LOVEMAKING BETWEEN MOTHER & HER BABY
By Dale Glabach,
Clinical Evolutionary Psychologist
BY DR. DALE
MANY PHOTOS SUBMITTED BY DEVOTEE PB
ABSTRACT: It is the intention of this article to establish that breast-feeding, from the deepest evolutionary perspective, is the first intercourse that any individual can potentially experience. As such, it furnishes the great benefit of merging our emotional experiences of sexuality and intimacy at the very beginning of life to promote a more holistic concept of self. The obvious physical parallels between breast-feeding and reproductive coitus are first elaborated. Then, a historical analysis shows how patriarchal religious anti-sexualism ultimately caused breast-feeding to become inappropriately “redefined” as an asexual experience, in parallel with the inappropriate attempts to “redefine” masturbation as self-abuse, and even reproductive coitus as an asexual experience. Such “redefinition” of breast-feeding is then linked to the sexual repression of women as part of their stigmatization in the 18th Century as maternal beings too “pure” to have any sexual needs at all. Ever since this time, lingering sexual fears are shown as a continuing plague to a mother’s enjoyment of the process, even to the point of causing her to cease breast-feeding early when such feelings arise. In addition to other benefits then elaborated, long-term intimate breast-feeding is shown not to promote, but rather to discourage incestuous feelings toward the mother. The revelation of the original experience of breast-feeding is described based on the most primitive of hunter-gatherer societies in confirmation of the evolutionary perspective. Finally, the philosophical, social, and practical implications of breast-feeding as a form of “love-making” are discussed.
It’s time for mother to begin nursing her infant. She had dutifully heard the accounts stressing the importance of breast-feeding, and had understood that American mothers, generally, do not nurse their infants for a long enough period to enable the infants to derive all of the substantial health benefits from this important natural process. Her child was a baby girl just 6 weeks shy of her third birthday. This is a description of the experience of one Denise Perrigo. Ms Perrigo, in her own words, continues the story:
Actually I-- I was nursing her after her bath, before her nap, and I had felt these feeling I had never felt before...Just kind of physical feelings of --kind of like a sexual kind of feeling...It just was scary to me because I didn’t know that this was normal at the time. I didn’t know that this happened to moms --nursing moms...It was --just as our society says, you--you don’t have any kind of feelings anywhere near kids, it’s just kind of like a taboo in our society the way we --we think, you know, we can’t control ourselves so we better not have feelings around our kids... My parents are Christians, yes. So am I.
I tried calling a couple of friends and no one was home and so I called the volunteer center trying to get a hold of La Leche League...And I did not get them. They--for some reason--...had someone from rape crisis center call me back...So I was talking to the person... who said, “Look, I can’t help you. I am a volunteer...”
...So she calls her supervisor, told her there was a case of incest occurring. The supervisor called me back and said, “Look, if I have any identifying information, I have to hot line you.” Because I have a degree in family and community services from Syracuse University, I knew...that they already know how to get a hold of me.
While I was still on the phone, the police
came to my home...I was interrogated for five hours before I was even
read my rights and then I was arrested (Geraldo 1993, 17-8).
This woman was then stripped of her baby for a period that kept being extended until, at last, it reached an unthinkable 359 days! Finally, her case was dismissed and they were reunited. How was the child after this ordeal? Ms Perrigo continues:
...she has a lot of fear. She plays our the separation fears. She plays the bad policemen coming to get her...the mean case workers and the mean foster parents coming to take her. She will be playing with her dolls and say, “Mommy, come protect me. They’re coming to take my babies (Geraldo 1993, 23).
So what must we make of this? Before the “horror” began, the hysterical social context put this mother in great fear that she was truly “sexually abusing” --i.e. somehow “poisoning” her baby in the very act of trying to bestow upon her all the life-promoting benefits of breast milk. Something is obviously wrong when a mother is made to feel this way! Let us begin to analyze this dilemma, apart from our deviant cultural context, through the clear lens of human evolution.
BREAST-FEEDING AS SEXUAL INTERCOURSE
Dr. Niles Newton is, by all accounts, the “patron saint” of the Leleche League (the premier international organization for the promotion of breast-feeding). She is also an anthropologist with a deeply affinity for the evolutionary perspective. In a revolutionary journal article she authored in 1973, “Sexual Responsiveness, Birth, and Breast Feeding”, she gives us a clear evolutionary definition of the breast-feeding experience:
The survival of the human race, long before the concept of "duty" was evolved, depended on the satisfactions gained from two voluntary acts of reproduction --coitus and breast-feeding. (Newton & Newton 1967). These had to be sufficiently pleasurable to ensure their frequent occurrence (Newton 1973, 81).
