The Inconvenient Truths about Mormon Lactivism

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Recently there has been much talk surrounding a YW leader who is unfortunately threatened of having her temple recommend withdrawn if she does not leave the room or cover herself while breastfeeding at church meetings. (Call to Action – Lactivism)

There are many things wrong with this scenario.  The LDS church is all about the Family, and one would think they would consider the most beneficial options surrounding parenting in their policies and practices to reinforce the “family” way.  We are certainly too uptight about breastfeeding in general in our western society, much less a Mormon one.  The church really doesn’t like being forced, however.  It is a patriarchal authoritarian one and if they feel they are being coerced,  will pull that authoritarian trigger to assert power where they might not normally.  Apparently mitigating factors were omitted from the original petition that would help us determine whether or not this is just a rogue ecclesiastical authority, or if something degraded in the communication between this gal and her ecclesiastical leader that he felt compelled to pull the authoritarian trigger.

Before I explore the nuts and bolts of the topic which has spread like spilt milk across the Mormon social media channels,  I will disclose I rarely breastfed my children in church and when I did, I did it in the nursing room.  I didn’t feel inconvenienced in doing so, in fact I often fled to the nursing room as the perfect excuse to get out of a predicted mundane, repetitive lesson or talk.  I have since left the church for reasons more ancillary to the mundane brain dead aspect and nothing related to feeding my children in a nursing room.  As someone who does not feel the church is ultimately a healthy or authentic belief system, I would be the first to encourage any woman to take her nursing baby and permanently exit the church if she feels strongly enough about the matter.

That said, I have had frustrations trying to engage in a reasonable dialogue about openly breastfeeding in church.  I am a mother of four.  I gave birth to my children naturally and am generally a proponent of all things nature-based.   There are a few main arguments being made in this discussion, however, that must be considered and addressed if the overall point is to be taken seriously.  It is clear there is a bias from lactivists for ignoring certain inconvenient truths about both the biology of the breast and breastfeeding, as well as dismissing clear cultural ramifications along the way.  Ignoring is counterproductive and easily allows anyone with basic knowledge of anatomy to dismiss the argument in its entirety.

Lactivist Assertion One:  Breasts are designed solely to feed the young and any man who looks upon an exposed breast as anything but a pure maternal act is either a pervert or culturally misguided.

Fact one:  Humans are part of the hominid family.  We are the only hominid where the breasts remain swollen at all times.  All other hominids have flat chests, except when lactating.  Furthermore, human hominids walk upright at all times.  As a result of us always being upright and frequently front facing (as opposed to other hominids), humans evolved the permanently swollen breasts as an alternate sexual attractor.  All other hominids use the buttocks as their sexual attractor.  In Desmond Morris’ “The Naked Ape”, he points out the evolutionary design switch of the general shape of the human breasts mirroring the buttocks; rounded with cleavage between them.  The larger the breast, the more closely they resemble the shape of buttocks.  From an evolutionary standpoint, this is the reason why larger breasts tend to be more attractive.  The breasts tend to swell when a woman is ovulating, suggesting fertility.  Additionally, the subconscious part of the male heterosexual mind messages that the larger the breast, the more milk it can produce, thus increasing the survival chance of offspring.

With regards to larger breasts, evolutionary psychology has recently contended men prefer women with larger breasts as it makes it easier for him to judge a woman’s age (and her reproductive value) according to the level of gravitational sag that comes with age (Marlowe,  1998)

INCONVENIENT TRUTH:  Males are designed by nature to find breasts attractive.  To insist they don’t is akin to asking a homosexual to not be attracted to his own gender.  Lactivists may not like this answer, but it is a fact.

