Penis v breasts: The debate continues

I’ve been a bit harried since the publication of Mastectomy and the Single Girl, but have managed to make it to radiation every day, flirt with a few men here and there, do a photo shoot for this Friday’s installment (Love in the Time of Chemotherapy) and get started on my final Today/MSNBC essay for October, which is on all the inappropriate things people say to you when you have breast cancer. (If you’ve got a good story on this, feel free to share!)

What I haven’t managed to do, of course, is to throw up another blog post (if you’ll pardon the expression).  So here goes.

I usually try to keep myself from reading the online comments for my stories (trust me, once you’re called a “feminazi cow” a few times, the process loses its charm), but I couldn’t help diving into to the abyss last week to see what people had to say about my essay. And in addition to a handful of curmudgeons (like the guy whose entire takeaway from the story was that I was “promiscuous”) and a huge amount of support, I found some interesting debates.

One was about how breasts were nothing like penises, that there’s no comparison, they serve different functions, yadda yadda yadda.  I get that argument; it’s the kind of argument you might hear from someone who thinks very logically and linearly. It’s just hard for some people — especially perhaps for some men — to acknowledge that anything could be as spectacular as a penis.

As one reader put it (a reader who has apparently given this a lot of thought):

To say losing ones breasts are as bad as a man losing his penis is not true. Both are terrible, thats a given. But with out breasts you will still be able to have sex and function normally. I hate mens identity is tied to his sexual organ, but it is and with out it or even if it just dont work a man falls into DEEP despair and would just as soon die rather than live without, breasts although awful to lose as well are not as detrimental to a womans well being as a penis is to a man, it aint even a close race, now if you had your v-jay cut out and concreted and your boobs too that would be equal.”

Hand that man a trowel!  Not.  Another reader offered this argument (and again, I’m reproducing the comments exactly as written, as much as it’s killing my inner copy editor):

Breasts are not sexual organs. They’re reproductive organs that aren’t actually necessary for reproduction. Medically speaking, loosing your breasts is absolutely nothing like loosing a penis. It’s medically the same as a man with breast cancer… where I can understand the feeling of loosing some part of your sexuality with loosing your breasts, do not confuse them with being a sexual organ. That’s just outright wrong.

The thing is, though, we’re not talking tit for tat here (yeah, I went there). Reproduction function versus maternal function versus sexual function, etc., etc. This is about comparing how we feel about these particular body parts. And I think that women feel about their breasts the same way men feel about their penises.

I also think culture gives the two the same sort of heft, if you will.

For instance, when it comes to both breasts and penises, larger is generally preferred over smaller. Although to be fair, I think men are more appreciative of small breasts than women generally are of small penises. So just a shout-out to the guys. You’re better men than we. But I digress.

Breasts and penises are also the only two parts of the body that get full-on erections. I suppose you could argue that a woman’s clitoris gets a hard-on, too, but erect nipples — at least to me — are a lot more like an erect penis. They stick out. They’re readily accessible. They make themselves known to friends and strangers alike (a homeless guy once told me I could “pop balloons with those things” when I jogged by one morning).  Anyway, they’re body parts and they serve all kinds of other functions. But they’re also these fun fleshy toys that perform cool tricks. For many of us, they’re the absolute favorite part of our body, sexually-speaking and otherwise. And for society, they seem to be the body parts that truly encapsulate the essence of our sexual identity, our femaleness or our maleness. (Imagine a large-breasted woman walking by a construction site. Do you think the guys there are going to express their admiration for the amount of milk her breasts can produce?)

Anyway, that’s my take on the whole penis v breast smackdown. There were some other funny memes going through the comments section that I was going to mention, but it’s late, I’ve had a glass of wine and my sternum is starting to burn from my daily dose of radiation, so I think it’s time to quit typing.

Again, huge thanks for all of your support. Wish I could reply to each of your comments individually, but it’s been a busy week (a busy year!) and as a friend recently reminded me to say whenever I can’t get to the things I’d really like to get to, “You’ll have to excuse me. I’m still in treatment.”

8 Responses to “Penis v breasts: The debate continues”

  1. 1 Linda October 19, 2011 at 9:53 am

    I am thoroughly enjoying reading your blogs and saying what many of us won’t say out loud! I am 4 weeks out of my double mastectomy; single and 54. The man I am seeing did not run, and has been there when I needed him. I am such an independent woman, that a man does not really define who I am as a woman…. and, I love-love-love your idea of a boobie bucket list!
    I want to do my “pin up” with my new breasts…
    Wear expensive perfume all of the time!
    Wear high heels more and yes…even flirt with men when I can!
    Indulge in fresh flowers every week…
    Say “I love you” a lot more to the people who matter to me!

    Best of luck in your journey. Every woman is different, but we are all “sisters” because no one knows what it’s like until you’ve lived it!

  2. 2 Teresa Masters October 19, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    I’d love to see just one men subject his precious penis to the 45 pounds of pressure a breast receives every change of position in the mammography torture chamber.

    “Promiscuous” is that word still in a dictionary? How quaint.

