A Fonte is a professional researcher, fact-checker, and content strategist. She predicts, investigates, and answers questions for a living.
13+ Things About Men's Nipples You Always Wanted to Know
When people hear the word "nipple," most often their minds picture a woman's. Nipples and breasts just seem to go together in most people's minds.
But of course, men have nipples, too. Even though men's are the only nipples we are allowed to see in public, they are oddly mysterious, overlooked and ignored. What are they even for?
Why do men have nipples?
During early development, just after fertilization, male and female embryos start out alike, with the same genetic material. In the first four to five weeks, nipples start to develop, but it isn't until after six or seven weeks that the sex chromosomes (XX for female or XY for male) assert any differences. So most humans have nipples in common.
But why would a body go through the effort of growing nipples if they have no use? Actually, male nipples do serve a purpose, although it's one people don't often discuss. According to one study, for almost 52% of men, nipple stimulation enhances sexual arousal. So a majority of men report erogenous uses for their nipples.
Still, male nipples are relatively mysterious. Here are # things you might not know about them.
1. Men's nipples are no different from women's.
Structurally, men's nipples are no different from women's. They're all exactly the same. Sure, the amount of breast tissue and glands surrounding the nipple might differ, but the structures themselves are just the same.
2. A man's nips might be just as sensitive as a woman's.
Nipples, for both men and women, are considered to be "specific" erogenous zones (as opposed to "unspecific" places on the body like arms and legs). This means that both men and women often report sexual arousal with nipple stimulation.
But not ALL men or women. Not all nipples are sensitive, and sensitivity likely has little to do with gender (although males' nipples may actually have more nerve endings).
3. Sometimes, they're EXTREMELY sensitive.
Stimulation of the nipples can produce an rush of oxytocin and prolactin in the brain that triggers such intense feelings of pleasure that some people achieve orgasm from nipple stimulation alone. Both males and females report having these "nipple orgasms."
4. They hurt sometimes, too.
Sensitivity isn't always a good thing. During sports or while running, many men suffer nipple chafing, especially with certain types of fabric. Many use creams, barriers, or bandages to prevent chafing.
5. It is true: Some men can breastfeed.
A nipple is just a mammal's means of feeding their offspring. The nipple's entire purpose is to enable babies to drink milk. Think of them like twin spigots. And since both male and females have mammary glands, this means that yes, the rumors are true: Some men can breastfeed.
Although the mammary glands are usually smaller in males, and milk production requires the production of prolactin (a hormone men don't usually produce), there have been rare instances where men were able to produce prolactin, make milk, and even breastfeed. It is a condition known as male galactorrhea and it can be caused by certain medications, pituitary or thyroid issues, tumors, or malnutrition, among other reasons.
6. Nipples don't always come in pairs.
Some people—men and women—have more than two nipples.
- More than two nipples? Anywhere from 2% to 5% of people may be born with a third nipple (also known as a supernumerary, accessory, pseudomamma, polythelia, or polymastia nipple). So a third nipple is rare—in the US, fewer than 200,000 people have them—but definitely not atypical or unusual, either. The third nip is usually less developed and not fully functioning... in fact, it is sometimes located somewhere other than the chest!
- More than three nipples? Yes, there are records of people who have as many as six extra nipples (that makes eight total). That's as many as cats usually have!
- Two nipples on one areola? Sometimes, two nipples will grow from one areola. This is called a double or bifurcated nipple.
Before and during the 1800s, a man's extra nipple was considered a mark of virility.
7. Some people don't have any nipples at all.
Some people are born without nipples. Athelia is the absence of one or both nipples. It is a rare congenital condition that can occur on one or both sides. But some people have no nipples by choice. Some trans men choose to leave the nipples off when they have top surgery.
8. There are four to eight different "styles" of nipple.
Genetics plays the biggest role in determining what nipples look like but overall, nipples come in several different "types": protruding or flat, everted or inverted, or a combination of these looks. And while we're at it, we might as well mention the wide range of size, shape, and color options. The average areola is four centimeters (about the size of a quarter) in diameter and about three times the size of the nipple, but again, size and ratio fluctuate widely, from dime-sized to half-dollar.
Not only do nipples come in all shapes and sizes, but no two nipples are exactly the same. Yes, that means its 100% normal if your left nipple is different from your right.
9. Nipple hair and bumps are normal.
Those bumps in the areola (also known as Montgomery glands) surrounding the nipples contain glands and hair follicles, and both men and women have them. The hairs that grow here are often darker and wirier than the hair on your head.
10. "Man boobs" do exist!
Gynecomastia—an enlargement or swelling of male breast tissue—is a fairly common condition, especially during puberty, where hormones cause the tissue under a male's nipples to grow. Gynecomastia can effect one or both sides and sometimes becomes quite pronounced—enough to earn the title "breast" or "boob." This often happens early in puberty. Many report that their nipples are uncomfortably sensitive during this surge in hormones, but the extra swelling and sensitivity usually goes away within about a year.
11. A guy's nipples may change over time.
A man's nipples will often change over the course of their lifetime. There are several reasons for this. Puberty causes nipples to grow and darken, but fluctuations in hormone levels can cause changes to the nipple later in life, also. Areolas are part of your skin, and this means they can stretch, especially when you gain or lose weight. It is not uncommon for nipples' size, color, and sensitivity to change over time. Weight gain or loss can also effect changes.
12. Nipples don't always stick out.
An "inverted" or "retracted nipple" is when the tip of the nipple pulls inward, below the surface of the areola. The condition is not rare and affects anywhere from 2 to 10% of people. Sometimes this is a permanent condition (congenital inversion), and sometimes it's a temporary reaction (to cold temperature, for example). Warmth and/or stimulation is usually enough to push the nipple back out. In most cases, an inverted nipple is a natural, harmless, normal thing.
13. Erect nipples are not necessarily a sign of sexual arousal.
Hard nipples are sometimes a sign of sexual arousal...but not always. There are a number of other explanations, including cold, friction, allergies, or sensitivities to fabric, food, or laundry detergent. Nipples have a mind of their own, no matter how embarrassing it may be when they assert themselves in public.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it against the law to show a nipple?
Even though at close range you can't tell one nipple from another, men's nipple are not illegal anywhere in the U.S., but laws about women's bodies are stricter (and much harder to interpret). Additionally, they vary from state to state, and most don't state explicitly what the laws forbid. Instead of clear policies, there are ambiguous phrases and vague warnings against exposing "intimate" or "private parts,” and this leaves the power of interpretation in the hands of police.
Can men get breast cancer?
Men are also at risk for breast mastitis, and the nipple might show the first signs of an underlying condition. Redness, scaly dryness, discharge, or sudden nipple inversion are all signs to look for.