This week, an Atlanta woman named Jennifer Mulford made waves when she told The Sun she breastfeeds her bodybuilding boyfriend every few hours, even taking time away from her job to regularly suckle and use breast pumps to fool her body into lactating — even though she isn't pregnant or caring for an infant.
The story quickly went viral — and even though it might sound ridiculous, the practice has some basis in reality. Adult Breastfeeding Relationships, also called ABRs or ANRs (with "N" for nursing), aren't common, but they're not as rare as you might think.
Jennifer Maiden*, a 34-year-old Christian blogger and mother of three in Ohio, runs a blog called Bountiful Fruits, which has been read by more than 33,000 people. Maiden has been breastfeeding her husband two to three times a day for the past 14 years, ever since the birth of their first son. For these parents, nursing is more of an emotional, bonding activity than a form of foreplay.
"The majority of people see it as a more nurturing and sensual experience," Maiden said in a phone interview. "We spend more time together in every aspect on a day to day basis. It's been a beneficial and supportive part of our marriage."
It's not so surprising that many people are aroused by nursing mothers. Sexologist Christine Milord said on her website that some men consider nursing the "pinnacle of eroticism," while women enjoy the release of pleasurable hormones associated with the act.
"When lactating women are suckled, the polypeptide hormone oxytocin is released, thereby making the woman feel relaxed, affectionate and yes – she may even climax from this activity alone," Milord wrote. One Dutch study of 153 nursing mothers found 8% reported they orgasmed while breastfeeding.
In the BDSM community in particualr, lactation play can be another channel for intimacy and power play. "Now as my master, he gives me shivers when he tells me to "milk" myself or to take good care of his breasts," wrote Fetlife user MilkyDani. "We are still suckling regularly."
Everyday, people post on Craigslist and Reddit threads like /r/adultnursing and /r/adultbreastfeeding in search of lactating singles. Most are men seeking women. But there are also many women flocking to forums like adultbreastfeeding.org to find nearby nursing partners of both genders.
Others explore adult breastfeeding as a way to add another level of intimacy to a long-standing relationship. Even more so than the strictly sexual fetish, committed ANR relationships are widely considered taboo and are rarely discussed in public.
"There's a lot of stigma," Maiden said. "When I started this lifestyle I realized information was so scattered. There aren't really any statistics ... for most cases it is really private."
Because adult breastfeeding is so rarely publicly discussed, there's very little known about the heath effects of breastfeeding for decades and constantly inducing lactation. In general, studies have shown breastfeeding is beneficial for women's overall health, helping prevent obesity and heart disease while reducing fertility, decreasing the chances of an unexpected pregnancy.
But it's unclear if those same benefits apply to adult breastfeeding, which can demand a great deal of time, energy and nutritional care from a woman in a longterm ANR partnership. Many women simply can't produce milk without the natural hormonal circumstance, so their ANR involves more suckling and role-play than actual nursing. Occasionally, adoptive mothers will use a combination of hormone therapy and regular stimulation to induce lactation, a technique that some women in ANR partnerships might ape.
However, despite the stigma, there are several closed chatrooms and forums where larger communities of ANR couples and people seeking intimate ANR partnerships gather online to discuss adult breastfeeding as a lifestyle, such as sites like ANRspace, ANRConnections and ABF Singles.
"I've met so many wonderful people [online], it's changed my life," Maiden said. "I learn a lot from other couples. We discuss different lactation techniques and why we choose this lifestyle. There's a real kinship [online]."
Beyond that community, there are non-kink groups where adults regularly drink breast milk without the sexual connotations. For example, body builders have long venerated breast milk as a sort of 'superfood.' Whether people see adult breastfeeding as a primarily emotional outlet or health supplement, most who consume breast milk directly by nursing are well aware of the kink's erotic aspect. The behavior may be maternal, but the arousal it stimulates goes beyond the sensation of parental nursing.
"It's made a wonderful impact on our sex life," Maiden said. "Our libidos have gone up ... the more we come together as a couple with touch and communication."