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Our Bodies, Ourselves

Your Third Nipple

All your life, you thought you just had an odd-looking little mole. From 2011, what it’s like when a doctor says that you belong in the ranks of Marky Mark, centuries of witches, and Krusty the Clown.

Ayşegül Sağbaş, Dirty Dog 6, 2011. Courtesy the artist and CDA Projects.

Before The Revelation, you only ever knew one person who had a third nipple, and it was a squirrely-looking guy from college. At house parties, he used to take off his shirt when dancing, thus exposing his rosy nub. You always averted your eyes to this, as you were grossed out by its resemblance to a spat-out piece of Slim Jim. The extra nipple made you quietly dislike this guy, which was super jerky of you, as he was actually pretty nice.

Then when you are 21 you go for a checkup, and when the cheery nurse is giving you a breast exam, she pauses in her probing to chirp, “Well, looky at you! You’ve got a triple nipple.”

And you look at her like she has just escaped from a mental ward, or like she has just asked you to her nurse prom.

“Excuse me?” You stare at her.

“Right there, honey. See? Wait? You didn’t know that was a nipple?” And she points to the tiny brown bump below your right breast.

“That’s because it’s not!” You shout at her. “That…that’s a mole!”

And then…

“Isn’t it?” Your eyes plead with her to tell you what you want to hear. But she has taken a nursely vow of honesty. Or else she thinks you’re very slow.

You slowly pull your clothes back on. You are now totally grossed out by yourself. How can this be?

“Uh, no, honey. That’s a nipple. You’ve got three! One in 50 women have them. How ‘bout that? OK, all done! You can get dressed.” And she bounds out of the room in her teddy bear-patterned scrubs, like nothing at all is wrong in the world. Like she hasn’t just tossed you a flour sack with eyeholes and a map to the Coney Island sideshow.

A third nipple? Impossible. You slowly pull your clothes back on. You are now totally grossed out by yourself. How can this be? You’d snootily looked down on that wiry dude from college, while all the while carrying a mutant nub of your own?

On the drive home you try to get a hold of yourself. You chastise yourself for being such a vain idiot. You just got a clean bill of health, you moron! Thank God! That is the important thing. Your health! Who cares about a stupid third nipple, you narcissistic jerk?

You do, apparently.

At first, you tell only your most trusted friends. “I have something I need to tell you,” you say. You sit them down, look deeply into their eyes, and solemnly come out of the nipple closet. And once they are finished rolling their eyes, the laughter commences. And the jokes. Your roommate calls you Third-Eye Blind. And you are forced to sit on her stomach and choke her until she stops laughing.

You try to break the news to your long-time boyfriend. You have been dating this man for years. He knows your body better than anyone. He has held you in his arms countless nights, and unknowingly slept peacefully beside the dormant mammary. He is an incredibly kind, understanding person. He volunteers with underprivileged kids and listens to Morning Edition every single day. He gives his leftover pizza to the homeless. But when you try to casually drop it into a conversation: “See that? That’s actually a third nipple,” you see a darkness cloud his eyes. His features change, and he looks like you have just revealed your secret desire for scat play.

“What? No it’s not. That’s a mole.” He is giving you the same pleading look you gave the nurse. And because you have taken no nursely vow, you tell him what he wants to hear. You lie.

“Ha! Just kidding. It’s a mole!”

Time passes. And with the passing days, comes a slow acceptance of your nub. It is just a part of your uniqueness, after all. Like being left-handed, or like how your lazy eye kicks in when you’ve had too much to drink. You should take pride in your differentness!

You turn it into a kind of party trick. After several cocktails, you shout out to whomever you are talking to, “I have a third nipple!” This, combined with your lazy eye, makes you the star of the party. People always want to see the nipple. But due to its proximity to your actual, real nipple, you always have to decline. Usually have to decline. Depending on how many cocktails have been consumed.

You begin to give your triple nipple revelation so often, you sometimes can’t even get the full sentence out. “Hey guys! Did you know I have a—”

“Third nipple. Yes. We know.”

“Oh.”

The singer Lily Allen flashes her third nipple while on a televised game show. You feel sheepish, and think that perhaps it’s not such a big deal after all. You google, and for the first time make an effort to learn more about your defect. Apparently it is also known as a “supernumerary” nipple. Also: an “accessory” nipple. As if you could pick up a cuter, sequined version at Claire’s. One to match your shoes.

Wikipedia informs you that Marky Mark has a third nipple. As does Krusty the Clown. And it’s rumored Ann Boleyn was sporting a spare nub. You try to imagine this dinner party. And wonder briefly what you would wear.

Wikipedia is also kind enough to provide a small visual, and in the corner of the page is a photo of a Scandinavian man boasting no fewer than six nipples. They have even added helpful arrows to indicate each one. You are suddenly feeling as though you got off easy with three. Apparently it is possible to have up to eight. Whenever you try to picture this, you automatically envision yourself propped up in bed, exhaustedly breastfeeding a litter of dachshund puppies.

At least yours is positioned in the general vicinity of where areolae belong. The Internet would have you believe that 0.03 percent of people are born with one on their forehead, like some sort of teat cyclops.

Also, women with third nipples used to be considered witches. This was supposedly the nipple used to “suckle Satan.” You decide the devil must have an exceptionally small mouth. Not for the first time, you feel relieved you were not born in the 1600s.

You realize there is in fact much to be relieved about concerning your supernumerary. At least yours is positioned in the general vicinity of where areolae belong. The Internet would have you believe that 0.03 percent of people are born with one on their forehead, like some sort of teat cyclops. A teatclops. You think how “teatclops” sounds like an old timey name for a sexually transmitted disease. (“He’s got a bad case of teatclops. Had to burn his underwear last night.”)

You discover a humor site devoted entirely to triple nipple humor. It offers tips on how to interact with people in daily life. The site inspires you to write down your own feelings on third-nipplehood. Then you wonder if you have stooped even lower than navel gazing. You are now nipple gazing. Which is, anatomically speaking, higher. But feels lower.

You get a new boyfriend. You decide you are through with lies, and it must be honesty above all else! You boldly turn to him one morning, hike up your nightgown, and say: “See that? That’s a third nipple.” You stare at him, silently daring him not to love every single inch of your body.

“Really? Huh.” He leans in for a closer look. Gives it a light prod with his forefinger. “So…can it be stimulated?” He grins. You marry him.

You’ve made peace with your third nipple. You often completely forget you have one. You know some people would be grossed out if they knew. You know if your brothers ever read this article they will probably throw up into their own hands. You don’t care. Deal.

You love your body. Your body has been good to you. And yeah, when you read online about how pregnancy hormones can make a third nipple slightly engorged, you might panic a tiny bit. You might slam you laptop closed in horror. You might wonder how expensive adoption really is. You might go to your husband with fear in your eyes, and then watch as he throws back his head and laughs, and makes a reference to the three-breasted mutant from Total Recall.

You are one in 50.

Johanna Gohmann has written for Salon, The Chicago Sun-Times, xoJane, Babble, Red, and Curve. She is a regular contributor to Bust. Her essays have been anthologized in A Moveable Feast: Life-Changing Food Adventures Around the World, The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010, The Best Sex Writing 2010, and Joan Didion Crosses the Street. More by Johanna Gohmann

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