Who put the "tit" in "titillating"? For guys into nipples, the question is rather, "How could anyone forget it's there?"
To the unsuspecting eye, the male chest may seem too flat and its nipple squat and stubby-- not much of a hand-hold for climbing high into the erotic Rockies. "Tits" are so prominent a feminine endowment as to be a crude shorthand for their sex, while the male's nipples ornament his chest without purpose or potential. "They don't do anything. They're just there," was the older-brother wisdom doltish Reese imparted to seven-year-old Dewey in a recent episode of "Malcom in the Middle." Gay men who find nipples the double-sun of their sexual solar system face a fundamental problem: most other guys are blind to their light.
"Males in general are nipple-illiterate," bemoans a Boston journalist and critic with bisexual proclivities. Assuming the pen-name Aretino, he speaks on behalf on man- and womankind when he asserts a crying need for Nipple Ed.
'Look ma, no hands!'
Forty-year-old Frank was one of those people whom a tit-lover might judge unable to read, write, or count to ten. But that was before he found himself on the floor of a toilet at the Federal courthouse in Boston a few years ago, kneeling over of a man with whom he'd exchanged eyes at the gym. The two had crossed paths on a downtown street, and the courthouse tearoom was the handiest spot for a quickie. The man settled onto the floor of the deserted men's room, in front the urinals, and undid shirt, pants, and underwear. Then he asked Frank to chew on his nipples.
"He just writhed," Frank recalls. "It was like the ecstasy of St. Theresa." Frank wasn't sure whether to chalk it up to pain or pleasure. Suddenly there were splashes of semen from the man's cock, untouched by hand or mouth. "I looked up at him, startled," Frank reports. His trick answered the question in his eyes: "They're real sensitive."
Scratching the itch
As any victim-- or perpetrator-- of schoolyard titty-twisting knows, nipples are sensitive. But so is a bruised thumb. Sensitivity needn't translate into erotic charge. Nipple-play is edgy. It cuts a gate into the picket fence at the body's psychic perimeter. Men squeamish about them might lump nipples together with testicles as worse than useless in sex play-- insensate to sweetness or subtlety and too susceptible to pain.
Yet whether through quirks of wiring or love-maps, some guys find the barrier their nipples define as itching for breaching. If nipples are two watchful eyes guarding the gate to man's vulnerable core, that core is the just place they want nipple-play to get them.
Or at least they feel radically ambivalent about the journey. "This is probably the most shattering, sensitive part of me," says Jeff, a 26-year-old writer from Malaysia, who nonetheless doesn't encourage casual sex partners to go there. "I'm afraid of the emotion it could unleash," Jeff explains. But also, he says, most guys are clods around tits, jumping too quickly into biting and chewing. "I feel I have the best nipple-play when I'm feeling really intimate with someone, and I forget that nipples are even involved."
Red hot buttons
In the world of nipple aficionados, some of the hottest numbers are men like Frank's courthouse companion, who can shoot just from toying their nipples. These are rare birds, kin to folks who can wriggle their ears or lick their noses. But outside the nipple fraternity, their special gift doesn't always delight their sex partners. A man we'll call Roger, publisher of a gay academic journal, tells about a fellow he bedded where the casually-intended nipple foreplay summoned forth copious ejaculate. "It was all over before I had gotten the goods," Roger complains.
But in matters sexual, one man's short-circuit is another's direct connection. A guy who can come from a one-dish meal of nipple-play is the summum bonum for 38-year-old Richard, who is a network administrator in Austin, Texas, and webmaster of www.nippleplay.com. "To me, that's the most satisfying sex. If I don't even get to come, still I walk away so excited," he tells The Guide. It's an ability that Richard himself lacks. Tweaking his nipples takes him only so far as wobbly knees, but Richard is delighted to play tit-top for those it carries further-- if not to orgasm, then that state of bliss indistinguishable from epileptic seizure.
"A man's reaction is what really turns me on when I play with somebody," he says. "If I meet someone like that and if they're in my area, they'll always come back."
"You've heard the expression 'My nipples are tied directly to my dick'?" Richard queries. "Well, I'm just the opposite-- my dick is tied directly to your nipples."
Perhaps tit-bottoms return to Richard's bed because he's handsome, trim, and friendly. But more likely it's that nipples in Richard's grasp are like truffles in the hands of Julia Child. His recipe for whipping up nipple ambrosia for a partner? Careful attention to ingredients, timing, detail-- and of course, the right tools.
"It's better to start real slowly and build," Richard counsels. Pay attention to cues. Often one tit is more wired for pleasure than the other. "If you're barely tonguing someone's nipple and they start pushing their chests out, then you know to go a little harder," he says. When preliminaries are over and a partner asks him to chomp down to business, Richard is prepared. "I always have clamps and things scattered around the house from when I take them off."
