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A 2004 study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B even found that women with large breasts have higher levels of the hormone estradiol mid-cycle, which could increase fertility. In a 1951 study of 191 cultures, anthropologist Clellan Ford and ethologist Frank Beach reported that breasts were considered sexually important to men in 13 of those cultures. Two — the Azande and Ganda of Africa — found long, pendulous breasts most attractive.
Another two — the Maasai of Africa and Manus of the South Pacific — liked breasts that were upright and "hemispherical," but not necessarily large.
That's not to say interest in nipples is entirely unheard of elsewhere in the animal kingdom: In the book "Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity" (Stonewall Inn Editions, 1999), Canadian biologist Bruce Bagemihl notes that a couple of primate species, including humanity's close relative the bonobo, have been seen stimulating their own nipples while masturbating.
Still, few mammals other than humans mate face-to-face (the behavior makes headlines when seen in the wild), so nipple stimulation isn't generally part of the script.
Thirteen cultures also reported breast simulation during sex, but only three of those overlapped with the societies where men reported finding breasts important for sexual attraction.
In a chapter in the book "Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives" (Aldine de Gruyter, 1995), cultural anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler describes telling friends in Mali about sexual foreplay involving breasts and getting responses ranging from "bemused to horrified.""In any case, they regarded it as unnatural, perverted behavior, and found it difficult to believe that men would become sexually aroused by women's breasts, or that women would find such activities pleasurable," Dettwyler wrote.
Studies finding that men prefer large breasts and a high waist-to-hip ratio bolster the notion that an hourglass shape communicates youth and fertility. For one thing, it's not actually clear that breasts are universally adored.
We can learn to prefer large breasts," Dettwyler wrote.
[The 7 Biggest Mysteries of the Human Body]Even if there is some biological underpinning for an interest in bosoms, it might vary by culture.
Areola size and color preferences were highly idiosyncratic between cultures. The main job of breasts, of course, is to feed offspring.
Some researchers think that sexual interest in breasts simply hijacks the breastfeeding circuitry and uses it for another purpose. When a woman's nipples are stimulated during breastfeeding, the neurochemical oxytocin, otherwise known as the "love drug," floods her brain, helping to focus her attention and affection on her baby.