Why are breasts a taboo in American culture?

Whoever has a problem with Justin Timberlake’s newest music video, “Tunnel Vision,” because of “nudity” has clearly not been to a beach in Europe. At first, YouTube banned the video from its website because the video includes topless women. YouTube later decided, however, to lift the ban and allow the video on the site because it is considered “art.” The video does include an “explicit” tag on the site, to warn viewers.

Whether or not you agree with YouTube’s decision, the recurring topics of “breasts,” “nudity,” and even “indecency” should be reviewed from a new perspective. Why is it that we, especially as Americans, are against the presence  of nude breasts? There is an automatic sexual and sensual connotation associated with breasts…but why?

If you have ever been to a beach pretty much anywhere in Europe, you know that there are nude breasts everywhere. Here in Barcelona, you can go to the public (yes, public) beach and see women of all different sizes and ages without a swim top. They might be swimming, walking along the beach, tanning, or just relaxing on the beach. And the only people who really have a problem with it (or are at least shocked by it) are the tourists mainly from America. The sight of a woman topless at a public beach is unfathomable in the U.S. You can even be charged with “public indecency.”

Yes, I realize there are cultural differences between Spain (and Europe in general) and the U.S. But, why do we think like this? There have been debates about women breast feeding in public. Why does a woman have to hide while breast feeding her child, just because we are shocked or uncomfortable with the sight of a woman breast feeding in public? It is, of course, because of the connotations we have associated with breasts. We see breasts as these highly sexual and sensual objects.

I find it completely  hypocritical (and quite funny) that in America we find it perfectly normal to watch R rated movies, to wear tight and revealing clothing, to talk about sex nonchalantly with others or see sex advice on the front cover of a magazine….but when it comes to nude breasts in public, we are uncomfortable, even embarrassed.

For now, I can agree with the simple idea that Justin Timberlake’s video is “artistic” and deserves to be on YouTube with an “explicit” tag to warn viewers. I understand there are young viewers on YouTube that shouldn’t see the video, but parents should be more aware of what their children are watching and doing online. I’m curious to know other’s views on this topic, and explanations as to why Americans act the way we do, in a culture so focused on sex. Feel free to share your thoughts!


3 thoughts on “Why are breasts a taboo in American culture?

  1. We do live in a country that was founded by Puritans – people who left Europe to escape the discrimination for being too uptight. I would say that it’s hard to shake that, even though it is hundreds of years later.


  2. I suppose our breasts are on the wrong side of the Protestant Reformation. Still, my breasts don’t deserve adjectives like “explicit” and “indecent.” Thanks for asking good questions here to encourage conversation. I’d love for exchanges like these to diffuse those adjectives and expose them for the nonsense they really are.


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