‘The Bristle Reaction’ is all over TikTok and all the long-term lovers are finally feeling seen. In a sentence, the bristle reaction is that feeling of tensing up – or ‘bristling’- when your partner tries to touch you.

Author and licensed sex therapist Vanessa Marin coined the term ‘the bristle reaction’. The term, which has gained over 106 million views on TikTok, is stirring up conversation about the confusing feelings around physical touch in committed, long-term relationships. Marin took to TikTok to speak about the all-too-familiar sensation of navigating unwanted physical affection by a partner. Many commented that they were glad to learn they are not alone in loving someone but reacting so negatively to their touch.


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♬ original sound – Vanessa + Xander Marin

What’s the deal with the Bristle Reaction?

According to Marin, the longer we are in a relationship, the less natural it feels to initiate sexual intimacy. There is something about spending more time with a partner that shifts sex. This shift is actually pretty natural and nothing to feel bad about. In fact, Marin goes on to define the bristle reaction as “when you become so hyper-vigilant to your partner’s touch or kisses that you actually can feel yourself bristle.”

Beyond TikTok, Marin expands on the topic on her website. Having mismatched sex-drives is also responsible for shunning sexual touch.

“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,” Marin explained.

How long is too long without sex in a relationship?

How sex is initiated is at the heart of the bristle reaction. In the earlier stages of a relationship there is still a lot to discover and a seemingly endless list of sexy ways to do so. Long-term relationships usually lack this level of curiosity. Long-term lovers are pretty-much all experimented-out and understandably have a different reaction to sex.

Being on the same page about sex drive is the aim while soothing long-term sex life patterns. Rather than questioning ‘how long is too long without sex?’, you’re better off focusing on how to confidently ask for and/or receive intimate pleasure. Communicating desires for sex in a way that is well-received will instill more willingness to engage in sex and will dictate the frequency of your sex life.

Avoiding The Bristle Reaction

People rarely talk about maintaining intimacy in long-term relationships. Perhaps the assumption here is that intimacy is a given the longer you’re in a relationship. Most suppose that after declaring your love or affection, intimacy naturally follows. The bristle reaction says otherwise. This is what you can do to avoid the bristle reaction effectively.


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♬ original sound – Vanessa + Xander Marin

Have an open discussion about how you do and don’t like to be touched

Marin’s first tip is to have a healthy conversation about how you like to be touched. Marin also suggests using sex maps and allowing for a clear way to rediscover your partner’s (ever-evolving) pleasure points.

Regular non-sexual touch as a remedy

Creating structured non-sexual “touch time,” as Marin calls it, is a great way to normalize touch beyond sex. This a perfect way for the higher and the lower to reestablish and reset ideas about touch. Some non-sexual touch ideas include playing with each others hair, hand-holding, massages, or cuddling.

Switch up your initiation style

Initiating sex using roundabout ways such as extending the kiss longer can be off-putting according to Marin. Avoiding the bristle reaction is all about taking the awkwardness out of approaching sex as a long-term pair. One suggestion that Marin presents is by agreeing with your partner to only initiate sex verbally for a period in order to prepare the mind for sex.

Patience on the journey to redefining your sex life

Another 21Ninety tip is to lean into patience romance. It may take a while for your new routines to truly settle. Allow for a little grace, a little understanding, and lots of romance regardless. Affirm the romance in other ways until you find a great balance that works for both of you.

Related: Sexual Aftercare Looks Different For Everyone, Here Are Some Ideas