Besides clamps, no "Compleat Nipplery" is without venom suckers from snake-bite kits, or their special-built sex-toy cousins. Applied over the long-haul, suckers can nurse nipples to beautiful-- or bizarre-- multi-inch lengths using the same pneumatic principles invoked in ads for penis pumps.
"Some people look at 'pig tits' and say, 'No I don't ever want my nipples to be that big,'" Richard concedes-- only for an instant. "But then you think of how sensitive they are and what kinds of things you can do with them, and I think everybody changes their minds."
Even in the short term, however, suckers augment a nipple's natural erection and prime its sensitivity for finger play-- or a brush with rough cloth. Some of the most exquisite-- or excruciating-- sensations happen when clamp or sucker gets taken off. That's when blood rushes in with a bang, pinching as it revivifies deadened nerves.
Those into rougher stuff-- and who can stomach the symbolism-- call into the service of nipple torture the Elastrator-- a device farmers use to castrate small animals. The tool snaps a tight rubber band smartly around the desired (or undesired) body part-- but please save your nipples for another day.
For those indeed willing to go under the knife-- well, the large-bore needle-- piercing offers a potential for heightened nipple sensitivity. A pierced tit does not a nipple fetishist make-- as with a man's lone earring, fashion has overwhelmed meaning. A large ring, however, demands a piercing serious enough to noticeably increase a nipple's sensory surface, and offers something to tug on, besides.
But even without specialty toys, veterinary equipment, or minor surgery, your home is already well-stocked for nipple-play. Clothespins, salad oil, arthritis rub, and burlap sacks await their higher calling. Closer even than your kitchen drawer, your body has a special-purpose structure whose original function was workin' the teat.
Of course, mothers nursing newborns don't have to contend right away with teeth. With all the equipment at Richard's ready, and the pick of the crop of nipple-players (hosting www.nippleplay.com isn't entirely altruism), it's no surprise that he sometimes bites off more than he can chew-- or has unexpectedly more bitten off himself.
"I can take a lot more than most people," Richard says. By the end of a weekend of heavy action, however, his nipples can get as mangled and bloody as if he were mom to cub grizzlies. Rich with nerves and capillaries, nipples heal quickly. The feel of a t-shirt over scabbed tits can be thrill unto itself, Richard avers. Good that he thinks so: "Most of the time," he says, "my nipples are in some state of recovery."
But there's also a softer-side of nipple-play. Aretino regards it less as blood-sport and more as ketchup: a condiment, that is, for coitus. If fucking is about projecting one's will, then getting one's nipples played is about exposing vulnerability-- ying to penetration's yang. "This is the acid that balances the honeyed, flowery flavor of a good Rheingau Riesling," he waxes.
Just as the proportion of sugar in grape juice regulates the rate of its fermentation, nipple-play can be a master control-knob for pacing sex, Aretino suggests. "You need to follow a certain logic," he goes on. "Gently circle the areola until it gradually gets engorged. Hold back at first, and then work that up in a systematic way until the tops harden. Then you can move into the tweaking." Like flying-by-wire, nipples in the hands of a skilled pilot can push lovemaking up into the clouds-- and bring it down again, with just the right amount of turbulence and bump. "I find a prolonged coitus with nipple stimulation," says Aretino, "forces a kind of explosive orgasm."
Aretino's not just thinking about himself. "Careful, almost ritualized nipple-play can send a woman's head spinning," he says, "because she feels it all converging to her clit and convulsing quim."
Nipplephiles and 'phobes
Yet among the women Aretino's driven wild with nipple-play, none had ever asked for it; it was his own interest that piqued theirs. Is there a conspiracy of silence around nipples? Are they The Final Taboo-- just because they're not scandalous enough for anyone to bother exposing?
"Although there are always exceptions, most men don't discover their nipple fetish until around age 27 or older," says Bob Berglund, who runs www.chestmaninternational.com, a site for nipple-players and those generally drawn to the chiseled male torso. "It takes time and experience for such a sophisticated sexual focus to coalesce," Berglund declares. The late-20s or early 30s is an age when many men develop their fetish interests-- bondage, leather, scat-- perhaps because it takes that long for youth's indiscriminate libidinal flood to settle into a designated riverbed.
"I know guys who've been clamping their nipples since they were in grade school," says Richard, who himself didn't turn-on to tits until he was in his late 20s. That's when a boyfriend tied him up. "I had never let anyone do anything like that, and he really worked over my nipples," recalls Richard. "The feelings were way too much, unbelievably intense." Excessive as they were, Richard's wick was lit, and nipples have been his passion ever since. He connects with his fellows on-line, and finds nipple-players a convivial lot-- bent on playing, not so hung-up on age and looks. While there are tit-tops and tit-bottoms, roles tend not to be rigid. "It's closer to oral than anal sex," he says. "Pretty much everybody participates."