I will now clarify the close connection between breast-feeding and intercourse through the following description applicable to both: Tactile stimulation produces an erection on an erogenous bodily protuberance accompanied by excitation of both participant’s genitals (see ahead for further elaboration on this point). Subsequently, a white, life-promoting fluid is ejected from the protuberance into an orifice of the other participant. The process has two effects: sensual pleasure in both participants and the promotion of human life. Now, to connect the two processes sequentially, it is essential to human reproduction that, first, a baby is produced (coitus), and, second, that the baby is preserved (breast-feeding); and evolution (always utilizing the most economic means available) motivates both through means of sexual pleasure. It must be remembered that non-human mammals will not be motivated to breast-feed through an “intellectual appreciation” of its health benefits to their babies. The female mammal only recognizes that, like intercourse, breast-feeding “feels really good”, and thus evolution promotes, through sexual pleasure, both habits crucial to survival. It must be recognized that breastfeeding, even if considered as “incestuous” sex (as it had been labeled by the hysterical hot-line volunteer), is primary. It is the first intercourse that any human being experiences!
The first objection to this line of evolutionary reasoning would be: “Yes, but women don’t generally experience it this way”. This attitude does not comport with the facts. Looking at The Complete Book of Breast-feeding, it is noted that while nursing,
Some form of sexual gratification...is commonly recognized. Some women experience clitoral sensations during nursing, with accompanying vaginal lubrication (Eiger and Olds 1981, 134).
...Three incidents of orgasm experienced while nursing were included in the Masters and Johnson reports. While such orgasm does occasionally occur, it seems to be quite rare among nursing women in the general population. (Unless it is more widespread than we think, but is not generally acknowledged.)(Eiger and Olds 1981, 134)
As biosocial researcher Alice Rossi aptly notes
Provide a woman with a rocking chair, and the far-away look of pleasure one often sees among nursing mothers is much closer to the sensual Eve than to the saintly Mary (Rossi 1977, 29).
And the erotic feelings are mutual:
As the infant grows older he shows eager body responses to nursing. Rhythmic movements of hands, feet, fingers and toes may occur. The mother’s breast may often be stroked by the infant’s hand as he moves. Erection of the penis is common in male babies. After feeding there is often a relaxation that is characteristic of the conclusion of satisfactory sexual response (Newton 1973, 82).
Even Freud recognized the baby’s obvious sexual enjoyment of breastfeeding. He saw that sexuality began at the breast and that the mother was the child’s “first seducer” (Freud 1955, vol. XXIII, p. 188).
Beyond analysis of the participants, it is clear that the physiological process of breast-feeding is sexual. The way milk is “ejected” is notably similar to male ejaculation upon orgasm. As far back as 1915, a researcher recognized what he termed the “milk-ejection reflex”. He noted that nursing excites “...a reflex contraction of the gland musculature and expression of milk. There is a latent period of 35 to 65 seconds...” He then observed that the increased flow of milk following the latent period after stimulation was associated with a steep rise in pressure within the gland. The milk was then “ejected”, often forcefully (Gaines 1915, 285-312). And going further, there is an actual physical linking of the breast-feeding process with genital intercourse. In 1839, a researcher described the occurrence of milk ejection, the milk actually spurting from the nipple, in a lactating woman during coitus. Stranger still, he notes that, according to Herodotus, this natural phenomenon is actually utilized by the ancient Scythians when they milk their mares: “They take blowpipes of bone, very like flutes, and put them into the genitals of the mares and blow with their mouths” (Powell 1949, 2). Others then gather the milk as it flows out. This link between sexual stimulation and the flow of milk should be understood and utilized by the nursing mother to more fully satisfy the baby, both nutritionally and emotionally, as well as herself:
...the degree of milk ejection appears to be related to the degree of erotic response. The nipple-erection reflex may lead to more efficient nursing, increasing the satisfaction for the sucking infant as well as for the mother (Martinson 1980, 37).
Based upon all that has here been considered, it should be clear that, from the scientific perspective, breast-feeding is a sexual intercourse.
A second objection might be: “If breast-feeding were meant to be the primary sexual intercourse of each developing human, why doesn’t nursing baby girls predispose them toward lesbianism?” This would, indeed, seem a mystery if one does not consider the innate difference between male and female sexual focus.
...it is likely that selection so consistently favored males who were aroused by the sight of females ...that the resulting male-female differences approach “innateness”...(Symons 1979, 181).
And while the male has “greater dependency on the visual image for the arousal of erotic initiative”, in girls there is a “predominantly tactual imagery” (Money 1986, 29). In a perfectly symmetrical process, the nursing baby boy gazes lovingly at his mother’s face and “imprints” on the visual image of the female as the source of his lifelong sexual pleasure; the baby girl sexually enjoys the feel of her mother’s nursing breast and “imprints” on the tactile experience of being “penetrated” by a “fleshy protuberance”. As Freud also observed, it “needs very little creative power to substitute the sexual object of the moment (the penis) for the original object (the nipple)” (Freud 1955, vol. VII, p. 52).
