Here’s a question that will either seem very odd, or immediately resonate: when your nipples are touched, do you feel suddenly, strangely, very sad?
If so, you’re not alone in this strange phenomenon, which has been dubbed sad nipple syndrome.
This was brought to our attention as so many important things are these days: through the TikTok For You page, where a man going by @fairygender posted a video with the words: ‘LMAO this is so weird but… does anyone else feel EXTREME sadness when u touch your nipples? Pls this can’t just be me like I touch those mfs even by accident and suddenly I’m depressed.’
Fairygender is correct in saying it’s not just him.
In the comments section, thousands of people have shared that they experience the same, strange thing of feeling sad, morose, or just weird when their nipples are touched.
‘It’s like a really weird sinking feeling like impending doom or really bad nostalgia I hate it,’ wrote one person.
‘It’s almost like disgust w myself or sadness idek,’ said another.
One woman wrote: ‘It’s like homesickness and guilt.’
Others described the feeling as icky, a sense of violation, hollow, and soul-less. The idea of homesickness comes up a lot, as well as a sense of grief.
Basically, it’s a strange, unpleasant, emotional feeling, prompted by any touching of the nipple.
Beth, 27, says she has experienced this since she was a child, but never thought it was worth mentioning it to anyone.
‘Homesick is exactly it,’ Beth tells us. ‘And mournful. I feel like I’m a woman waiting for her husband to return from war, or like I’ve just realised I forgot to do something and the consequences are awful.
‘It’s usually just a flash of that feeling, so it’s not like it affects my life in any way – although I don’t like any kind of nipple touching during sex because it just ruins it instantly.’
Meanwhile Mel, 30, says she feels intense anxiety when her nipples are touched.
‘I essentially have immediate feelings of nerves and anxiety,’ she explains. ‘Which is a real buzzkill for my poor boyfriend.
‘Luckily, for me, it is only when they’re being touched though, and once I say “alright, enough of that”, the feeling of impending doom disappears as quicky as it came on.’
As this Refinery29 article from 2019 found, it’s impossible to find an explanation for sad nipple syndrome backed up by legitimate scientific research… because none has been done.
We reached out to a lot of doctors, the majority of whom said they had no idea what we were on about or declined to discuss matters of the nipple.
But those who didn’t think we were mad pointed to dysphoric milk ejection reflex (D-MER), a recognised medical condition describing a feeling of negativity, sadness, anger, or self-loathing during and after breastfeeding.
‘It’s poorly understood but there’s some evidence to suggest that it’s related to a short-term drop in dopamine – a chemical related to pleasure – when the nipple is stimulated,’ says Sreedhar Krishna, a consultant dermatologist. ‘The same process could apply to anyone, but it’s reported most in breastfeeding.’
This makes sense – all sorts of hormonal changes happen when you’ve produced a child and are lactating, so it makes sense that someone breastfeeding will have a sort of emotion comedown.
But dysphoric milk ejection reflex doesn’t answer for the men and non-breastfeeding women who say they experience this sensation.
That being said, experts think it’s likely down to the same basic principle, just without the breastfeeding bit.
Dr Deborah Lee at Dr Fox Pharmacy tells us: ‘Dysphoric milk ejection reflex (D-MER) is described as a brief feeling of negativity/self-loathing at the time of breastfeeding associated with the milk let-down reflex.
‘This was first reported in 2011, in the International Journal of Breastfeeding. Women suffering from D-MER complain of feeling anxious, depressed, or sometimes angry, when breastfeeding. Others have described feelings of sadness, and even homesickness.
‘The authors suggested that this might be because nipple stimulation leads to a reduction in levels of dopamine, a brain neurotransmitter which governs mood.
‘Since this publication, the D-MER website has been established. The platform acknowledges there is a lack of evidence about this condition, but the website has helped thousands of women sufferers.
‘Whether nipple stimulation when not breastfeeding can have similar effects, is unknown. Any nipple stimulation results in the release of oxytocin, the cuddle hormone.
‘Oxytocin and dopamine are closely interrelated – as is the hormone prolactin. You can make yourself lactate if you stimulate your own nipples for long enough. In theory, any nipple stimulation could affect mood, and sexual function.’
Dr Giuseppe Aragona, GP and Online Doctor for PrescriptionDoctor.com, backs this up, noting that sad nipple syndrome can happen to all genders and is likely due to the sudden release of hormones stimulated by nipple-touching.
‘It is largely unclear as to why these feelings of sadness or unrest occur,’ he says. ‘Those who experience sad nipple syndrome have noted that when their nipples are touched or aroused, either by themselves or another person, they experience feelings of sadness, dread, depression, anxiety or even nausea.
‘One possibility for why this happens could be that those with very sensitive nipples find the sudden release of endorphins from having their nipples touched may in turn cause dysphoria.
‘There is no real cause or answer to why this happens, and it could be down to a number of factors, psychological and physical.
‘Sad nipple syndrome is more prevalent in females however it has been known to happen to males also, but this is not as common. Women’s nipples tend to be more sensitive than men’s, so this could be reason for why it’s more common in females.’
So, to recap: yes, sad nipple syndrome is a thing, yes, it’s quite common, but we can’t really confirm why it happens, and there doesn’t appear to be any research taking place to dig into the truth of the phenomenon (the science-y types are likely busy tackling coronavirus, so fair enough).
‘Despite the fact that there seem to be a number of women affected by this, there’s hardly any research into the condition beyond a few case reports,’ adds Sreedhar. ‘This is probably a good example of a case in which medical research is lagging – partially because many women who are experiencing the symptoms don’t see a doctor so it’s massively underdiagnosed.’
The good news is that if you experience this, you’re clearly not alone.
Plus, it’s nothing to worry about, just one of those strange bodily quirks.
If you experience sad nipple syndrome, there’s no need to panic – but if it’s starting to negatively affect your life, please do talk to a doctor.
‘I should not think it would be a cause for concern, however if it starts to affect your sex life and relationship with your partner then it might be worth speaking to your GP as they may advise CBT or counselling,’ says Dr Giuseppe.
‘In most cases, the feelings of sadness subside as soon as the nipple is not being touched, however if they do not then this could cause concern for a person’s mental health as well as the relationship with their own body.’
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