 

Lactivist Assertion Two:  The breast is not a sex organ. There is nothing sexual about a mother feeding her baby!(see prolactin’s maternal-inducing traits)

Fact One: Or is it?  They are well connected. If not blatantly sexual,  breasts most assuredly should be viewed as an erogenous zone.   After birth, estrogen and progesterone levels decrease while prolactin and oxytocin levels increase.  Prolactin, which is secreted by the anterior pituitary, stimulates the breasts to produce milk. The prolactin level is very high in the early postpartum period in order to stimulate initial milk production.  Prolactin induces maternal behavior: a lactating mother experiences a form of psychological tension, which can best be described as a feeling or need of always wanting to see and hold her baby (Brewster, 1979).

Oxytocin is the primary connector between the breast and sexual response.  It is secreted by the posterior pituitary, has two major functions in relation to breastfeeding: a) a new mother feels her uterus contract during breastfeeding, and b) it is responsible for the milk ejection reflex during breastfeeding and orgasm. Oxytocin has the opposite psychological impact as prolactin does: It calms the physiological tension induced by prolactin. Consequently, while breastfeeding, the mother will experience a sense of well-being and contentment. The consequences of these hormones are that each time a woman breastfeeds, she derives great pleasure from the experience and contact with her baby. As a result, all or a very great part of her needs for affection are met through breastfeeding even if she is only partially breastfeeding.  This is obviously healthy and normal. However, one result is that the breastfeeding woman will likely have a decreased need to seek out her partner for pleasure and affection (Also referred to as affection anesthesia).

Oxytocin produces striking parallel effects between breastfeeding and coital orgasm:

  • Both stimulate uterine contractions
  • Both cause nipple erection
  • Breast stroking and nipple stimulation occur during both breastfeeding and sexual foreplay
  • Hormonal emotions are aroused by both types of contact in the form of skin changes
  • Milk let-down or milk ejection reflex can be triggered during both

 

According to some researchers, anywhere of 24% – 29% of women can experience orgasm solely as a result from oxytocin released during nipple stimulation. The percentage may increase if the woman has her legs crossed, as the uterine contractions released by the oxytocin can trigger a physiological sexual response.  This is otherwise known as a breast orgasm. Nipple stimulation activates the same region of the brain as clitoral, vaginal and cervical stimulation. (Journal of Sexual Medicine, Volume 8, 2011)

Another clear biological lactation/genital connection is the lack of vaginal lubrication when the breastfeeding mother becomes sexually excited.

INCONVENIENT TRUTH:  The breast is connected to sexuality.  It is simply unreasonable to expect all of humanity to treat it otherwise.

 

Lactivist Assertion Three:  Our culture is uptight and just needs to get over it.  Especially Mormon Culture.

Fact One:  There are three uphill challenges in overcoming breast issues in the church.

1.  Modesty in dress, particularly for females is pervasive in Mormon culture.  A quick search for modesty related information on LDS.org yields 451 results.  This should be a self explanatory challenge for those who are LDS.  Modesty is tied to cleanliness, chastity and purity.  For a cultural environment who emphasizes coverage of shoulders and knees, as well as garments, it should not be surprising they would be less relaxed about having exposed breasts at church.  Regardless of the wholesome reason that may be behind it, exposing a breast for ANY reason is going to fall outside of normal range and the tribe will react as such.

2.  Recent research from University of Westminster, Archives of Sexual Behavior just last month revealed interesting information about the type of man who favors larger breasts.  Researcher’s found that the largest percentage of participants (32.7 percent) rated medium-sized breasts as “most attractive,” followed by large (24.4 percent), very large (19.1 percent), small (15.5 percent) and very small (8.3 percent). However, a preference for large and very large breasts was significantly correlated with overt sexism, benevolent sexism, female objectification and hostile attitudes toward women. This connection was strongest when it came to benevolent sexism [emphasis by Froggie]. In other words, men who tend to idealize “traditional” femininity and perceive women as meek and weak, are also the most likely to prefer big breasts. “It is arguable that benevolently sexist men perceived larger female breasts as attractive because larger breast size on a woman is associated with perceived femininity.”

3. Western culture has made progress regarding breastfeeding.  It does, however, have secondary side effects of pornography, even maternal breast-targeted pornography such as pregnancy or nursing fetishes, that provide a less conducive climate to just simply “understanding and getting over it.”

