in the best possible way. Other theories include that by chance breasts act as a cushion for infant heads, are a signal of fertility, or elevate the head in breastfeeding to prevent suffocation. Paradoxically, there is even a school that believes that they are an evolutionary flaw, and can actually suffocate a nursing infant. The same holds true for the lips, also erogenous zones where pleasure may have led to "kiss feeding", in which mothers chew food before passing it on to the child.
Unintended milk flow (Galactorrhea) is often caused by nipple stimulation and it is possible to reach normal milk production exclusively by suckling on the breast. Nipple stimulation of any sort is noted in reducing the incidence of breast cancer.
Because female breasts and nipples are normally an important part of sexual activity, it is not surprising that couples may proceed from oral stimulation of the nipples to actual breastfeeding. In lesbian partnerships, mutual breastfeeding has been regarded as a familiar expression of affection and tenderness.
In its Sunday issue of March 13, 2005, the London daily "The Times" gave a report of a scientific survey (composed of 1690 British men) revealing that in 25 to 33% of all couples, the male partner had suckled his wife's breasts. Regularly the men gave a genuine emotional need as their motive.
The breasts have two roles in human society: nutritive and sexual. Breastfeeding in general is considered by some to be mildly exhibitionary, especially in Western societies. Even breastfeeding mothers have faced legal ramifications for nursing their children into toddlerhood or in public, or for photographing themselves while nursing.
Persons who engage in erotic lactation often keep the practice secret, even from close family and friends. While Western societies do not largely have a collective opinion on the practice, for many the rarity of the practice coupled with its sexual connections relegate it to a perversion at worst or an alternate lifestyle at best. Researcher Nikki Sullivan, in her book "A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory" calls erotic lactation a manifestation of "Queer". She defines Queer as an ideology; as a "sort of vague and indefinable set of practices and (political) positions that has the potential to challenge normative knowledges and identities." Drawing on a statement of David Halperin, she continues "since queer is a positionality rather than an identity in the humanist sense, it is not restricted to gays and lesbians but can be taken up by anyone who feels marginalised as a result of their sexual practices." The heteronormative profile of breastfeeding assumes certain norms. These include: an infant between three and twelve months old; motivations of nutritional and developmental benefits for the child and physiological benefits for the mother; possible secondary motivations of convenience and cheapness; practice in private, domestic settings; breast milk-consumption exclusivity to the youngest infant. Additionally, any relevant third party is assumed to be the mother's significant other and this person is regulated to a supportive role to maximise the breastfeeding mother's success
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