MISGUIDED ATTEMPT TO
BREAST-FEEDING AS AN ASEXUAL EXPERIANCE
next argument against the evolutionary perspective would be: “Perhaps
it is true that breast-feeding is, naturally, a sexual experience. However,
we have, culturally, redefined breast-feeding as a non-sexual experience.”
There is no question that we have so redefined it. Sexual feelings between adults,
especially parents, and infants do not mix in our cultural context. And breast-feeding
is no exception: witness Denise Perrigo’s extreme discomfort over her
“sexual kind of feeling” which “was scary” to her and
prompted her fateful phone call. But the evolutionary perspective, as I have
interpreted it, would challenge any notion of trying to “redefine”
basic archetypal human behavioral patterns. Attachment and bonding behavior,
play experience, masturbation, etc. are behavior patterns that have become ingrained
over the millennia and are not now, and will likely never be, amenable to “redefinition”.
Not that redefinition has never been tried. The historical record reveals that this has often happened. Rather, one can expect emotionally damaging consequences when redefinition of archetypal behavior patterns is attempted. What happens when archetypal needs are frustrated through repression, “redefinition”, or any other means is described in Evolutionary Psychiatry. The book sets forth its "model for psychopathology" as follows:
...mental health depends upon the provision of psychical and social environments capable of meeting the archetypal needs of the developing individual; psychopathology can result when these needs are frustrated (Stevens and Price 1996, 31).
To recognize the drastic emotional consequences of trying to “redefine”, and thus “frustrate”, an archetypal need, we only need look to the 400 year crusade against masturbation. In The History of Childhood author Lloyd deMause documents this phenomenon:
But it was not until the beginning of the eighteenth century... that parents began severely punishing their children for masturbation, and doctors began to spread the myth that it would cause insanity, epilepsy, blindness, and death. By the nineteenth century, this campaign reached an unbelievable frenzy. Doctor's and parents sometimes appeared before the child armed with knives and scissors, threatening to cut off the child's genitals; circumcision, clitoridectomy, and infibulation were sometimes used as punishment; and all sorts of restraint devices, including plaster casts and cages with spikes, were prescribed (deMause 1974, 48).
with Two Children
LEFT: Aime-Jules Dalou (19th Century)
RIGHT: Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)
Masturbation had been “redefined” as “self-abuse” that caused “insanity, epilepsy, blindness, and death”. In response to this redefinition, parents reacted irrationally and caused great emotional damage to their children.
This is the emotional damage wrought from trying to “redefine” an archetypal behavioral pattern, as recognized in the evolutionary psychological model of human pathology noted above. That the cultural “redefinition” of breast-feeding as an asexual experience was, like the redefinition of masturbation, also the result of patriarchal religious anti-sexualism is a powerful revelation. Such an “unnaturally perverse” religious redefinition is, in turn, deeply linked to women’s oppression:
Historically, women had been perceived as lascivious and lustful creatures, fallen daughters of Eve, corrupting and corrupted.26 But by the middle of the eighteenth century they were increasingly re-imagined as belonging to another order of being: loving but without sexual needs, morally pure, disinterested, benevolent, and self-sacrificing.27
The desexualization of women was accomplished, in part, by redefining them as maternal rather than sexual beings (Perry 1992, 115-6). (boldness added for emphasis)
The locus --both symbolic and real --of this new appropriation of women’s bodies for motherhood and for the state was the maternal breast...It was as if this organ became the site of the struggle over the maternal definition of women, staged in opposition to the sexual definition of women (Perry 1992, 121). (boldness added for emphasis)
I will now suggest that we should correct this “sexually deviant” (to what is natural) “redefinition” of breast-feeding. From this point on, breast-feeding should be referred to, in scientific terminology, as “nutritive coitus” (i.e. “nutritive sexual intercourse”) as compared to “reproductive coitus” (i.e. “reproductive sexual intercourse”). I know that that the hue and cry will be “but breast-feeding is primarily for feeding, not sex, and so it’s not really sex”. But this is illogical, for it could also be said of reproductive sex that it is primarily for reproduction. Certainly this wouldn’t keep us from recognizing the dual nature of this form of intercourse --i.e. it would be ludicrous to claim that reproductive intercourse is, thus, not really sex!
