Ever since the first cave people played “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” man has pondered the mysterious human female body.
To even the most educated among us, it can be a confusing -- albeit beautiful -- apparatus that should probably require one of those IKEA manuals with easy-to-understand drawings.
But fear not, menfolk, because we are here to part the feminine veil. We partnered with the makers of Genius 3D mammography and huddled with a group of curious men to find out what questions they had about lady parts.
Here are those questions answered -- without shame. Because everyone ought to know how a woman works.
Where does the nipple end and the areola begin?
We’ll take this as a warmup, since everyone has them. The nipple is the raised tip of the breast containing several holes from which milk may issue. The areola is a larger, flat, colored disc around the nipple. Bumps, called Montgomery glands, dot the areola. These produce an oil that lubricates and cleans the nipple prior to breastfeeding. Interestingly, both may darken during pregnancy. (One theory is that the darker color acts as a bullseye for babies.)
But to satisfy the philosophical bent of our questioner: like a pink-hued mesa at sunset, thrusting up from rocky foothills, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where one ends and the other begins.
Are boobs heavy?
Boob size depends on genetics, diet and stage of life. But, given the universal obsession with the breast, there’s a surprising lack of definitive information about average breast weight. We have seen estimates ranging from 2 pounds to 20 pounds. Still, we can deduce a few things from bra cups. (If anyone would like to weigh themselves, use this really handy guide to self-measurement.)
Cup sizes correspond to a certain number of fluid ounces. An A-cup holds 8 fluid ounces, or a little over half a pound per boob. A D-cup holds 27 ounces, working out to at minimum 1.75 pounds a boob. And America’s most common bra-size is now 34DD.
That doesn’t take into account the entire...superstructure holding up the boob. Nor does it account for swelling. Swelling during pregnancy and lactation is well known, but, according to reports, breasts can also swell 25 percent during sex.
In summary, boobs can indeed be heavy. Regardless of presumed boob weight, be a gentleman, and offer a lady your seat on the train.
Do women experience -- er -- shrinkage?
As much as you might wish it, women are probably not going to experience anything similar to your Costanza moment. That’s not to say, though, that various female body parts don’t exhibit some elasticity. Notably, the clitoris and labia -- the outer parts of the female genitalia, buddy -- become engorged upon arousal.
Being subject to the laws of physics and biology -- just like, you know, everyone else in the entire universe -- women may experience slight retraction in low temperatures. When cold, the nipple, for example, contracts to reduce surface area, thereby reducing heat loss and energy spent. The female genitalia, being largely internal, are spared from the horrors of shrinkage.
Many post-menopausal women encounter a condition called vaginal atrophy, a thinning of vaginal walls due to decreased hormone levels, but this is over a period of time. Scientists also believe that drinking three cups of coffee per day may link to breast shrinkage over time.
How do boobs actually make milk? How do they actually make milk? Isn’t that crazy?
It is hard to imagine producing a life-sustaining fluid in quantities large enough to power a tiny human. We have trouble just watering a cactus. But it happens, and here’s how:
Picture peacock feathers spreading out from the nipple into the fatty tissue of the breast. At the tip of the “feathers” lie small cavities, called alveoli cells, where a chemical agent pulls sugars and proteins from the blood and turns them to milk. The liquid trickles down a series of ducts and tubes and pools in a reservoir called a milk sinus -- pretty much just a Baby Pantry. The nipple has 15-20 holes in it from which milk may can be sucked.
Life happens, and it’s frickin’ miraculous.
Why can’t a man produce milk?
Well, hold on to your shirt there, partner -- you just might be able to. Men pack all the tools necessary to produce milk. Our breast tissue is riddled with the milk-factory-esque alveoli; our pituitary glands secrete prolactin, the agent that turns the blood’s nutrients to milk. And in some mammalian species, most notably the especially lactacious (that is a word, we checked) Dayak bat, male breastfeeding is the norm.
So why aren’t more men doing it?
The answer is that, under normal circumstances, men don’t make enough prolactin. (We make about half of what non-pregnant women do, but pregnant women? No contest.) In times of illness or stress -- such as a pituitary gland problem or severe malnourishment, as happened to prisoners of war in World War II -- male lactation can occur. Experts theorize, too, that extensive stimulation of the male nipple may be enough to stimulate lactation.
We leave it to you to experiment.
Are you afraid of squishing your boobs if you lay on your stomach? Does getting punched in the boob hurt?
(Which we interpret as: like testicles, are breasts especially sensitive to pain?)
The breasts are suffused with nerve endings, so, yes, a boob punch hurts. Real men don’t punch women -- in their boobs or otherwise.
Breast pain, called mastalgia, is indeed a common complaint. According to experts, 70 percent of women will experience it in their lifetime. It often arrives in conjunction with a woman’s menstrual cycle and lasts 2-3 days -- although around 8 percent of women suffer longer, more debilitating bouts.
Sadly, breast pain may warp a man’s normally foolproof remedy -- the hug -- into something painful. Proceed with caution.
What evolutionary purpose do boobs serve?
It is unclear. Our long history of breast obsession brands us an outlier in the animal kingdom: we are the only species known to fondle mammaries during intercourse.
One recent theory about why men love breasts, though not without detractors, is that we wily males are programmed to use the breasts to strengthen bonds, increasing the chances of reproductive success. When stimulated, the nipple triggers the release of oxytocin, a “love” chemical that normally serves to bond mother to her child. The nipple doesn’t know whether it’s a cute baby or your ugly mug, though. In effect, you’re getting the benefit of the love chemical possibly not meant for you.
The lesson is: take care of your partner’s breast and she will love you for it.
Isn’t a mammogram sort of like a waffle iron for boobs? How does that detect cancer?
A mammogram is actually an X-ray taken of the breast. The “waffle iron” consists of two glass or plastic plates that secure and position the breast for a short duration while the picture is taken. It is not hot; you could not make waffles with it. It is, according to sources, “uncomfortable.” After two X-rays are taken, a radiologist examines the pictures for anomalies consistent with breast cancer. If found, further testing is required.
In 3D mammography, pictures of the breast are taken from a variety of angles, allowing for the creation of a comprehensive 3D image of the breast. Recent studies show that certain 3D mammograms boost invasive cancer detection rates by 41 percent while also reducing the anxiety-provoking callbacks for false alarms by up to 40 percent.
This year, it’s projected that there will be 232,670 new cases of breast cancer. There will be 40,000 deaths.
You can help, though. Feel your partner's breast for any abnormal lumps, tenderness or changes to the breast. (Not bad, right?) And take part in Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October.
Genius 3D mammography is available as Hologic Selenia® Dimensions® 3D system. Please consult your physician for a complete list of the benefits and risks associated with mammography.