What Is Chest Binding?

A method for creating a more masculine appearance

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Chest binding is the practice of using tight clothing or other items to flatten the breasts. The goal is to create a more masculine chest. Transmasculine people—those assigned female at birth who identify on the masculine spectrum—use chest binding to feel more comfortable in their body as do others who prefer to appear more masculine.

This article explains why chest binding is important for transmasculine people, as well as the various ways it's done, the potential health problems it can cause, and how they can be prevented.

Chest Binding Techniques to Avoid

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Purpose of Chest Binding

Chest binding is an important part of gender expression for some transmasculine people—individuals who were assigned to the female gender at birth but who have a masculine gender identity, such as transgender men.

Because they developed breasts and other feminine physical traits during puberty, transmasculine people have bodies that don't match their gender identity. This can be emotionally difficult.

Many struggle with chest dysphoria—extreme distress and discomfort caused by having breasts. Chest dysphoria is thought to play a role in the high rates of suicide among transmasculine teens and young adults.

Non-binary people, whose gender is neither male nor female, also often turn to chest binding in order to feel more comfortable in their bodies, as do cisgender women who identify as female but prefer to look more masculine.

Methods

There are a variety of chest binding methods. The most common include:

  • Traditional sports bras
  • Compression shirts: Very tight tops often worn by athletes to support and increase blood flow to upper body muscles
  • Binders: Tops specifically designed to for chest binding. They come in all varieties, from simple bands of fabric that fit around the chest to T-shirts with built-in compression.
  • Trans tape: Wide tape made of cotton and spandex that's sticky on one side. Similar to kinesiology tape, trans tape can be cut to fit a person's body.

Side Effects

Generally speaking, chest binding is safe. However, it is known to have a number of potential side effects. In one study of more than 1,200 transmasculine people, for example, nearly 89% experienced at least one health problem caused by chest binding.

The most common symptoms reported in the study were:

  • Damage to skin, such as rashes or breakdown of tissue (77.7%)
  • Back pain (53.8%)
  • Overheating (53.5%)
  • Chest pain (48.8%)
  • Shortness of breath (46.6%)

Some people had numbing or stomach and digestive problems. A very few even had scarring on their skin and fractured ribs.

Prevention

According to Pride in Practice, a non-profit that educates doctors and other medical professionals about how to best treat people in the LGBTQ community, chest binding does not have to be hazardous to your health.

If you're considering chest binding or have had side effects from binding, keep these tips in mind:

  • Use a chest binder specifically designed for that purpose: It is likely to be the most comfortable, effective, and safest option.
  • Try a sports bra: Research shows sports bras are less likely to cause problems and may be less expensive than binders. That said, you may not get as much flattening as you'd like.
  • Don't size down: You may be tempted to wear a binder or other garment that's too small, or to wrap trans tape too tightly in order to flatten your chest as much as possible. However, doing so increases the risk of damage to your skin, pain, and breathing problems.
  • Do size up when you work out: A chest binder that's a bit larger than the one you wear while not exercising will give your chest and lungs space to expand while you are physically active.
  • Give your body a break: Many doctors advise wearing a binder for no more than eight hours per day and taking at least one day off per week. If you must wear a binder for more than eight hours at once, try to remove it periodically and take a few minutes to breathe fully and deeply. You could do this during bathroom breaks, for example.
  • Don't sleep in a binder: It will add to the total amount of time your chest, back, and lungs are compressed and increase the risk of side effects.
  • Keep it clean: Wash and air dry your binder regularly to get rid of bacteria that could increase the risk of skin infection.

Never use duct tape or plastic wrap to bind your chest. These items are especially likely to cause side effects.

When to See a Doctor

If you have side effects from chest binding that don't get better by switching to a different type of binder or changing how you wear one, see a healthcare provider. If possible, find a provider who specializes in transgender health. You'll feel more comfortable and they will have training and experience focused on transgender medical issues.

A healthcare provider will be able to treat whatever symptoms you're experiencing, such as skin damage. They also can figure out what's causing your side effects and help you come up with ways to prevent them.

If you and your provider aren't able to make chest binding work for you, you may want to consider gender-affirming top surgery. There are various procedures for altering the breasts in order to create a smoother, flatter, masculine chest. If you have insurance, your plan may even cover top surgery. Many companies regard it as medically necessary gender care.

Summary

For transmasculine people and others with breasts who identify as masculine or binary (neither masculine nor feminine), chest binding is an important way to feel more comfortable in their bodies. There are a number of ways to practice chest binding and it's safe when done properly.

Chest binding can cause a variety of health problems, however. In many cases, these side effects can be prevented, or they can be treated by a healthcare provider who specializes in caring for transgender health.

When chest binding doesn't work, there are many types of gender affirming top surgery that may be a better option.

A Word From Verywell

Chest binding literally can be a lifesaver for transmasculine people who are distressed by having a body that doesn't match with their gender identity. There are a number of resources for chest binding on the Internet written for and by transmasculine people, such as the Fenway Health Binding Guide and The Binding Health Project.

The best way to bind the chest is by wearing a garment that has been designed for that purpose. Such chest binders can be pricey. If cost is preventing you from being able to buy a chest binder, there are organizations that can help, including the Point of Pride Chest Binder Donation Program and American Trans Resource Hub's Free Binder Program.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Peitzmeier S, Gardner I, Weinand J, Corbet A, Acevedo K. Health impact of chest binding among transgender adults: A community-engaged, cross-sectional study. Culture, Health & Sexuality. 2017:19(1), 64–75. doi:10.1080/13691058.2016.1191675

  3. Almazan AN, Benson TA, Boskey ER, Ganor O. Associations between transgender exclusion prohibitions and insurance coverage of gender-affirming surgery. LGBT Health. 2020;7(5):254-263. doi:10.1089/lgbt.2019.0212

By Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, CHES, is a social worker, adjunct lecturer, and expert writer in the field of sexually transmitted diseases.