MISGUIDED ATTEMPT TO
REPRODUCTIVE COITUS AS AN ASEXUAL EXPERIANCE
In actuality, Sylvester Graham, one of the “premier” American anti-sexual crusaders of the 1800’s, did try to redefine even reproductive coitus as exclusive of all sexual pleasure. “Concupiscence was the sinful imagination or mental portrayal of lust and copulation” (Money 1985, 173). Graham admonishes those whose
...imagination ... is wrought up with...exciting images... the genital organs are almost continuously stimulated by the mind ....which produces the most ruinous consequences.
Between husband and wife, where there is a proper degree of chastity, all these causes either entirely lose, or are exceedingly diminished in their effect. They become accustomed to each other’s body, and their parts no longer excite an impure imagination... (Money 1985, 65)
This reflects an earlier attitude first promulgated by Gregory the Great, an early pope,
...that went far beyond the dualism of Paul....”when pleasure, not procreation, bears rule in this matter, husbands and wives have cause to lament their embraces”...Thought of sex, he said, was the guilty act of a depraved will. Not conjugal conversation, but the pleasure of it, was sin (May 1931, 63-64).
Although the church didn’t ultimately succeed in this “perversion” of nature, the ideas did work to thwart the sexual pleasure of many women. For many years, up through the most recent feminist revolution in the 1970s, women were defined as asexual beings who were incapable or orgasm and who were conditioned to consider reproductive intercourse as a “duty” and as a “necessity” for having children, but not as a pleasure. Thus, it is revealing to recognize that these same repressive patriarchal religious attitudes worked, in parallel, to define breast-feeding as an asexual process. This knowledge also gives an answer to, perhaps, another challenge to my thesis: “Why isn’t breast-feeding more routinely experienced by women as a sexual experience?” I submit, the absence of these feelings is the result of the same “conditioning” process that caused the absence of sexual feelings during reproductive intercourse for over a century. Now I will suggest an admittedly radical idea: perhaps as clinical intervention is now appropriate for people trying to enhance their sexual pleasure during genital intercourse; at some future time, clinical intervention will be deemed appropriate for those women seeking to enhance their sexual pleasure during breast-feeding (not selfishly, but for the baby’s sake as well).
As obviously wrong as it is to redefine reproductive intercourse as appropriately devoid of sexual intimacy, so, I would maintain, is modern culture obviously wrong in continuing to redefine breastfeeding as devoid of sexual intimacy. Of course, our redefinition of breastfeeding was so complete in obscuring its important functions of merging sexuality and intimacy, and of facilitating attachment, that we once thought it reasonable to consider completely abolishing the practice. In the 1950s it was felt that bottle-feeding was far superior to breastfeeding due to the ability of formula to include a higher content of vitamins. The watchword of the day was “Better living through chemistry”.
Imagine if there would ever be a trend to abolish reproductive coitus altogether? Given our current acknowledgment of the pleasure attached to this act, it is unlikely that this would ever happen, despite the fact that we now have the capability through the process of artificial insemination. (But see Woody Allen’s comic farce surrounding this very possibility in his hit movie Sleepers!) What should be very clear by now, is that both breast-feeding as “nutritive coitus” and reproductive coitus must be acknowledged to exist in sublime evolutionary parallel, having duel roles in promoting human life and human pleasure. Ultimately, a more mature humanity must recognize both as “sexual” --plain and simple.
SEXUAL GUILT, & THE FEAR OF INCEST
I suggest that the sexual aspect of breast-feeding should be not only acknowledged and accepted, but even encouraged. Let’s look at the harm caused by “keeping our heads in the sand” about the sexuality of breast-feeding. As noted in The Complete Book of Breast-feeding:
Unfortunately, those women who do experience sexual arousal during nursing are apt to feel guilty --so guilty that they may wean their babies early and refuse to nurse future children (Eiger and Olds 1981, 135).
In fact, fears of sexual feelings during breast-feeding may prevent breast-feeding entirely.
The female nipple is richly supplied with sensitive nerve endings. The let-down reflex is initiated when the infant’s suckling stimulates these nerve endings --the same ones stimulated during necking and petting...Oxytocin is in all probability involved in the orgasmic reflex as well as the let-down reflex. Both reflexes... are readily inhibited by the same psychological factors such as anxiety (Brecher 1969, 174).
What noted researcher of human “breast-feeding”, Dr. Niles Newton, would term “breast-feeding frigidity” in referring to women who, for purely psychological reasons, cannot breast-feed becomes an enormously telling choice of words. Are these women “frigid” out of anxiety over “incestuous” feelings during breast-feeding? It would seem that such is the case. When research on the sexual nature of breast-feeding was published in a women’s magazine,
The reaction of a number of women...was intense. “How dare you say that there is anything sexual about so warm and loving an act as nursing a baby!” (Brecher 1969, 175).
