Why Do Men Have Nipples?

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why do men have nipples
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When we are born there are some things that we all have in common: we're usually all howling, we're usually all covered in birth fluids, and, gods be willing, we are all born with a pair of nipples smack in the middle of our chests, regardless of which gender we presented at birth. 

For women, the function of those nipples is fairly obvious. As the gender responsible for carrying and then nursing our respective "young," we need those nipples to help feed our babies (Or, at least, that used to be the case. You can still be a baller mom and struggle with breastfeeding, just so we're very clear). It's a clear case of the human body working to take care of a need. Simple enough, right? 


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But if it's so easily understood that women are the ones feeding their babies, why are men still being born every single day with nipples? Why do men have nipples? Do they serve some other function?

There's an answer, and it's a little bit more complicated than you might expect. So, let's take some time to break it all down, shall we? 

1. All of us are made from the same "stuff."

When a human embryo begins to develop, male or female, XX, or XY, they all look pretty much the same. Sure, when they are finally done "cooking" they are going to be a pretty distinct, special, and one of a kind person, but in early development in the womb, that's just not the case. 

Ian Tattersall, a paleoanthropologist, breaks it down simply this way: "Basically, males and females are all built from the same genetic blueprint. Then, [they] develop in slightly different directions [in utero and] particularly after we hit puberty."

Prior to week six of development, male and female embryos are "growing up" in exactly the same way, including the development of nipples (yup, you've had your nipples for that long). But at week seven, everything changes, and then when male and female humans hit puberty, it all changes again. 

Because we're all made from the same genetic blueprint, it's not surprising that nipples are part of the equation. But...


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2. Evolution has priorities.

Okay, so, if men don't use those nipples to breastfeed, why do they still have? Well, it turns out they still have them because evolution has her priorities! While men's nipples might not have any upfront purpose, having nipples doesn't put them in immediate danger. 

In other words, it doesn't "cost" the human body anything for men to still run around having nipples. So by this token, getting rid of nipples on men is a long way down the list of things that evolution has planned for the changing and growing human being. 

"The fact is that we carry a lot of evolutionary baggage around with us," Tattersall says. "Natural selection is not hovering there all of the time to get rid of things we absolutely don't need."

3. Sexual stimulation plays a role.

While most scientists agree that nipples in men are vestigial (a holdover from days where men must have needed them), there is speculation that they might in fact still have one purpose that's critical to the continued propagation of the species: sexual pleasure. 

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Both men and women have dense little nerve centers inside of their nipples, which are sensitive to touch and other stimuli, particularly when the person in possession of said nipples is feeling extremely aroused. Could these random holdovers of a bygone era when men needed nipples for some reason still exist to help men get and maintain erections? It's a theory that exists and thus should be mentioned.

I do feel obligated to also add that while both male and female nipples have nerve packets, the packets are thicker in the male nipple which, in turn, means they are slightly less sensitive than female nipples. 

4. There are a few things men should still know.

Whether you are a male or female, you have breast tissue in addition to nipples. If you have breasts and nipples, you should be doing regular breast exams, regardless of your gender. 

Diseases like breast cancer don't discriminate, which means that men ought to be doing their due diligence as well when it comes to their overall breast health, particularly if they plan on keeping those "random" nipples for the rest of their lives. 


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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cats, Batman and Margo. Her work focuses on relationships, pop culture and news. For more of her work, check out her Tumblr