"How come if boobs are just big blobs of fat, they're so interesting?" my son Oscar asked me recently on the way back to school from the doctor.
This is what I love about having older kids (Oscar, 11, and Eli, 13) the conversations that start like this, out of nowhere, walking down the street, about really interesting topics.
I don't skip a beat. I have thought about this a lot.
"Because we are animals, and our instincts from the beginning are to turn to boobs for sustenance, for milk," I say. "It's a natural desire."
It's funny that he brought this up when he did, my son, just before the editor of my Fearless Parenting column in The Brooklyn Paper reported to me that my most popular column ever is the one where I wrote about how my boys loved my boobs.
The topic is a favorite. In a well-read story on The Huffington Post aptly titled: "Breasts: The Real Reason Men Love Them," the authors of The Chemistry Between Us, Larry Young and Brian Alexander, explain it better than I did.
"Fascination with breasts," they say, "far from being creepy, is an unconscious evolutionary drive prompting us to activate powerful bonding circuits that help create a loving, nurturing bond."
It starts with infants, whose suckling stimulates oxytocin and dopamine to get a mother focused and forging a bond with the babe, they say, and then that same bonding circuitry gets replicated later with lovers.
I like that my son is thinking about this stuff, openly questioning and delving into the back story behind desire. It is a lifelong quest, really, figuring what drives us to feel the things we feel, sexually or emotionally, understanding that we are sometimes just pawns in a game carefully orchestrated without our input. It helps to understand human instincts, though clearly it is important to learn that those instincts must be mitigated somewhat to live in polite society.
Sexuality is hard to explain, the desire for it and what exactly the protocol should be toward fulfilling that desire. Certainly there are multitudes of differing opinions, and as my boys get closer and closer to the point of exploring this question on their own, I am forced to think about it.
Hmmm. Sexuality. I remember dreams of kissing a boy in the third grade, I remember spin the bottle in sixth, I remember my first kiss after school in my room in seventh, then moving further along in the back of a car in eighth, further still in ninth... I waited until college to go all the way, mostly because I reasoned it was hard to go back once you'd gone there, and the one person I was close enough to do it with in high school with was an exchange student who I knew was headed home to Sweden forever.
But my desire and need for bonding, physically speaking, has been a constant since my early days, as I imagine it is for most everyone, as I imagine it is for my boys. How then to advise them? I hear tales from friends now of their children's first kisses, and even likely first intercourse, and I want to cheer. I applaud the ability to forge intimate bonds (keeping proper safety precautions in mind) because it is hard, always, from the first time right on through marriage, to do intimacy well. A lot is at play with the desire and ability to intertwine with another human being and to allow one's self to get lost slightly in the very natural but often very scary world of sexuality.
It is like a drug, sex, a rush of dopamine that is as addictive as any of the most illegal substances. Although I don't say it to him yet, my still-innocent 11-year-old, the boobs are just the beginning. Care needs to be taken with who one delves into this grand experiment with, and how, but it is a positive thing, a natural thing, to seek the pleasure of another person's body.
And that will always be my mantra.
Stephanie Thompson writes the Fearless Parenting column for The Brooklyn Paper every other Thursday.