Brassiere Science 101


Brassiere Science 101

Next to complete nudity, nothing is more appealing to the majority of men than the sight of a beautiful woman in her brassiere. In fact, that look is considered so appealing that many women gladly endure the side effects of wearing a bra including potential breast pain, irritation, and the occasional allergic rash that can result from the metals commonly used in brassiere construction. As all women and most men know, brassieres come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and forms, with some offering greater comfort than others: There is the front fastening bra that is considered easier by women (and men) to remove; the full support bra that, as the name implies, covers the whole of the breast; the minimizer bra that does the opposite; the backless self-adhesive bra; etc., etc., etc..

Numerous claims by medical “experts” have been made regarding health benefits and hazards of using these bras; but, before we examine them, let’s review some brassiere history.

Brassiere history (Who is the Brassiere Inventor, anyway?)

The precursor to the modern brassiere is a very nasty contraption called the corset, which in some cases used natural whale back “bones” or baleen to stiffen the female body. (Today’s fashion industry sells tops that they refer to as “corsets” which, thankfully, do not resemble the original.) According to historians, the traditional corset was invented in the sixteenth century by the infamous Katherine de Medici, wife of Henri III of France, who had an obsession with the waist size of the women who attended Royal Court. It was a court attendance requirement for a woman’s waist to be under an incredible 10 inches! (It appears there’s another King Henri, besides the later English one, who enjoyed torturing women.) No similar requirement was imposed on the men. Needless to say, the device was extremely unhealthy and frequently lead to circulatory problems on the part of its “victims”. Incredibly, women actually endured this agony up until the time of the First World War when the U.S. military finally called on women to stop using them on account of metal shortages. Unbelievable!

By comparison to the corset, the so-called “breast supporter”, patented in America by Marie Tucek in 1893, was far more humane, and more closely resembled the modern brassiere. Slightly later, a woman by the name of Mary Jacobs (a.k.a. Caresse Crosby) improved on its design, and in 1914 patented a woman’s undergarment that was soft, lightweight, and separated a ladies’ breasts more naturally. However, it wasn’t until 1928 that Ida Rosenthal founded the famous maiden form brassiere, and also began the practice of grouping women into bra cup sizes, a practice that continues until this very day.

Reputed health benefits of brassiere usage or going braless

It has long been maintained, especially by manufacturers, that bra usage carries with it significant health benefits. Among the alleged benefits are prevention of sagging of the breasts and easing of back pain often experienced by large-breasted women. However, a number of self-appointed modern bra “experts” have vigorously challenged those claims. Most recently, there’s Stafford Broumand, M.D., a plastic surgeon with the Mount Sinai Medical Center. It is Dr. Broumand’s claim that not wearing a bra, especially for younger women, is the better alternative and leads to increased collagen production and elasticity that “improves lift” in a developing breast. He maintains further that the connective tissues and the ligaments supporting the breasts can benefit from going braless resulting in “less sagging”. As reasonable as Dr. Brounand’s claims sound, they are not supported with published research on his part, and therefore must be considered of an anecdotal nature.

A somewhat more scientific-sounding study regarding the same hypothesis was conducted by Professor Jean-Denis Rouillon at the University Hospital of Besancon in France. Dr. Rouillon conducted a fifteen year study of the breasts of 330 women (18-35 years old) taking measurements using calipers. He reached a similar conclusion regarding the consequences for young women of going braless; namely, that muscles are strengthened and that ladies’ nipples are actually raised toward the shoulders on average by about seven millimeters per year by going braless. Unfortunately, although Dr. Rouillon’s work was widely reported in the media in 2013, it was not according to Pub Med published in any medical journal, making it impossible for Spanking FIT to properly evaluate the design and methodology that he used. We must reserve judgement on it.

Regarding claims that going braless can alleviate breast pain, Spanking FIT uncovered a media-reported study conducted in 2,000 by Professors Robert Mansell of University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff and Simon Cawthorne of Frenchay Hospital. They performed a six month trial that involved 100 pre-menopausal women who complained of breast pain. For the first three months, the women went braless. Then they resumed bra use for the remaining three months in the trial. During the initial braless period, the women reported a seven percent increase in the number of “pain-free days”. The main problem with their study design, in our opinion, is that female volunteers may have simply experienced a “placebo effect” in going braless. The placebo effect takes place when a subject who is not actually receiving a treatment believes that she, in fact, is receiving one, and reports improvement of a condition due to psychological and not physical factors. (See Spanking FIT’s “About Us” page for more on this.) Also, the results according to Pub Med were not published. Consequently, their claim that going braless alleviates women’s breast pain, although plausible, is not totally substantiated, in our opinion.

Unbelievably, given the known importance of physical activity in maintaining good health, none of these physicians addressed the issue of breast pain that has been reported in women during exercise, and whether or not wearing a bra may alleviate it. In “When and Where Women are Injured in Sports”; Physicians & Sports Medicine, 1987,v.3, pp.61-70, researcher J. Gillette reports that a majority of women do associate breast pain with exercise. Spanking FIT’s effort to locate research on this topic turned up one study only: “An analysis of movement and discomfort of the female breasts during exercise and the effects of breast support in 3 case studies” by B.R.Mason of the Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra and published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport; 1999,3:134-44. Upon review, it turned out that the study sample size consisted of three subjects only and, is therefore,  grossly inadequate to prove anything, in Spanking FIT’s opinion.