In our society sexual feelings are supposed to stay in their place --to come out of hiding only when a culturally determined suitable partner is present. Yet we are sexual beings, and our sexual feelings spin a thread that runs through the fabric of our entire lives. It is truly a shame that more women who realize sexual stimulation from breast-feeding cannot relax and enjoy these pleasurable sensations (Eiger and Olds 1981, 135).
The next question that is likely raised would be, “If breast-feeding is restored to its natural definition as a sexual process, how can it avoid being seen as a gross violation of the incest taboo (perceived as one of the great universals of mankind), and thus as encouraging of further incestuous relations?” The answer to this question requires a small diversion in our journey in order to become familiarized conceptually with the origin and nature of the incest taboo. Again, to see it from the perspective of “hard” scientific truth, the only option is an evolutionary analysis. I will quote extensively from the book, Darwinism Applied by John H. Beckstrom (1993).
When close relatives reproduce together, there is a lowering of vitality of the offspring (“inbreeding depression”) that causes a high percentage of them to be stillborn or born with birth defects. As would be predicted from theory, psychological mechanisms would evolve in order to minimize the chances of this occurring. “...the one that can do the job with the least expenditure of ....energy will tend to prevail eventually” (33). The mechanism that did evolve, in effect, “...told the individual simply to avoid sexual relations with any person to whom it was in regular close proximity during its youth” (33). Over the long course of evolution, this “incest avoidance” mechanism became universal to humans. Now human cognition does not always work to its own advantage: there is an unfortunate human tendency to try to unnecessarily force what is already natural. Once the pattern of very rare matings among close relatives registered in the human brain, the belief became established that there was some moral duty ( to God?) to make sure this pattern was enforced rigidly. And that, mind you, is all there is to the “incest taboo”!
The evolved psychological mechanism that creates “incest avoidance” was first recognized by Edward Westermarck in 1891. The principle was recently demonstrated from analysis of the children of the Kibbutz.
Starting in the middle of the twentieth century, Israelis experimented with communal living in communities called Kibbutzim. The program included raising children, away from their parents, in communal living quarters. Thus, large numbers of unrelated children were sleeping in close proximity, eating, playing and otherwise associating together throughout early childhood. Later studies of these same people as adults showed that they had an aversion to sexual relations with, and did not marry, one another, even though public opinion was not against such unions (Beckstrom 1993, 32)
Beckstrom then showed how this evolutionary feature of human behavior could be affirmatively utilized to reduce the incidence of sibling incest. Since Westermarck’s Principle states that aversion to sexual relations will occur between people living in close and intimate physical proximity, Beckstrom suggests the following program for child caretakers:
Take whatever steps are practical to keep the youngsters in close proximity to one another in their prepubertal years...The sexes should not be segregated and maximum contact should be encouraged....They should bathe together...sleep in the same bed --or room, at least-- even when separate facilities are available. Currently this may be done by a majority of families out of necessity, but many, for one reason or another, will separate the sexes early. If this is done with the thought of discouraging sexual intimacy, scientific evidence suggests that it is shortsighted and misdirected (Beckstrom 1993, 34-35).
TO THE BABY FROM "NUTRITIVE COITUS"
Photo by Rasa Von Werder
The Virgin Nursing the Christ Child
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
Now, given that the best way to foster “incest avoidance” is to promote close physically-intimate contact during early youth, it becomes clear that our concerns about breast-feeding are wholly misplaced. The sexual intimacy inherent in optimal breast-feeding does not promote incest. Just the opposite! It affirmatively works to discourage any lingering sexual attachment with the mother in later childhood. Our culture’s tendency to make this kind of error in reasoning stems from an over-reliance on “linear” thinking. Analogously, we had believed that the best way to produce a strong and independent person was to “cut the apron strings early” ---let the child “cry it out” in the darkness of his own room. Especially with boys, the thought was to avoid bestowing too much affection lest they become “effeminate” and overly dependent adults. We reasoned linearly that “Independence early promotes independence later on”. While the phrase might have a nice ring to it, it is wholly wrong.
It has now been scientifically demonstrated through experiments in verification of attachment theory that the way to produce a strong and independent person is to satisfy all of the childhood developmental needs with as much generosity as is practical. This creates a deep sense of security, a willingness to take risks, and an enthusiasm for exploring the world with joyful self-assurance. Similarly, a positive sexually intimate breast-feeding relationship between a baby and its mother will foster, in mature adulthood, a confidence that will likely be carried through in all his sexual relationships. Thus, sexually intimate breast-feeding not only virtually eliminates the possibility of lingering incestuous feelings, it affirmatively promotes an healthy sexual development. As recently noted in the fine treatise, Evolutionary Psychiatry:
It could be that a primary function of breast-feeding is that, in addition to providing nourishment, it ensures regular and intimate physical contact in conditions of deep satisfaction and contentment to both parties... and it is highly probable that the manner in which physical contact is expressed and experienced during early life may decisively influence an adult's ability to enjoy sexuality within the intimacy of a close relationship. Mothers who cuddle for the pure pleasure of physical contact are likely to produce children who themselves delight in such intimacy. Should the mother, however, be censorious or rejecting of the child’s erotic pleasure then the grown child may be able only to engage in sexual activity outside of bonded relationships (as with prostitutes) or in sexuality of a deviant kind...(Stevens and Price 1996, 44).