By contrast, Aretino was a child-prodigy. He credits the Catholic church and the contemplation it encouraged of the undraped male chest-- from Jesus on the cross and St. Sebastian's arrow-wracked torso to the boys on his parochial school swim team. An evening in 1963 could have found 12-year-old Aretino lying in bed jerking-off while squeezing his nipples and painting in his mind "a tableau of Roman soldiers laughing in their barracks about what they did to Jesus-- with your Italian cousins appearing as likely Roman soldiers."
But like horses led to water who will not drink, some guys are shown the Word but never take the Spirit into their bosoms. The devout would say they are the lame, the halt, the nipple-crippled. Frank, for instance, has filed his encounter at the courthouse toilet into his mental cabinet of sexual curiosities. But so far as erotic excitement goes, he tells The Guide, his nipples-- or his partners'-- might as well be left elbows.
To Richard, that attitude is defeatist. "I'll see someone shirtless and they have incredible nipples. Then you start talking and it turns out there's just no sensitivity to them at all. I always see that as a tragedy-- though," he adds with a twinkle, "counseling or medication might help."
Tits & clits
But a wide diversity in feelings about nipples seems to go with the territory. Some men who wouldn't give their tits the time of day may be just one night of nipple-play away from becoming lifetime devotees. For others, nipples won't ever show up on their love-maps.
Everything about the male's nipples seems highly variable: their size, shape, sensitivity, degree of erection, the feelings they evoke. "A lot of men who aren't especially nipple-aroused aren't particularly aware of their nipple erection," notes Richard C. Pillard, MD, professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine.
That the male nipples are essentially vestigial perhaps explains their scattershot status. Like the color of eyes or the pattern of a thumbprint's whorls, nothing life-or-death hangs on them.
Men have nipples, after all, for the same reason that women have clitorises-- not because they strictly need them to survive or reproduce, but because the other sex does. The story of Adam and Eve notwithstanding, the default human form is female. Bathed in defeminizing and masculinizing hormones, the fetal clitoris grows into a penis; kept in their feminine hormonal brew, nipples come to crown milk-giving breasts.
"In women, nipple stimulation is highly connected to the central nervous system because of the reflexes involved in feeding the baby," Dr. Pillard notes. "When a mother hears her baby cry, she'll let down milk. And the baby sucking on the nipples is stimulating, even genitally so."
Erotic pleasure from breastfeeding-- sometimes to the point of orgasm-- is part of nature's way of forging the bond of mother to child, just as erotic love is glue for the affection between parents-- who'll hopefully stick around to see the infant through adolescence.
Breasts, it turns out, are built with the crotch in mind. They first develop in a fetus-- male or female-- around the sixth week. Then the breast buds spawn two lines of tissue-- called the "milk ridge"-- that travels from armpits to groin. By the ninth week, the milk ridge recedes, leaving the breasts in the usual position (and perhaps one or more supernumerary nipples, or traces thereof, along the recessed line). On its path to the genitalia, the milk ridge probably leaves behind some neurological cabling-- higher-bandwidth in some than others.
It's unclear why Nature is so capricious in distributing her heirlooms. (Little scientific attention has gone into this question-- another vestige of Tit-Taboo.) Perhaps there's some evolutionary advantage to super-wired tits. Foreplay tills the womb for a royal reception of sperm, after all, and titillation whets the appetite for seed donors and recipients alike.
Still, tit pleasure can cause a guy psychic dissonance. "I think that men perhaps have a kind of 'feminoid' feeling when their nipples are aroused," suggests Dr. Pillard. "Maybe it tickles some part of their brain that you might identify with the feminine."
And that's not the only way that breasts and nipples confound males and females. The drenching of sex hormones that turns boys into men includes a dash of estrogen, which can puff up a boy's breasts to embarrassingly girlish proportions.
"If a man thinks that 'tits equal women,' then often they won't explore nipple-play. It's sort of the equivalent of inner cross-dressing," says Aretino.
Nipple-players indeed report curious make-overs from their ministrations. "For me, nipple-play goes hand-in-hand with ass play," says Richard. "It just makes guys so much more relaxed and willing. I used to pick up men who always said they were tops, but once I got hold of their nipple and had my other hand down between their legs, that did not seem to be the case anymore."
Jeff echoes the sentiment. "You don't think of the nipple as a very sexual organ, but it somehow seems to open the doors to the more sexual part of you. It's a passageway." A partner playing just-so with his nipple, he says, "really opens me up."
With testimonials like these, it's easy to conclude that some people avoid the Nipple Erotic not from disinterest, but because it's too freighted with significance.
Shaped like an eye, the tit is for many the first object of desire, source of pleasure, and symbol of human warmth. How could it lack erotic charge? For those of us who remain unsure, that's an argument for attempting to scale the nipple's cloud-capped symbolics to check out its vistas for ourselves.