INCONVENIENT TRUTH:  When you add the aspect of “benevolent sexism” along with the already existing Mormon-centric  puritanical, patriarchal, rigid gender role defined environment, layered with a coating of broader Western culture, this is no small uphill battle.  To quote Sun Tzu, “Know your enemy.”  Trying to leverage the breast as a tool when the tool itself has an enormous amount of already existing stigma may not be the best strategy.  It isn’t a situation that one just wakes up and “gets over.”

Conclusion:  If productive dialogue is to occur with the church on the matter of transitioning the cultural climate to allow for ease of breastfeeding at church,  one must acknowledge the above-listed inconvenient truths and be prepared to include them as part of the discussion.  Not ignore them or be blissifully ignorant of their impact.   A special nod of acknowledgement must be given to the current cultural norms within Mormonism  as well if one wants to effect change on this front.

References:

Komisaruk, Barry R., and Beverly Whipple. “Functional MRI of the brain during orgasm in women.” Annual Review of Sex Research 16 (2005): 62.

Levin, R. J. (2006). The breast/nipple/areola complex and human sexuality. Sexual & Relationship Therapy, 21, 237-249.

Marlowe, Frank. “The Nubility Hypothesis.” Human Nature 9.3 (1998): 263-271.

Sex and Breastfeeding:  An Educational Perspective. J Perinat Educ. 1999 Winter; 8(1): 30–40.doi:  10.1624/105812499X86962

Sholty, M. J., Ephross, P. H., Plaut, S. M., Fischman, S. H., Charnas, J. F., & Cody, C. A. (1984). Female orgasmic experience: A subjective study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 13, 155-164.

The Journal of Sexual  Medicine. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02388.x. Surprise finding in response to nipple stimulation Lay summary – CBSnews.com (5 August 2011).

http://LDS.org

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/01/sexist-men-big-boobs-breast-size-study_n_2792287.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jill-di-donato/breast-orgasm_b_1871581.html

 

(edited to fix list marker)

44 thoughts on “The Inconvenient Truths about Mormon Lactivism

  1. Personally, I think it’s just in good social taste to use a blanket or covering in a public place while nursing. It’s just a bit of society-contextual politeness.

    That said, if someone doesn’t do it, it’s the place of those who are uncomfortable about it to approach the woman themselves and make their concerns known.

    It’s not the bishop’s place to get involved in this – and I think this bishop was extremely foolhardy to do so.

    A bishop has enough on his plate without this kind of nonsense.

  2. I hadn’t heard the bit about her temple recommend being threatened though. Who reported that?

  3. I agree, Seth. This should have been something the bishop defrayed from the get-go when someone made an initial complaint. Bishops too often act as puppet masters of wards where people think they have power to pull strings.

    The threat was mentioned in the original call to action on the FMH board.

  4. Thanks for the cite.

    An alternative would be that the bishop was allowing himself to be too much swayed by the indignation of those in his ward, and felt like he had to cater to their sensibilities in his authoritative capacity.

    Not that this would make me agree with his actions any more.

  5. The church really doesn’t like being forced, however. It is a patriarchal authoritarian one and if they feel they are being coerced, will pull that authoritarian trigger to assert power where they might not normally.

    Yep. I love how the church twists Matthew 7:7-11

    Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
    For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
    Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
    Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
    If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

    Their attitude is pretty much, “If you ask for a fish, OF COURSE we’ll give you a serpent! If God wanted you to have a fish, he would have inspired us to give you one in the first place! If you have no fishes, it’s because God wants it to be that way! So asking for a fish is a sign of wickedness, and a serpent is the only appropriate response!”

    Which means that any sort of progress or growth is an uphill battle in the church.

    But I wish the lactivists every possible success with this battle.

  6. I sometimes felt uncomfortable around breastfeeding women, but I never thought the problem is with anyone but me. I finally figured out that my job is to not look.

