The Bristle Reaction: why this is more common than you think and how to reconnect tonight!

February 23,2021

This is a DM that I received over on Instagram after talking about the Bristle Reaction in my stories. 

What the heck is the Bristle Reaction?

It’s when you bristle at your partner’s touch. 

They could be coming in for a hug, giving you a caress on the back, or trying to kiss you. You feel your body tense up in resistance. Like giant walls are coming up around your body. 

How the heck does this happen? 

How can you have such a strong and negative reaction to the simplest touch from the person you love the most in this world?

Well, it usually comes down to how sex gets initiated. 

Most people feel pretty embarrassed initiating sex, so they do it in these kinda roundabout ways, like trying to extend a hug a bit longer, or trying to slip a little tongue into a kiss. 

You just try to hint at what you really want. Because if you don’t fully put yourself out there and ask for it, it won’t hurt as much if you get turned down.

But if the other partner isn’t immediately interested sex in that exact moment, they try to shut down the physical contact as quickly as possible. They pull away from the hug or kiss. 

This gets even more complicated when you have mismatched sex drives.

Typically the higher sex drive partner (let’s call them the higher) ends up initiating more frequently.

The lower sex drive partner (let’s call them the lower) is on the lookout for how the higher initiates, so they can shut things down as quickly as possible. The lower becomes hypervigilant to any sort of touch that might feel like it’s leading to sex.

The lower eventually gets so hypersensitive to touch that they’ll bristle anytime they get touched. Even small, loving, non-sexual touches. 

The higher can feel the lower bristling and pulling away, so the higher stops trying to touch the lower as often. 

It can even get to a point where the only time the higher touches the lower is to initiate sex. Which as you can guess, only further perpetuates the lower’s hypervigilance to touch. 

And it gets even worse!

On the rare occasion that the lower agrees to have sex, the higher tries to get down to business as quickly as possible. There’s this mentality of, “Whoa, they said yes! Better get to it before they change their mind!” 

So the higher skips over any sort of touch or foreplay, and goes straight to intercourse. 

Which again, is yet another dynamic that only reinforces the belief that touch always has a motive, and is never just for simple enjoyment and connection. 

This dynamic gets stronger and stronger as time goes on. 

Now that I’ve broken it down like this, I’m sure you can see how it makes perfect sense. 

But if you’ve never thought about it in this way before, you’ve probably thought you’re a terrible person if you’re a bristler. 

So how do we fix this complicated dynamic?

The best place to start is by incorporating MORE touch into your relationship!

You have to break the belief that any sort of touch leads to sex. 

This will allow your body to relax and actually enjoy touch again!

There are so many different ways to do this, but one of my favorites is to create structured “touch time” where you’re ONLY engaging in non-sexual touch. 

Let’s be super clear: the point of this time is not to get turned on and then want to have sex.

It’s to enjoy touch just for the sake of touch!

Sometimes I even tell couples, “I don’t care if you both wind up getting turned on and wanting to have sex. DO NOT have sex right after your touch time!” 

Here are a few ways you can play with this:


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I'm Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist and writer specializing in helping you have more fun in the bedroom.

I have bachelor’s degrees in human sexuality and sociology from Brown University, and a master’s degree in counseling psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies. I’m also a licensed psychotherapist. I’ve been working in the sex therapy field since 2002 and have been featured by The New York Times, O: The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, and many more.

If you’re interested in improving your sex life, you can work with me via my online courses or personal coaching sessions. I look forward to supporting you in creating the sex life you’ve always wanted!