By this clear evolutionary logic, it is also predicted that there would be little “performance anxiety” in males so reared. Thus, non-linearly, “Meeting intimacy and dependency needs early results in a happy, secure and independent adulthood later on.” And specifically, Westermarck’s Principle gives us assurance that any sexually passionate feelings by the baby towards the mother as derived from sensuous breast-feeding will be “out of his system” early on in childhood. They will never return. It is also predicted that the other affectionately intimate feelings will show great resilience and will likely continue throughout the entire lifespan of the relationship. Even as the child matures into adulthood, there will always be an unspoken gratitude towards the mother who had successfully fulfilled so many of the child’s deeply natural needs. Evolutionary Psychology describes breast-feeding as a sexually passionate and fully satisfying communion with the newborn, providing a joyfully warm welcome into its new world of experience. Our cold redefinition of asexual breast-feeding as an unpleasant “chore” that mothers have to “fit into their busy schedules” is nothing less than perversion!
THE FINAL EVOLUTIONARY VERIFICATION.
Antonio Begarelli (16th Cenutry)
of this: In 1926, a lone man working at a blackboard (Albert Einstein) creates
a theory (General Relativity) that predicts the existence of “black holes”.
No astronomer has ever seen one. In fact, they are of such a bizarre nature
that it is hard to even imagine their existence. But finally almost a half a
century later in 1973 just as predicted, Cygnus X-1, the first “black
hole” is discovered. What could be more astounding ---even magical? The
power of a valid “hard” scientific theory is enormous.
It could almost be seen as preordained somehow that the new millennium would auger in the birth of the first “hard” science of human beings: Evolutionary Psychology. As announced in the first textbook for this powerful new science, Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind by David Buss (1999), it encourages us to take bold new steps toward a deeper understanding of our nature and toward the utilization of this knowledge in creating a brighter future for us all. The predictions of Evolutionary Psychology cannot be expected to always fit neatly and conveniently within the context of our current social norms. Unlike traditional psychology, which encourages “adjustment” to social norms, this new “hard” psychology is not bound by the norms of any culture. Its standard ---the standard of “human nature”---cuts across all cultures and judges them by the degree to which they work to satisfy essential human needs. Our current norms are mere drops of water in the vast ocean of evolutionary time and deserve no privileged status if they work to thwart such satisfaction.
Evolutionary Psychology predicts that breast-feeding is a sexual intercourse, despite our current ignorance, and even abhorrence of this fact. The prediction could be wrong if, for example, there was something unique about the human species that would prevent breast-feeding from ever being openly experienced as coitus ---i.e. some innate “antisexualism”. Then, no clear example to support the theory could be discovered. On the other hand, if the phenomena could be found (as in the discovery of the first “black hole”), then the theory is vindicated and its truth must be acknowledged.
I searched for a long time in vain for an account of the breast-feeding process among hunter-gatherers. This is, of course, due to an understanding of the basic premises of evolutionary psychology and its conclusions regarding deviance from the natural:
Only the hunter-gatherers who survived into historical times as true nomads can be expected to provide us with some idea of what life was like in humanity's original, or natural environment (Glantz and Pearce 1989, 6-7).
It is also a tenet of evolutionary psychological theory that every child must, necessarily, come into the world expecting a hunter-gatherer childhood. Two million years of evolutionary “hard-wiring” from growing up in a hunter-gatherer band assures that this is so.
Finally, I found what I had been searching for. Would my hypothesis be verified by recorded observation of the actual hunter/gatherer experience of breastfeeding? I was pleased, and yet shocked, when confronted with the affirmation. Nursing among the Siriono Indians (a hunter-gatherer culture so pure that, at the time the anthropological research was conducted from 1940-1942, they even lacked the knowledge of how to make fire), is described the following account:
Babies are tickled a great deal in the neck region and on the genitals. When they are nursing, their mothers often excite them sexually. The pleasure derived from play and fondling is often noticeably reciprocal. Nursing infants sometimes fondle their mothers’ breasts and bring them into sharp erection. Not infrequently one observes a mother play with her young boy’s penis until it becomes erect and then rub it over her vulva (Holmberg 1969, 202).