  7. So, I guess your basic point is that — given we’re talking about a community that has such strict and pervasive female modesty rules that young women can hardly believe Brigham Young’s daughters wore shoulder-baring dresses — how can anyone reasonably expect to be able to pull out a boob in Sacrament Meeting without all the guys getting wood, even if it’s for something sweet and innocent like nursing a baby?

    Of course modesty is relative to culture (as I discussed here). In a lot of countries, I wouldn’t be able to go shopping in a t-shirt and shorts without people flipping out because they’ve never seen so much woman-skin before. OTOH, in much of North America and Europe, one really can expect expect to breastfeed in public without causing a scene or a scandal.

    You’re right to be pointing out these inconvenient truths that the lactivists are pretending don’t exist. But in the lactivists’ defense, I’m pretty sure that they’re generally opposed to the draconian retrenchment of female modesty in modern Mormonism. Motherhood is the one sphere where the Mormon patriarchy claims to give women respect. So the women use the tool they have to get their point on the table. The women have to defer to the priesthood on almost everything, but theoretically the priesthood should have to defer to the women when it comes to mothering.

    It will be interesting to see how it plays out…

  8. ‘ I’m pretty sure that they’re generally opposed to the draconian retrenchment of female modesty in modern Mormonism.”

    As we all should be. Which is why I ultimately left the church. It is far less resistance for me to follow others more similar to my own feminist path rather than try and change things within the existing culture. It isn’t easy…and in my case…totally not worth it.

    And in the case of men with wood. Well, that response is as natural as the act of breastfeeding for a mother. Hard to begrudge them initial response. But to Kuri’s point, what is done after that natural response is totally their responsibility. And that is something that can be changed from a cultural standpoint. Females should not be made to be responsible for the responsiveness of males. In any forum. We as humans have the right and privilege to be responsible and accountable for our own actions.

  9. @10 I agree. My initial gut reaction to the Lactivist situation was “If you have the opportunity to go to the mothers’ lounge where you can read or chat with your friends while Sacrament Meeting drones on in the background (instead of having to sit in the chapel and pretend like it’s interesting), why wouldn’t you take it?”

    But different people have different attitudes towards church. Like you, I felt like there’s no point in trying to change Mormon culture — it’s better just to leave. But there are some women who actually want to be there in Sacrament Meeting nursing their babies. So we’ll see how it turns out for them. Isn’t the diversity of the human experience fascinating? 😀

  10. As a result of us always being upright and frequently front facing (as opposed to other hominids), humans evolved the permanently swollen breasts as an alternate sexual attractor. All other hominids use the buttocks as their sexual attractor.

    Interesting side note: A bit more distantly related, but there are some species of baboons that spend most of their time grazing in a sitting position and have an additional bare patch on the chest that turns red like the buttocks when the female is fertile (as an alternate sexual signal).

  11. First, there is some sort of issue with the links to MSP, I will email ppl offline.

    Second, it was my understanding that someone was trying to bf in their calling (i.e. teaching). It is an interesting discussion. Supporting women is important. Would someone be allowed to pump breastmilk in public? Why or why not? What about at one’s job?

    That’s not to say that I don’t support lactation rooms…they support women and outcomes for infants (so women can return to work if they choose and also continue breastfeeding).

    I personally am unconfortable with extended breastfeeding, over the age of four. Yet our ancestors routinely breastfed up until age four and beyond. I’m not sure where the line/distinctiob should be. It’s one thing to breastfeed one’s nine month old, it’s another to breastfeed one’s five year old. It does seem that this is a cultural construct.

  12. I think the ancestors simply breast-fed up to age four because there wasn’t a lot of food to go around.

  13. First, there is some sort of issue with the links to MSP, I will email ppl offline.

    I changed the domain from latterdaymainstreet.com to mainstreetplaza.com, and it is supposed to redirect the links. This is still in the testing/trial phase, though…

  14. Seth, #2 & 4, are you saying the bishop was exercising unrighteous dominion in this case; that he was uninspired? Are you saying that if he had consulted the Lord and listened to the spirit he would have taken an entirely different course?

