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Writing from breast cancer patients' lives: the erotic significance of the lived nipple

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter

Publication date2011
Host publicationThe Erotic in Context. Inter-Disciplinary Press
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherInter-disciplinary Press
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9781848880252
<mark>Original language</mark>English


I suggest that the (absent) nipple in the breast cancer discourse provides a powerful lens magnifying the social construction of the erotic breast based on the commodification of breasts as mens objects of sexual pleasure. The world of cosmetic surgery has turned more and more attention to nipple loss as the primary factor affecting breast cancer patients feeling less sexually attractive, very much like biomedicine emphazing the severe impact of breast loss on womens sexuality. Indeed, the banner look good, feel better has been heavily marketed to promote enhancing technologies (i.e. breast and nipple reconstruction) as a panacea for womens (mental) sexual problems. However, little attention has been given to the breasts and nipples focusing on womens erotic and sexual embodied experiences. The focus of this paper will be on the erotic lived nipple as a source of incommensurable pleasure, sexual excitement, joy and even orgasm for women, but also pain, alienation, disappointment and sadness when mastectomy removes them, and the promise of magical cosmetic surgery cannot restore their erotic experience. This paper is based on a case study of an informant during my PhD fieldwork in Spain during 2007-2008. Federico, partner of a breast cancer patient, takes up the idea of the lived breasts to give an alternative understanding of the erotic breast. He depicts his partner as a woman who delighted herself in the pleasure of her nipples being rubbed, caressed, squeezed and sucked to the point of orgasm. Thus, the lost of the lived breast will be emphatically mourned as a castration of his partners key sexual and erotic body part. Federicos account further raises the questions as to who defines eroticism and for whom breasts should be erotic.