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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Breast Addiction

Q. I have read different articles about possible effects of mothers choosing not to breast feed their sons. One result is an addiction to big breasted women. I have a male friend who struggles with this addiction and is desperately looking for ways to overcome this addiction. He is currently in a relationship with a wonderful woman whom he loves very much, but the obsessions with big breasts won't go away. He recognizes it as a problem and we have been unable to locate any books on the subject. What can he do to overcome these thoughts?

A. I must admit, I am far from convinced that a lack of breast-feeding has much to do with men's attitudes toward breasts! This sounds like a bit of psychoanalytic folklore that does not have much empirical research to back it up (as per my own literature search, anyway--though you may have seen some studies I missed).

I also have problems conceptualizing a preoccupation with big breasted women as an "addiction"--a term I find rather over-utilized these days. After all, do such men go into breast withdrawal when they are not around the objects of their desire? I'm not convinced. And yet, I don't doubt the desperation your friend feels. Furthermore, a number of respected clinicians have made a persuasive case for the notion of sexual addictions. See, for example, Dr. Aviel Goodman's excellent textbook, "Sexual Addictions", for a more technical/psychoanalytic view.

Although I found no books for the general public on the topic of breast addiction, your friend might be interested in several books by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D.; e.g., "Don't Call it Love" and "Contrary to Love: Helping the Sexual Addict." However, if your friend is truly tormented by unwanted and self-defeating thoughts about breasts, I would strongly recommend that he see a mental health professional.

It would be important to determine whether this is simply an isolated obsession, or part of a larger problem with intimacy and close heterosexual relationships. Psychotherapy and/or couples counseling might be helpful. It is even possible that a Prozac-type medication (SSRI) could be useful, though this really depends on the nature of the preoccupation, and how closely it corresponds to an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

But while the aforementioned books might be of interest, I really would suggest some professional counseling for your friend. By the way, there actually is some evidence that breast-feeding is linked with small but detectable increases in cognitive functioning in children! (See Horwood LJ, Fergusson DM; Pediatrics 1998 Jan;101(1):E9).

October 2002

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