  15. Spirit had nothing to do with my remarks Parker.

    I was making a simple observation about what I thought about his actions as an outsider.

  16. @10&11, I’m reminded of a phrase which is parroted by Mormons on an almost weekly basis: “Opposition in all things”. A phrase which is usually associated, at least in my experience, with a faith building talk; however, it can also be associated with personal growth, or, in the case that I’m using it, organizational maturity.

    Change, especially of an organization such as the Church, only comes from uncomfortable pressure. Men, in general (meaning not all men), are perfectly content to keep things as they are if they are comfortable with their station in life. If a white man has policies that are completely bent in his favor, he isn’t likely to question any unforeseen consequences, especially if no one tells them that there are any such consequences. When you have an established culture which says “Follow the Prophet”, that pressure is very unlikely to come from within. That, in my thinking, is why it took political pressure from the outside (in the case of polygamy), or an obvious danger of losing an entire demographic of people (in the case of blacks holding the Priesthood) to make any significant changes.

    That’s why, with Mormon feminism becoming more pronounced, the obvious danger of them losing the entire gay demographic, and changes in the political climate, that Mormon policies are just now starting to change (or at least discussing change). Of course, when it comes time, it will come in the form of “revelation”, and we will be told “It always has been that way, it just was not revealed to us until Heavenly Father wanted it revealed.”

    That’s why I’m kind of a fan of John Dehlin’s mission to try to change the Church from within. I’ll likely never be in a position where I’ll be able to make any real change, but I’d like to think that if I was, I would do my best to make those changes also.

    I realize that it is hard for anyone who is not a white male, especially those who have been disenchanted by the truth, to stay in the church (it is hard enough for me, as a white male with liberal views), but I think that the Church needs people who are willing to speak up from the inside, in order to effect a change in it. I’m not saying that people should stay even if it is unbearable, but if a lot of people weather the discomfort and rise above it to express that pain, without leaving the church, then change will eventually be inevitable. It’s a little like a microcosm of America, except that the men in power here truly believe that God is on their side, so changes will obviously be slow.

  17. Yeah – I wasn’t there. How would I know if he was inspired or not?

    Nor do I care enough to ponder it greatly.

  18. You have, of course already answered my question. I just wasn’t sure if you could bring yourself to acknowledge it. You said he should have kept his nose out of it, he was foolhardy, and nonsensical, probably swayed by others. So there it is: he was uninspired and exercising unrighteous dominion. Now that wasn’t so hard was it?

  19. I’m making a judgment from a distance Parker.

    God has required people to act in unpleasant ways before that turned out for the best in hindsight.

    But I see no reason to invoke that here.

  20. So the bishop was inspired in his actions regarding the woman breastfeeding her child. You simply misspoke in your original condemnation of his actions. I thought that was probably what it was–I just wanted to be sure.

  21. Or better yet, Parker, continue having fun catching out Seth’s nonsense. It’s always a pleasure to behold someone doing that.

  22. Here’s the thing Parker, whether you realize it or not – you were asking me two completely different questions.

    First, was the question – “do you approve of what the bishop did?”

    Answer – no.

    Second question – “was the bishop inspired in what he did?”

    Answer – probably not, but how the hell should I know?

    All clear now?

  23. No, I didn’t ask you two questions. I asked if in your opinion the bishop exercised unrighteous dominion, and whether he was guided by the Spirit (the latter, of course, is subsumed by the former). I don’t really care whether you approve or disapprove, and I didn’t need to ask about that, because you plainly stated your disapproval. Obviously you don’t know whether he was operating by the Spirit, but you act as though you do when you express you disapproval of what he did.

    My only interest was based upon how often you have objected to people question the action of Church leaders. In fact, it seems completely contrary to the principles of the restored gospel to ever question the one who is appointed as the judge of Israel. It is even more so a kicking against the pricks when you don’t know the circumstances or the details, and don’t have any idea as to whether he was directed by the Lord. But I do think you ask an important question when you ask “how the hell should I know?”

