of great importance for the study of the mind-body relationship in the female
sex is the one regarding the several ways through which women experience
the breasts. Considering that the breasts and the genitals constitute the
two principal poles of femininity at the somatic level, there are considerable
differences in the ways women experience and relate to these organs. These
differences concern not only the obvious anatomical, physiological and topographic
aspects but also the archetypal and symbolic ones.
As to the very
intense and rich corporeal consciousness and experience that characterizes
the female sex, the immediately visible and palpable feature of the breasts
contrasts to the inner, intrapelvic and, therefore, hidden and "mysterious"
feature of most of the female genitals. While of all the female genitals
only the vulvar structures are exposed on the surface of the body and,
therefore, to direct perception, the breasts constitute the only woman's
sexual organs that not only are entirely exposed but also "project"
themselves into space.
As glands that
originate from the skin, the breasts are part of the very surface of the
female body and, therefore, part of what is more external in women's body
image. The very special aesthetic attributes of the breasts, allied to
the fact that they are one of the fundamental poles of femininity, greatly
increases the intensity of narcissistic libido projected by women on this
part of their bodies.
deep location of most of the woman's genitals, hidden in the intimacy
of their pelvis, is one more element that, associated with other physiological
peculiarities of these organs, greatly contributes to an intense "interiorization"
of the female sexual functions. Here I must remark that this "interiorization"
is experienced by women not only at the anatomical and functional level,
but also at the symbolic and archetypal one.
intense "inner feature" of female sexuality is, to some extent,
partly counterbalanced just by the evident outer feature of the breasts,
which appear as the main sexual "protuberances" of the surface
of the woman's body. This is one of the reasons why the breasts constitute
the most important external pole of femininity. It is mostly by means
of women's bodies external shape, of the several elements that constitute
the surface of their bodies, that the strong self-erotic and narcissist
feature of female sexuality becomes evident.
between the patterns of relationship of women with their breasts and genitals
are very important in Psychosomatic Gynecology. Female neurotic attitudes
regarding their sexual organs tend to be less frequent in relation to
the breasts than to the genitals. In the absence of mammary pathologies
and neurosis specifically related to the breasts, in some aspects women
seem to demonstrate a more "relaxed" relationship with these
organs than with their genitals.
This fact can
be shown even in patients' reactions to gynecologic examination. While
during the pelvic examination many women become very nervous and anxious,
during the breast examination the degree of nervousness seems to be much
reduced or even absent. ( See Note
below. ) Remember that, for women, due to the anatomical peculiarities
of their genitals, these organs are always surrounded by some "mystery";
they represent the way into the innermost part of their bodies, and this
may often generate anxiety. Conversely, the breasts constitute evident
and notorious visible and easily palpable parts of the body's surface,
being, for that reason, a "widely known" place.
Regarding the symbolism of the
breasts, various manifestations of the aphrodisiac and maternal archetypes
related to these organs can be found in continuous interaction in the human
mind. In a similar way to what happens to women's other sexual organs and
everything that is typically female in their bodies, regarding the breasts
we can verify that aphrodisiac and maternal archetypes, as representatives
of principles of different nature, interact through an extremely complex,
ambivalent and often conflicting way.
As to the manifestations of the
aphrodisiac archetypes related to the breasts, they are directly associated
to the enormous erotic charge inherent to these organs. This erotic charge
becomes evident through the high sexual sensitivity of the breasts, through
their capacity to reinforce female narcissism and to arouse fascination
in men. At the psycho-socio-cultural level, the worship of the erotic aspect
of the breasts in our civilization is one more typical example of the power
exerted by the aphrodisiac mammary archetypes. For the great majority of
modern women, the breasts are much more important as sexual organs than
as glands capable of feeding babies.
archetypes become manifest in relation to the breasts by being essentially
related to the nourishing potentiality of these organs, which, biologically,
is made real through the production of milk during breast feeding.
Considering the high incidence of breast cancer, this apparently reduced
- or even absent - degree of nervousness on the part of the patients during
the usual clinical breast examination becomes especially curious. I say
that because, taking into consideration the aforementioned high frequency
of breast malignant disease, rationally women should be expected to become
much more anxious during breast examination than pelvic examination -
despite some physical discomfort caused by the procedures of the pelvic
one. But, as I said, the especially curious fact is just that many patients
who clearly demonstrate considerable degrees of anxiety regarding genital
examination seem to demonstrate almost no anxiety regarding breast examination.
is a gynecologist dedicated to Clinical, Preventive and Psychosomatic
Gynecology. Graduated in 1974 by Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade
Federal do Rio de Janeiro, he is the author of several articles published
in medical journals and of the books "Novas
Perspectivas em Ginecologia" ("New Perspectives in Gynecology")
and "Os Órgãos Sexuais Femininos:
Forma, Função, Símbolo e Arquétipo" ("The
Female Sexual Organs: Shape, Function, Symbol and Archetype"),
published by Imago Editora, Rio de Janeiro, 1990, 1993.