Nipples are insane. The body is insane. We get used to body parts because we see them a lot and have had them forever, but when you stop to think about the protrusions and indents and hair clusters that envelope our insides like prosciutto envelopes veal in the classic Roman dish saltimbocca, questions emerge. For example: What’s the deal with noses? Why are wet eyeballs jammed into our heads? (Could we not just as easily see out of dry eyecubes, jammed into our foreheads?) And nipples: What of these sensitive little buttons that, somehow, wire to our genitals, arouse partners, and feed babies? Before a man jumps in to explain—I know that AP biology students could answer most of these questions, but they could not essay-question-away the one I care about most: How do we maximize these weird parts? Sexually. Because this is a sex column.
I’ve begun to realize I’ve been sleeping on my nipples. I mean this literally: To sleep I sink belly-down into my mattress, recreating the chalk outline of a cartoon dead body, limbs splayed into right angles—and also figuratively: I’ve never felt I’ve made the most of my nipples during sex. The focus of sex, for both me and whoever happens to be my partner during any given life era, rarely centers around the pleasure potential of my nipples; though rubbing, licking, and pinching is often involved, such engagement has usually been in passing on the way to … something else. But a recent conversation with a female friend of mine led me to believe nipples could be the main event, and that I should engage with mine more thoughtfully.
“For me, nipple play—okay, pain—during sex is a turn-on on the level of a vibrator against my clit,” she said. “This sounds weird but I’ve joked to my partner that my nips are my two lesser clits, the ones that for some reason are on my chest. I have no patience for partners who refuse to bite or pinch them hard enough for me to wince a little because they’re afraid of hurting me. Hurting me a little is the whole point, buddy.”
This, of course, comes down to personal taste. Another woman with a regular partner (a fiancé! can you even imagine) told me, “I don’t like anything too rough there, though, like twisting, hard pinching and biting. But I think a little nipple action is great foreplay.”
I knew I fell somewhere between the two—I wanted more from my nipples than what I’ve been accessing, both with partners and masturbation. But I also didn’t want things to hurt too much, as I’m hyper-sensitive around there.
So, I decided to reach out to a certified sex educator for some nip tips that wouldn’t require any fancy tech (because there’s a lot out there, including clamps and nipple-specific vibrators.) I wanted an easy, accessible lesson in nipple masturbation. Anne Hodder, an L.A.-based sex educator, was kind enough to offer some guidance, though she began with a crucial disclaimer: Nipple play isn’t for everyone, and some people have “crazy-sensitive” nips to the point of pain while others barely feel anything. (So please, please make sure to check in with your partner first.)
“The nipples can be an oft-forgotten erogenous zone because we have such a goal-oriented sex culture that’s penis or clit-centric."
“The beautiful thing about nipples is that, if you do enjoy nipple stimulation, they can be played with in so many ways, and when combined with other stimulation points (like clitoral or testicle massage) to enhance pleasure,” she said. “For people with vulvas, there has been fascinating research that shows a link between the clitoris and nipples – essentially, the part of the brain that lights up from clitoral stimulation is the same part that lights up from nipple play. Put the two together, and you might enjoy an enhanced sensation, whether that be a faster orgasm or simply a more powerful release.”
As a simple lady just looking to enhance her self-pleasuring, I asked Hodder for specific exercises that could evoke that tingly nipple pleasure I feel whenever someone truly gets my body. (A man, who I hate, once did a thing with his thumb and his pinky—think surfer hand emoji—that allowed him to massage both nipples circularly at the same time while doing another thing with his other hand, and I’ll never stop chasing that feeling.)
“The nipples can be an oft-forgotten erogenous zone because we have such a goal-oriented sex culture that’s penis or clit-centric,” said Hodder, which may be the reason mine don’t regularly get the full spectrum of attention they deserve, from both myself and partners.
Her first recommendation was as brilliant as it was obvious: Lube is for nipples, too! You should treat nipples “like a sensitive clitoris or penile glans,” so when you involve lube, you can access greater pleasure, she said.
Below, she offered four of the most satisfying motions you can do on a nipple:
- Slow, circular massage-like motions using the pads of your fingers around the areolas and nipples, almost like spinning a record on a turn table. You can quicken the pace according to what feels good – just beware of scratching!
- Sweeping up-and-down motions using the entire palm-side of your hand, from the top of the wrist all the way to the finger tips.
- If the areola is less sensitive than the nipples, simply use the pads of your fingers to make smaller circles on the tips of the nipples and add a gentle pinch to switch up the motion.
- Make a “Live Long and Prosper” sign with your hand, dribble on some silicone-based lube, and massage the entire breast/pectoral with the nipple positioned between the V shape. Each time you sweep your hand up, the nipple will be gently squeezed between the fingers, and you can decide how much pressure you want to use. (For those of you who can’t make that symbol, a peace sign also works!)
I tried all of these, all lubed up, and let me say—wow. Fingers can create so many shapes and sensations! The idea of nipples like lil’ clitorises was revelatory for me; nipples, too, demand nuance and care, a range of speeds and motions and pressures.
Hodder also recommended applying mini vibrating bullets to the nipple, which was maybe the best thing I’ve done in 2018 aside from getting into candles. She also recommended looking into nipple-specific toys, which I definitely will once I stop spending so much money on candles.
“Nipple suckers like these pink ones from Frisky are great starter toys because they’re super-easy and gentle,” she said. “Simply pinch the end, place the nipple in the opening, and let go of the end. It creates instant suction, hands-free, and stays in place while you’re doing all kinds of other fun things.” (She also proposed these nipple clamp tassels, but I need more time to get there, so please be patient with me. And it may take a few years before I work up the courage to try this nipple pumping kit, with which “you can experiment with engorging your nipples, which can enhance sensitivity tenfold, and temporarily enlarge them so there’s more to suck and play with.”)
For now, I’m happy to have learned (and practiced, and practiced) these new hand moves, and to have started the life-long journey that is my Nipple Re-Education. If I ever decide to have sex again, I hope to involve some of this magic.