I wonder how the hot-line worker would have reacted to this? If this mother were somehow “transplanted” here, the police, no doubt, would have cuffed and booked her for child sexual abuse. But here again our definition of abuse is challenged, just as it was in the context of masturbation as “self” abuse. What is it likely that the baby really experiences? --He is being fed and he is very, very happy and content. Our cultural norms would decree that no baby should be allowed to be that happy, or he must be abused. In the next section, let us look at the “perverted” assumptions our culture makes in order to arrive at this conclusion.
SOCIAL, & PRACTICAL
IMPLICATIONS OF SEXUALITY INTIMATE BREAST-FEEDING
“Abuse” is defined as “harm”. But, to consider breast-feeding as “abusive”, the concern could only be that the baby experiences sexual “pleasure”. “Pleasure is Harm” would be immediately recognized by George Orwell, author of Animal Farm (1993), as an example of political “doublespeak” (a propaganda device utilized to create confusion and a susceptibility to political/religious manipulation). As crystallized in Ms Perrigo’s horrifying experience, the sensual “pleasure” of breast-feeding can be perversely perceived in our culture as dangerous abuse and “harm” This phenomenon reflects certain lingering subliminal beliefs spawned by our earlier patriarchal religious indoctrination that “sex is sin”. These negative parental associations between sin (as harm) and any sexual pleasure experienced by the child will surely leave a strong and lasting impression on the developmental “template” of each child. The result is a “split” between sexuality and intimacy that has been passed on, and continues to be passed on, from each generation to the next in an unfortunate cycle of misery.
It was Dr. John Money who expressed his great concern over the seemingly irreparable “split” between sexuality and intimacy and over the resultant catalogue of human sexual dysfunction:
The cleft between saintly love and sinful lust is omnipresent in the sexuoerotic heritage of our culture. Love is undefiled and saintly. Lust is defiling and sinful. Love exists above the belt, lust below. Love is lyrical, lust is lewd. Love is heralded in public, lust is hidden in private...Love is candid, and speaks its name. Lust is clandestine and euphemizes its name.
In some degree or other, the cleavage between love and lust gets programmed into the design of the lovemaps of all developing boys and girls...In serious degree, it defaces the lovemap and leaves residual hypophilia, hyperphilia, or paraphilia in which the irreconcilability of love and lust is perpetuated (Money 1986a, 31).
It is an unfortunate aspect of our culture that men, especially, tend to separate sex from intimacy. Isn’t it all but obvious that, to repair this split between sexuality and intimacy --to really understand human sexuality as “a good thing” -- we have to allow for the merger of the two to occur in an openly sexual breast-feeding experience (i.e. to allow for the baby to indelibly associate sex and intimacy from the very beginning).
Tito Sarrocchi (1868)
Antonio Teixeira Lopes (1890)
Nutritive coitus, as a merger of sexuality and intimacy, will at last heal our cultures great sexual and psychological mistakes! To put it in more brutally succinct terms: Am I suggesting the Siriono Indian mother’s behavior was “good”? Yes, that’s exactly what I am suggesting! Good and very emotionally healthy! And if she enjoys the process ---i.e. if she’s (to use those very scary words) “sexually gratified by her baby”-- well, then, so much the better! Thus, our journey has led to a very strange and, to our cultural thinking, a jarringly radical prescription for positive social change: For an optimally healthy development, each mother should regularly make love to her baby, at the baby’s prompting, in the form of “nutritive coitus”.
It might be argued that a social and attitudinal changes of this nature are too drastic to ever actually occur. But the historical record is actually to the contrary. “Hard” scientific truth always wins out in the long run. When Galileo discovered that the earth was not the center of the universe, the Christian church tried to snuff out this idea for over a hundred years. But today, it would be hard to find anyone, even an elementary school student, who didn’t know that the sun is the center of the solar system. I had earlier referred to the 400 year crusade against masturbation. Given the “hard” scientific fact that masturbation is a species typical behavior, the crusade could not ultimately succeed. And when a “hard” scientific fact becomes generally understood as such, there is no going back. There can never again be a time when people might question the fact that the earth revolves around the sun. The day will inevitably come when all will recognize the true character of breast-feeding as a sexual intercourse and deal with it and all its implications as part of the life experience. Thus, I might state, rather whimsically, that this essay is merely a “preview of coming attractions”!
SOME FINAL OBSERVATIONS
Imagine a woman who gets married and then refuses to consummate it ---she decides no to have intercourse with her husband. Two thoughts come to mind: either she does not really love her husband, or she is subject to either a physical dysfunction or an emotional disorder. Otherwise, we could not understand how she could choose not to do what is the natural and expected thing to do with the one she loves.