In summary, despite a whirlwind of journalistic activity, claims of health benefits for bra usage, or a lack thereof, are neither substantiated nor refuted scientifically at this stage, in our opinion. Current research on the subject is inadequate and existing studies are flawed. This is very frustrating for women and men concerned about these issues.


Reputed health hazards of brassiere use (Dressed to Kill?):

In 1995, anthropologists Sydney Singer and Soma Grismaijer created a near panic when they published their book “Dressed to Kill” on alleging that the commonly used brassiere is a leading cause of breast cancer in women. They based their claim on an international comparison of breast cancer rates between cultures where women wear bras versus those where they have traditionally gone braless. As voluminous as their work is, it is Spanking FIT’s belief that their “conclusions” remain debatable because they were based on an observational study only, and not experimental design. Obviously, many confounding factors existed in doing this comparison such as differences in diet, stress, smoking, and exposure to environmental toxins among the women. In addition, The American Cancer Society has performed epidemiological studies which compare breast cancer rates of the braless versus the brassiere wearers . They also found the rates to be lower for the braless women.  Again, they used observational data only  so, for example, the fact that braless women have a tendency to be leaner and smaller breasted may have confounded their “findings”. (Higher rates of breast cancer have been observed in large-breasted women)

Nevertheless, there are several other credentialed individuals who maintain that bra use, especially of the under-wired variety, increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer. One such person is Elizabeth Vaughan, M.D. of She cites a serious study that was published in the recognized journal Lancet: “Risk of breast cancer in women with palpable breast cysts: a prospective study” by J.M. Dixon, et al; May 22, 1999, 353 (9166): 1742-5. Dr. Dixon and his associates are with the Breast Unit of Edinburgh Western General Hospital. It was determined in this study that the incidence rate of breast cancer in women with breast cysts was statistically significantly higher than for women of a similar age in the general population. Here’s one potential problem with the study: All study subjects with cysts were volunteers, so there is no way of really knowing if they are representative of the population-at-large. They could, for example, have an atypically pronounced  family history of breast cancer making them more at risk for later developing the disease themselves.

Anyway, let us assume that the association between cysts and breast cancer is valid. How does Dr. Vaughan connect bra use with breast cancer? She attempts to make a connection by using anecdotal evidence only from Jesse Hanley, M.D. whom she quotes as saying: “In personally treating 100 patients who chose to go braless for a 3-6 month period after a biopsy of a lump, the breast lumps became smaller, less tender, and they, the patients, developed no new lumps.” Unfortunately, Dr. Hanley did not perform a quantitative comparison with a similar group of women who continued using bras as he should have done in order to make his findings firm.

Similarly, the Sunday Telegraph, a major British publication, in Oct. 2000 ran the headline: “British study links bras to cysts and breast cancer”. Their warnings were based on the previously cited study by Mansell and Cawthorne that allegedly connected bra usage to breast pain, and the fact that breast pain has also been anecdotally connected by some physicians with cyst formation. This is tenuous at best, in our opinion.

For the typical woman (or man) who is not scientifically trained, many of these statements, coming from seemingly authoritative sources, can be extremely troubling and confusing. This is the reason that Spanking FIT felt a serious obligation to point out the inherent flaws in each of them. Indeed, what should a woman do?

 Spanking FIT’s recommendations to women regarding brassiere use

As already implied, frightening claims by “authorities” reported by media that brassiere use is hazardous health-wise have not, in our opinion, been scientifically substantiated. Where does that leave a woman with regard to making that important decision: to wear or not to wear? That, of course, should depend on the individual woman. In all cases, exercise common sense. A woman who believes that her brassiere allows her to mold her body into sensuous shapes that are appealing to her or to members of the opposite sex, should continue do so, but in moderation. (Don’t wear it to bed like Marilyn Monroe). Make sure that your bra usage stays within a personal comfort zone. Cut down or curtail bra use if you personally associate it with any discomfort such as soreness, irritation or development of a rash. More importantly, women who recognize the importance of regular physical activity need to judge for themselves what bra, if any, to use based on their personal experience with breast pain and exercise. On the other hand, if you’re a  woman who philosophically views modern brassiere use as just a continuation of the female subjugation that the corset epitomized, feel free and unashamed to go braless, as long as physical activity is not painful. Keep in mind that the modern brassiere is a very recent invention, and that braless was the norm throughout most of human history. In the meantime, Spanking FIT pledges with reader input to stay on top of this issue and to continue informing women about future “scientific” claims regarding her brassiere. Also, we pledge to advise whether or not claims are based on REAL Science, or possibly and unfortunately, just unsubstantiated “headline grabbers”. Here’s to women’s health!          Doctor Garrett

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