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Can you tell me about inverted nipples?

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Amanda asks:

I just stumbled onto this site and have found it really informative. But I was surprised to see that, while many people have posted their body image concerns, no one seems to have brought up inverted nipples. I have always felt self conscious about my nipples because they're inverted. Although my boyfriend loves me very much and I doubt he would care, I still have this fear inside that they don't live up to every male fantasy of boobs and what they're supposed to be, so I don't want him to see them. I would hate if he was disappointed by part of me. I am wondering if it is very common to have inverted nipples, and also if males find it unattractive. I know that there is surgery to change this, but I don't know if it is very healthy or a good idea, and I would rather let that be my last resort. I used to think maybe it would change during puberty, but I am 17 so I'm figuring that it won't be something I grow out of at this point. So, I guess what I'm asking is, can you tell me about inverted nipples?

Heather Corinna replies:

I sure can.

Around ten to twenty percent of all women have flat or inverted nipples (and some men have them, too). So, suggesting that having something different is not how a nipple is "supposed" to be doesn't make any more sense than suggesting that because only around 4% of the population are redheaded and freckled, that my partner and I aren't normal or how we should be. You likely won't grow out of your nipples as they are at your age, but there ain't a thing wrong with that.

As you know, an inverted nipple is one which is retracted into the breast, rather than sticking out. (A "flat" nipple is just as it sounds: it will usually sit flat against the breast, rather than protruding.)

For some, nipples are inverted just during "resting" times, when a woman isn't cold or aroused, while more uncommonly, for others, they remain inverted in those situations as well. For some women with inverted nipples, they may pop out during pregnancy or breastfeeding, while for others, they may remain inverted then, too. Even for women in the latter group, breastfeeding is still possible. Some may just have to make some simple adaptations like using a breast pump or a nipple shield to breastfeed. While a person could have cosmetic surgery to "correct" (I put that in quotes, because there's really nothing wrong with inverted nipples in need of correction) the nipples, a surgery may make breastfeeding more difficult or impossible to do. Cosmetic surgery to nipples may also make them less sensory, which is a bummer on top of an obvious conflict: if you want your nipples to stick out, risking taking away the nerve endings that would cause them to do so when you get excited doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

What heterosexual men do and do not like is as varied as what any of us likes for breakfast. Trying to say that men like X, Y or Z as a group is never accurate. The best we can do with any accuracy when we're saying what heterosexual men like is to say that heterosexual men like women, and that's about that.

What men fantasize about in terms of breasts is also only so relevant, since fantasy isn't reality, and trying to make our reality live up to anyone's fantasy is often a serious waste of time, money and energy. Breasts and nipples vary so much between women that if some guy has a writ-in-stone idea of what breasts look like, it's pretty unlikely most of the breasts he'll see will fit that idea. The shape of breasts, for instance, varies a lot: only some women have very high, full breasts that look circular, like you'll often see on the cover of Maxim or Playboy (and in a lot of cases, those are also not natural breasts we're looking at). Plenty more women will have sloping breasts, breasts which are tubular or low-slung, more oblong breasts, wide-set breasts, the works. Some nipples are bigger, others smaller. Some, when they get erect, make what a friend of mine used to call a top-hat shape, others more a pyramid, others something in between. Some are more or less sensitive than others. Some nipples protrude, others are flat, others still are inverted. Size, as you know, varies widely, too, as does nipple color. The only realistic idea any of us can have about breasts is that they are seriously diverse. If we have a fantasy that they're not, then it's our responsibility to adjust that idea, not a partner's job to hide to change their breasts.

Too, over the years, I've heard from men and women alike who have partners with inverted nipples, and most seem to actually delight in them and appear to have quite a bit of fun working them out with mouths or fingers until they pop out. Something novel when it comes to sex is pretty much never a bad thing.

You have the option of telling your boyfriend about your nipples in advance, and talking about your feelings of insecurity about them. You don't have to do that, but if you're this worried, you might feel better to have his assurance in advance that he's down with your nipples, and know that he's aware it's a sensitive issue for you.

But here's the biggie: if your boyfriend loves you, then he loves you. Get my drift?

The way your body is is part of who you are, and what makes you unique. Someone who loves us doesn't love us for our homogeneity, but for our uniqueness. Just like the people who are into me tend to love my freckles, someone into you is going to love your nipples. You've got something a little different: different is cool, not something to be embarrassed of. Whenever you and your boyfriend get to the point where you're getting sexual and/or nude, try not to sweat this. I'd also suggest you try to adjust how you're thinking about his response. It's not really about if he will care or not, because this isn't something wrong with you, some shortcoming or failing of yours. It's just one way you're uncommon. Chances are good that if you share your breasts with a partner, they're not going to feel shafted in any way, but delighted that you're sharing that part of your body; whatever fantasies they've had likely won't live up to the reality of someone they care for and are attracted to giving them license to haver those real, live -- and unique! -- breasts in their hands.

I'd encourage you to try and develop that same kind of delight, rather than looking at cosmetic surgery. There's nothing wrong with your nipples or breasts, just like there's nothing wrong with my (now greying) red hair. Sexy is as sexy does, seriously. If you accept and love your body, the people you choose to share it with are not only likely to follow suit, but when you share it, it's going to feel a whole lot better to you if you view it as a gift, not a burden.

Here are a couple links to cheer you on in your body image:

written 21 May 2008 . updated 21 May 2008

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