  3. 3 Liza Bernstein (@itsthebunk) October 19, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    Love your writing! This is a GREAT piece… and yes, this sums it up perfectly:

    “This is about comparing how we feel about these particular body parts.”

  4. 4 Rachel Brooks Posadas October 21, 2011 at 6:20 am

    Diana – Your stories have me smiling. I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 28. Today, at age 38 I am a ten year survivor and it’s sometimes hard to believe I actually went through all the craziness of cancer treatment at one time. Reading about your experiences has brought back a flood of funny memories of trying to date during that time as well.

    Speaking of the inappropriate things people say when you have breast cancer, I recall that the most uncomfortable comment came from another breast cancer survivor. Again, I was just 28 at the time and this woman was of a different generation so maybe it was a matter of communication differences. She was much more frank than I was prepared for at the time. I have always had an extremely small chest; so much so that in eighth grade one chubby pubescent male classmate of mine once smirked when he announced in front of the entire cafeteria that as far as my chest was concerned, he’d seen bigger lumps in a bowl of oatmeal.

    Well, things never changed – even at age 28 I still had those same small barely an A-cup breasts. As I sat in the waiting room of the mammography clinic the day before my lumpectomy, a five year breast cancer survivor next to me (who had huge breasts by the way; one natural, the other a prosthetic – she showed me right there in the waiting room) made the flippant comment that at least I had nothing to lose since I was already so small. She actually said that I probably wouldn’t even notice a difference after my surgery. She seemed to be feeling, understandably, a little sorry about having lost one of her ample breasts in the whole cancer treatment process. I’m sure she only meant to be reassuring, but for me that comment only enhanced an insecurity I’d been carrying around since puberty. I’d never had much to begin with, and now what little I had was going to become even smaller. That was a hard bit to swallow. Funny thing is when I was finally able to experience pregnancy after several on cancer meds (including a three-year stint of medically induced menopause), only one breast grew. Because of my radiation treatment, the other breast, the “cancer” one, stayed nice and petite just as it had always been. I had always thought that I’d at least enjoy larger breasts someday during pregnancy, but not so. But hey, one out of two isn’t bad! They are still mismatched to this day, but that small breast reminds me always that I am a survivor in so many ways and will continue to be for many years to come.

    Thanks for letting me share a bit of my story.

    – Rachel

  5. 5 Jennie Clark October 21, 2011 at 9:02 am


    I just read your article on MSN and then clicked on your site so I could tell you how much I appreciated your article. You write with such verve, honesty and wit that I can’t wait to read more of your writing, especially your novel once it comes out. I’m sorry your story comes at such a personal cost, but I’m grateful you’re sharing it.

    I don’t have breast cancer (yet) but I do have microcalcifications which are closely monitored. So your story is a reminder to stay current with my mammograms.

    But even more importantly, your article reminded me to carpe diem. (I loved the things you did when you were first diagnosed!) Your words encourage me to live a more daring life, right in the here & now — what a gift.

    I lived in Seattle for 10 years, and although the area is home to many writers (and wannabe writers), you really deserve more publicity. You top the list.

    Take good care.

  6. 6 Wendy October 21, 2011 at 9:08 am

    Diane – I can only hope that if I ever come up against cancer, a terrifying challenge that you (and many others) have faced, I will be able to retain my sense of humor to any degree as you have done. I found your article on this morning and, after reading it, immediately read through all available related links to your other articles before coming to your website. Your pictures show you to be a beautiful woman both before & after your surgery; your articles make you sound like someone I wish were my friend. I wish you the best of luck as you continue to recover.

    On the loss of breast(s) vs. penis subject, I agree with Liz’s comment, that it’s how one feels about the body part one is about to lose. I haven’t been through anything like this (knocking wood), but I’m almost positive I’d rather lose a leg than one of my breasts – even more so than any of my other reproductive and fun-to-use body parts. I’m pretty sure my husband would share this assessment while steadfastly refusing to entertain any notion of loss of HIS favorite body part.

  7. 7 AnneMarie October 21, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    OMG, Diane, I missed this blog post and I’m hysterical laughing. I did read the comments on the published piece and love that people are killing each other over your words. I loved my tits (I can only imagine the outrage when people were pissed off over the boobs) and I miss them. Keep it up….


  8. 8 Laura October 22, 2011 at 8:07 am

    I just found your blog and I now I can’t get enough! Your sense of humor is so refreshing and I admire you to keeping a light hearted spirit in spite of your recent health issues. Your sense of humor reminds me a lot of my own so I genuinely look forward to reading more of your posts!

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What’s my story?

I'm a former freelance writer, now gainfully employed at Fred Hutch (views and f-bombs all my own).

I write about health and health care; cancer research and the cancer experience; dating, lifestyle and singles issues and lots of other stuff including humor and fiction and a few songs here and there.

Book info below.

Looking for my breast cancer blog? Go to doublewhammied

Where are my books?

How to Date in a Post-Dating World A dating manual for the modern, mangled single.

Single State of the Union
Single women speak out on life, love and the pursuit of happiness.

Fifty Shades of Brains
Sex. Zombies. Really annoying present tense narration.

Follow me on Twitter!

October 2011

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