men's Nipples
Nipples. They’re as diverse as you, me and that dude over there. (Illustration by Cat Baldwin)

Nipples.

For guys, they’re completely, utterly (udderly?) there for the purpose of just being. They’re the Rickon Stark of your body, hanging about until further notice. Very often, though, nipples are the unsung heroes of your entire shirtless body. They give balance to your (INSERT HERE: pasty or hairy or small or large or chiseled) chests, like little accessories dangling about or your own body’s set of pepperoni-sized earrings. It’s nipples, after all, that give balance to that tight henley you wear for the purpose of showing them off. Nipples also come in various shapes, sizes, colors and quantities – they’re diverse! They’re the United Nations of body parts! Some are pleasantly plus-sized, pretty and pink, sharp and point, small and sporty, or brash, big, bologna-sized. Whatever yours looks like, they’re perfectly normal. The below is a dedicated post all about men’s nipples, answering all the questions you ever wanted to know, or didn’t know you wanted to.

What are nipples?

They’re basically human udders that all mammals have to provide milk to offspring. The actual nipple is the pointy part that hardens when stimulated or when hit with cold weather. The areola is the circular area that surrounds the nipple.

If nipples are for milk, why TF do I have them?

Good question. For the first several weeks developing as an embryo, all of us follow a life cycle of females, reproductive organs, nipples and all. Only after two months is when testosterone comes by and alters the embryo to create different cells in the genitalia. But somehow, nipples were still passed on from generation to generation.

“If I had to guess, evolutionarily, they developed and they probably stuck around,” says Dr. David Stoker to Very Good Light, of his own plastic surgery practice in Marina del Rey.

In fact, in the womb all of us had multiple nipples!

Say what?

“Yes, we all had multiple nipples along the milk line, like a dog’s,” Dr. Stoker says. “As the embryo develops the additional nipples involute. They end up disappearing but occasionally looks like a mole.”

So that’s how some people have third nipples?

You’re spot on again, my friend. That’s exactly why some people still have third, fourth or even fifth (?) nipples, because they haven’t involuted in the uterus. Some people were simply blessed with more than two. That includes actors like Harry Styles, Mark Wahlberg and Tilda Swinton. Called “supernumerary” nipples, they can look like extra breasts with tissue, or simply a mole.

K. That’s cool and all, but can I lactate?

Technically, yes, says Dr. Zoran Potparic, a plastic surgeon who specializes in reconstruction breast tissue in Fort Lauderdale. But it really does depend on hormones and the brain. “If a man has increased levels in that area of the brain there may be rare incidents where there are enlargements of the breasts and milk is produced,” he tells Very Good Light. “We have the mechanism for prolactin (the hormone that produces milk) to be secreted through out glands.”

Wait, that was just a joke. I can really produce milk?

There are many theories that men can indeed, nurse their young. One anthropologist named Dana Raphael claimed in a study that men could induce lactation simply by stimulating their nipples. Though of course, like Dr. Potparic said, the right hormone would have to be released. But the fact of the matter is, all men have the power to lactate if they truly willed it, which is the craziest thing I’ve studied in my life.

But the fact of the matter is, all men have the power to lactate if they truly willed it.

Stimulating nipples. Sounds sexual, lol.

Well, a lot of guys do have sensitivity in their nipples. Just like women, playing with nipples triggers pleasure in the brain. Some even report they can reach climax simply from nipple play. “That’s the part of the sexual arousal mostly in females but we do see it in many males,” says Dr. Potparic says. “We don’t always see sexual stimulation with men but many times it’s definitely sensitive.”

Okay, TMI. That’s great and all but are mine normal?

You can know that yours are probably different in shape than your friends and there’s never a “normal” as beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But if you’re looking for what plastic surgeons deem is the perfect nipple, we can defer to the experts. Dr. Potparic, for instance, deems nipples that are flat, with the areola’s diameter about 2 centimeters and the actual nipple at 3-4 millimeters. The color, he says, isn’t too dark or isn’t too pink. To lighten nipples, he says there’s a bleaching process involved. If you think it’s too pink or light, he says some guys resort to tattooing. Dr. Stoker says most of his patients want to look like an Olympic Swimmer. So they’re definitely into nipples that are Michael Phelps-like. “This means minimal fatty tissue, smaller nipples and areola that are symmetrical and located on lower border and lower third of the pecs,” he says.

So when you’re referring to fatty tissue, is this what you’d call a ‘man boob?’

Moob, man boob, guy jugs, whatever you may call it, it can definitely be an insecurity for a lot of men. The medical term for this is gynecomastia, where male breast tissue swells due to a reduction of testosterone and increase of estrogen. This can be caused by medications, puberty, aging, being overweight, among other issues. It’s also the number one concern for plastic surgeons when they see men.

“We all go through male puberty in teenage years and small fatty tissue under our chests,” saysDr. Potparic. “Most of us grow out of it but 10% of us maintain larger breasts for a lifetime. Some actually resemble female breasts. Then, for a lot of us, they come back when we’re in our late 40s or 50s with hormonal changes.” Basically, having moobs is normal for guys. Whether you like it or not, there will be a time when you have fatty chests. Learn to love and embrace them.

With breast tissue, then, can I get breast cancer?

Yes, but it’s very, very rare. There are reported to be 2,400 men who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. If you find a lump or unusual bleeding, talk to your physician immediately.

K. Cool. So basically, nipples are more complicated than I ever thought!

Word.