Pub date December 14, 2010

Dear Andrea:

I have a weird question. I have been with my boyfriend for two years and our sex life was great until recently. But I have started to get really ticklish when he touches me, and it’s putting us both off sex.

Literally when he touches my leg, I squirm away and giggle. I’m embarrassed, and we’re both bemused and frustrated. What’s going on?



Dear Squirm:

Giggling or getting ticklish is, of course, very common among teenagers and other young folk, and due, just as obviously, to self consciousness, unfamiliarity, and nerves. The cure is time and practice. I’m going to take a guess and say practice is your best bet.

Whatever set this off, it’s not, in a sense, real. You’re not nervous or anxious, and you’re not actually being tickled. It’s all in your mind, more or less.

The evolution of tickling does seem to have it origins in social interaction (most tickling is done by adults to kids, and only jerk parents keep going after being begged to stop). But the reaction — laughter — appears to be purely physical, not dependent on social factors like wanting the tickler to like you.

Anyway. Something has gone funny with your wiring. Probably something he did once set off a ticklish response and the next time he did something similar, the same nerves expected the same sensation and sent the same signals they would have if your boyfriend actually tickled you. Now every time he gets near you, the whole thing happens again.

I can think of two approaches that might help you.

1. Have him approach very slowly and entirely within your vision. Don’t try to “have sex” of any sort, just have him touch you and leave his hands there while you take some deep breaths and relax and let yourself feel how not tickly it is. Repeat until he can begin to move them around a little, and proceed like that till you’ve retrained yourself.

You might also try doing this in the dark. Darwin, delightfully, had some theories on tickling, observing that “tickling provokes laughter through the anticipation of pleasure. If a stranger tickles a child without any preliminaries, the likely result will be not laughter but withdrawal and displeasure.” You, clearly, are not experiencing pleasure, anticipated or actual, but there is still an aspect of anticipation at play here. If you lay down together in the dark, with no touching, until you are entirely relaxed, you might find he can touch you without your nerves freaking out.

2. Go ahead and let him do whatever he’s been doing that is eliciting the tickle response. Do this a whole lot. Hope it gradually desensitizes you. This may sound unbearable, but people do report training themselves out of over-ticklishness.

Try whichever plan sounds less odious. At least you’re pretty safe with your nice known-and-trusted boyfriend to experiment even with approach No. 2, which would be terrible at the hands of one of the many assholes out there who do not understand that in some cases “hahahahaha!” like “no,” means “no.”



Got a question? Email Andrea at