Recoiling From Your Partner's Touch May Be A Bristle Reaction. Here's What To Know

In a relationship, there are always going to be ebbs and flows. Some days you can't keep your hands off each other, and other days, you need space and distance. All of that is normal and to be expected, but should you worry if, after a few years together, the intimacy of touching each other wanes or plateaus

One woman, Vanessa Marin, who is an author, sex therapist, and TikToker, says she was definitely concerned and decided to do something about it. "I didn't want to be touched," Marin told the New York Post. "It was weird because in the beginning of the relationship, we couldn't keep our hands off of each other. Then, after years of being together, and the pressures of the pandemic, we'd lost that intimacy. It was scary." She describes her reaction as "bristling" at her partner's touch, or the "bristle reaction." Speaking with Newsweek, she recalled, "I came up with the term to describe this phenomenon I'd heard from clients. People say their partner wants to give them a hug and suddenly they feel themselves bristling up in response to their physical touch."

Sound familiar? If you're bristling at your partner's touch, here's what it means, and how Marin bridged that gap. 

The bristle reaction is the worry all touch will turn to sex

The "Bristle reaction" could happen to you if you feel like the only time your partner comes close to you, touches you, or kisses you is for the sole purpose of initiating sex. You're bristling because you are worried a kiss will lead to more. Maybe you're not in the mood, maybe you have a lower sex drive, or maybe it's something else altogether. Vanessa Marin, who coined the term, told Newsweek, "It made me curious about how we can love someone so deeply, yet we have this strong reaction to a simple touch [...] You can also get the feeling when a stranger comes up too close to you, and it's a feeling that they're too near."

Clinical psychologist Dr. Lisa Lawless says that bristling could indicate underlying trauma. Noting that the "bristle reaction" isn't a real clinical term, Dr. Lawless says, "There are mental health diagnoses that can have challenges around being touched due to sensory processing difficulties, tactile sensitivity, or issues with trauma or abuse," per Pop Sugar.

When Marin brought the idea of the bristle reaction to TikTok, it garnered a huge response, with almost 700,000 likes, and the term now has almost 100 million views on the platform. That could indicate that many couples are struggling to get past this phenomenon. Luckily, Marin shared her personal method for overcoming this intimacy slump

Reframe the connection between kissing and sex

Vanessa Marin revealed how she and her partner Xander broke the link between kissing and the act of sexual intercourse, reframing making-out as just something to do to be closer to each other, rather than a means to an end. Every night, Marin says they make out in bed for around a minute, but they always refrain from turning their tonsil hockey into a romp under the sheets. According to Marin, that allowed her to increase her libido and want for more sexual intimacy with her husband. On TikTok, she explained it had to be "every single night, and there has to be some tongue contact." She later adds, "This nightly routine has taken the pressure off of us to have to have sex if we start making out and it's really allowed us to enjoy making out just for the sake of making out."

"It became this cute, special thing that we did together," she told The New York Post. "We've spent time kissing and touching and being all over each other like we were in the earlier stages of our relationship," she said. "So we experience that renewed [passion]." 

Marin also offers more intimacy tips that don't involve sex on her official website, where she suggests a whole host of rituals to bring back the lust for intimacy, like skin-to-skin contact, even playing with your partner's hair.