Why is the choice not to breast-feed similarly seen in such stark clarity? I think it is because, over the long course of history of “deviance” from the natural, we have completely lost track of what breast-feeding is and how it serves the infant’s health in a holistic sense: it is not just crucial to his physical health, but to his emotional health inclusive of his developing capacity for intimacy and sexual pleasure. Generally, “sexual intercourse” can reasonably be defined as follows: The deepest and most intimate communication between human beings described by a physical penetration and joining that produces an ejaculation (of life-promoting liquid) accompanied, potentially, by a powerful feeling of joy. Hopefully, this description makes it clear, from a more “gut-level” and less “scientific” sense of things, that breast-feeding is a sexual intercourse between human beings. To reserve this intense physical joy only to the male/female bond, in effect, suggests that this bond is ultimately more important than the mother/child bond ---a suggestion that most women would recoil at entertaining. Certainly, the mother/child bond is at least as important, both from a typical mother’s value system and from the evolutionary perspective. Thus, I would suggest that a mother who freely chooses not to “have sex” with her baby is completely synonymous with the wife who would choose never to have sex with her husband. And, in the case of the infant, the effects of this deprivation are probably more significant than to her husband, given that he has, during the course of his own childhood, already completed these crucial stages of human development.
A second observation: if it is ultimately true that breast-feeding is a form of love-making, it is probably best to avoid nursing in public whenever possible. I know that women have been fighting against the social norms suggesting that public nursing is “obscene”. While such intolerance is wholly misguided and should not be catered to in any way, and while women certainly should have an absolute right to breast-feed in public, it is hard to devote intimate attention to the baby while in the public eye. Often, there are just too many distractions. Certainly, two people engaged in adult intercourse wouldn’t choose to do so in public. On the other hand, feeding on demand takes up such a large portion of a nursing mother’s day that some public breast-feeding is unavoidable. And while it’s always best to gaze lovingly into the baby’s eyes and bestow kisses upon his forehead, sometimes the tasks of life become pressing and perfect breast-feeding cannot occur.
Often, the baby will be fed while the mother chats away on the phone or to a person seated nearby. With some concern, I analogize to a situation where a man is making love to a woman, and then looks up to see her unemotionally watching television. Could it possibly be true that the baby might experience a similar emotional deflation and disappointment? We might have difficulty believing that this is the case, but should not be unmindful of the extensive research showing early experiences as, generally, having a much greater impact on the infant’s “ultrasensitive” psyche than do the common experiences of adulthood. We also must remember that many of our normative beliefs about a baby’s needs have been shown to be completely wrong. (For example, as noted earlier, the 50’s belief that, because of greater vitamin content, bottle-feeding must be superior to breast-feeding.)
The passionate focus of the hunter-gatherer mother on her baby during breast-feeding certainly would be expected to do the most to fulfill all the baby’s physical and emotional needs. But I suppose even she would not always be able to give the baby this kind of perfect intimate attention. Surviving in the “original environment” must, also, have had its distractions. The bottom line is that each mother should, at least, have some sense of the ideal of sexually intimate breast-feeding as a very private and passionate experience with her baby. Lovemaking need not always be perfect, whether between man and woman or between mother and baby. But there should be always be frequent occasions when breast-feeding might attain the blissful heights hoped for during adult intercourse: the two should become one, mother and child together and removed from the distractions of the world.
Dr. Alayne Yates, a highly regarded physician specializing in methods of child-rearing, is the author of Sex Without Shame, a book illuminating a wide range of parental behaviors healthy to the child’s budding sexuality. She cleverly acknowledges the passionate nature of breast-feeding as an intercourse meant to permanently imprint the association of sexual intimacy and love at the beginning of experience:
A cantaloupe sky signals the nearness of dawn as the two bare bodies again stretch upon the satin comforter. He nuzzles her skin, breathes her racy scent, and quickly rouses. He inhales deeply, presses urgently against her, and unwittingly pinches her nipple in the process. Flinching slightly, she rubs his nose and whispers softly. He fixes his eyes on her, and kneads one delectable tidbit with his fingers as he relishes the other with his lips. She pushes firmly on his nates as he forces his hips against hers. An ancient rhythm oscillates and ebbs. Gradually his grip relaxes and he drifts toward a deep, refreshing slumber. She tenderly disentangles her hair from beneath his body. Then she covers him with the comforter, and carries him to his crib (Yates 1978, 11).
So finally, let us now move from sexual confusion to sexual clarity and unashamedly attempt to satisfy all the needs of the developing human organism, merging sexuality and intimacy at the very source. This must, ultimately, be a broad stride toward creating an optimally functioning and holistically compassionate humanity in tune with its deepest nature.
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