Historically, breasts were regarded as fertility symbols, due to their association with life-giving milk. Ancient statues of goddesses-so-called Venus figurines-often emphasised the breasts, as in the example of the Venus of Willendorf. In historic times, goddesses such as Ishtar were shown with multiple breasts, alluding to their role as goddesses of childbirth.
Breasts are considered as secondary sex characteristics, and are sexually sensitive in many cases. Bare female breasts can elicit heightened sexual desires from men and women. Since they are associated with sex, in many cultures bare breasts are considered indecent, and they are not commonly displayed in public, in contrast to male chests. Other cultures accept the baring of breasts as acceptable, and in some countries women have never been forbidden to bare their chests. Opinions on the exposure of breasts is often dependent on the place and context, and in some Western societies, exposure of breasts on a beach may be considered acceptable, although in town centres, for example, it is usually considered indecent.
In some cases, their display may be interepreted as indecent or sexual, even when they are being used for their primary purpose of nursing offspring. This has led, in several cases, to women being arrested for indecent exposure for breastfeeding their children in public.
Women in some areas and cultures are approaching the issue of breast exposure as one of sexual equality, since men (and pre-pubescent children) may bare their chests, but women are forbidden. In the United States, the Topfree equality movement seeks to redress this imbalance; this movement has won a decision in 1992 in a New York Court of Appeals which seems to substantially support their assertions. A similar movement succeeded in most parts of Canada in the 1990s.
In some cultures, breasts must always remain covered for religious reasons, for example, some Islamic cultures forbid exposure of any part of the female body.