The Reason Men Have Nipples

Has there ever been such a controversial body part as the nipple? Everyone has them, but while women's nipples are considered to be a sexual body part that must be covered up at all times, men are allowed to go topless without facing censure. What's the deal with men's nipples? What makes them so special, and why do they even have them?


Unless you skipped your high school health class, you know that the primary evolutionary function of nipples is breastfeeding. Cisgender men, however, don't breastfeed (although they can lactate in extreme cases), making the fact that they have nipples seem, well, kind of pointless. Are they there just for decoration? Are they some sort of evolutionary mistake? Are male nipples a vestigial part that once served some kind of purpose? 

The truth is actually pretty straightforward. The reason everyone has nipples is that nipples begin forming in the womb before a Y chromosome is assigned. Further along in the development process, a male fetus's Y chromosome kicks in and determines that the fetus will develop testes instead of breasts. By that point, the typical fetus already has nipples regardless of biological sex.


That's not to say that male nipples are totally useless, though. The male nipple might not serve a biological function, but it can come in handy during foreplay. Nipples are typically sensitive across the gender spectrum and are considered to be an erogenous zone in all humans. 

In spite of the fact that nipples are very much a sexual thing no matter what your gender is, it's only women's nipples that are subject to public censure. Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram have become notorious for flagging and removing pictures that reveal women's nipples while allowing pictures of men's nipples to remain posted. It's also illegal in many American states for women to be topless in public, and women are often shamed for breastfeeding in public even though public breastfeeding is legal in all fifty states

It wasn't always like this, though. There was a time when the male nipple was equally reviled. Early 20th century preachers warned of the sinful nature of the male nipple and said they should be covered so as not to corrupt impressionable women and children (as if they didn't have nipples of their own). 

American men were expected to keep their nipples covered up at all times, even on the beach. Not only did this mean that there was no way to get rid of a pesky farmer's tan, it also got hot. Gradually, men began to protest being made to cover their upper halves. In 1915, fifty men were arrested for topless sunbathing at Coney Island. It wouldn't be until the 1930s, though, that things really began to change. 


In 1934, eight men were fined for going topless at Coney Island. "All of you fellows may be Adonises, but there are many people who object to seeing so much of the human body exposed," said the judge. That same year, film icon Clark Gable shocked audiences by appearing topless in It Happened One Night, challenging how people viewed the male body. The following year, 42 men were arrested in Atlantic City for going topless. 

By then, it was clear that men were determined to free the male nipple. New York finally lifted the ban on men going topless in 1936 and the rest of the U.S. soon followed suit. Today, it's commonplace to see topless men baring their nipples, but you're far less likely to see a topless woman in public — even in jurisdictions where it's legal. Women going topless are still sometimes charged with violations ranging from public indecency to disturbing the peace, even if the local laws state that they have the right to walk around sans shirt. 

This double standard has spurred movements like the Free the Nipple campaign that aim for male and female nipples to be treated equally. "There are so many laws against women's bodies – there are so few laws against men's bodies," Lina Esco, the leader of the movement told Yahoo. "This isn't about the act of going topless – it's paving the way for real conversation to happen, for equality."


Hopefully one day the world will see nipples for what they truly are: a totally inoffensive body part that everyone has.