  24. I don’t consider my approval or disapproval to be much of a determiner of the existence of local administrative inspiration Parker.

    I don’t think he was inspired from on high, but how am I supposed to know?

  25. Parker, mostly I just question criticisms of Church leaders around here because echo-chambers naturally irritate me.

    I wouldn’t read much more into it than that.

  26. Seth @33:

    Parker, mostly I just question criticisms of Church leaders around here because echo-chambers naturally irritate me.

    In other words, he’s motivated primarily by the spirit of contention, and we know whose child that makes him.

  27. “I don’t think he was inspired from on high, but how am I supposed to know?” Exactly! So on what basis can you object to what the bishop does? Do you sustain church leaders or not? I assume it is important for you to have a TR.

    “Parker, mostly I just question criticisms of Church leaders around here because echo-chambers naturally irritate me.” Am I not hearing an “echo chamber?” You were the first to object to the bishop’s actions. In fact, not a single regular participant on this board had any criticism of the bishop. You take the honors for that.

    But please tell me that your defense of Church leaders is based on something more substantial than an irritating “echo effect.”

  28. Call it a sense of fairness then if you want Parker. I often feel like both sides are not given a fair hearing here.

  29. That reminds me of something that happened when Napoleon was pharaoh of Rome, and he learned Greek so he could have one-on-ones with Socratics, and the Greek said, “The unexamined life, probably ain’t worth examining.”

  30. I’m not sure how this devolved into a judgment of the bishop’s inspiration. I believe that if God actually felt compelled to inspire men to make good choices, there would be no bad on this earth. I don’t think God gives a crap. (Please see problem of suffering for more detail) The epistemology of communication to deity through prayer mechanism is seriously flawed and unverifiable. It relies on human interpretive bias.

    I’m a little shocked a post about boobs has deviated into a discussion about the bishop’s “inspiration” on the matter. What about the inspiration of the woman tattling to the bishop? What about the breastfeeding woman who is rebelling against her church leader over a teat issue?

  31. For the record, I do not believe the bishop should have been involved either. I am so tired of hearing stories of people insisting on ecclesiastical involvement for minutiae. The church needs to bear some responsibility for that for becoming so Pharisaical in its policies and cultural practice.

  32. Froggie @39:

    I’m not sure how this devolved into a judgment of the bishop’s inspiration.

    Part of it is that, as Chanson points out in another thread, “MSP doesn’t really have a stay-on-topic rule.” People tend to feel free to take the conversation in whatever direction interests them.

    Part of it is that Seth is a well-established apologist troll here who sees feminism, LGBT activism and a host of other activities as a threat to the well-being of his family and himself. He regularly criticizes people who criticize the church and its leaders. People who find the general attitude of the blog more congenial give him back what he dishes out here.

    You might be in for it from Seth, in fact, for writing

    I believe that if God actually felt compelled to inspire men to make good choices, there would be no bad on this earth. I don’t think God gives a crap. (Please see problem of suffering for more detail)

    Seth considers the issue of suffering “every angry atheist’s favorite pet issue” and “an inflammatory topic.” He objects to discussions of suffering and theodicy and announces that

    I’ve been on enough atheist message boards to know that 9 times out of 10, if an atheist brings this topic up, it’s going to derail the conversation completely – and about 7 times out of 10 – that was deliberate on the part of the atheist who brought it up.

    For better or worse, Seth is a regular contrarian commenter here, who prides himself on being a devil’s advocate and espousing positions he doesn’t even hold just to disrupt “echo chambers” he holds in contempt. He knows he’s not going to change anyone’s mind, but he likes starting and prolonging fights with people he disagrees with, so he trolls blogs like this. He also has this super annoying mind-reader routine; he claims to know what everyone else is thinking and what all their motivations are, which is perhaps what Parker is getting at here. Dealing with the way Seth shapes conversations, both as he comments and as others respond to him, is part of the site.

    Sorry if it sucks. Some people get used to it; some people go away.

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