'The Bristle Effect': The bizarre advice being fed to women in long-term relationships with men.

Straight people are not okay. Like, not even a little bit.

I say this as a queer woman who formerly participated in straight culture, and as someone who's researched and written about hetero relationships for nearly a decade.

I'm genuinely concerned that, if straight women gaslight themselves in their partnerships with men any more, the bar is going to sink into the earth's core.

The latest bizzarro logic in the lexicon of Euphemisms Straight Women Keep Inventing To Justify Being Miserable In Their Marriages, the "bristle effect", suggests tensing up in response to a partner's touch for fear it may lead to sex is a typical side effect of being in a long-term relationship. And not, you know, a giant f**king red flag.

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In a now-viral TikTok, sex guru Vanessa Marin, who coined the term (and also happens to market online courses to couples for up to $269USD), describes the act of exclusively touching your significant other when you want sex as a "pattern for most people...when they get into a long-term relationship".


Seriously?? Who exactly are the "people" Marin's referring to here?

If surveys of heterosexual couples are anything to go by, it's not women. In fact, a study by sex researcher Justin J. Lehmiller discussed in the book, Tell Me What You Want: The Science Of Sexual Desire, suggests men are twice as likely as women to be the main sexual instigators in their relationships.

Marin argues it's this scenario that causes people (who we can safely assume are straight women) to "become so hypervigilant to your partner's touch or kisses, that you actually feel yourself bristle whenever your partner comes in to try to make contact with you", and claims implementing a rule to kiss her partner "with tongue" every night without it always leading to sex has helped break the association between touching and sex in her brain.

@vanessaandxander Comment if you want to hear more about what we do in our relationship to to keep intimacy a priority! #forcouples #couplestherapy #relationshiptok #intimacy #grwm #marriedlife ♬ original sound - Vanessa + Xander Marin

So, just to get this straight (pun unintended), if your body goes into a literal freeze response at the thought of having sex with your husband, who's only affectionate when he wants to get laid, your concern should be training yourself out of freezing up, NOT unpacking why your partner wanting to have sex with you causes you to physically recoil??!

I don't think it's a coincidence this kind of advice is almost always directed at women who partner with men.

Because the issue is not, as we've been brainwashed to believe, that women simply have low libidos and must therefore lighten up every so often, abandon their own instincts, comfort, and body autonomy, and fuck their poor sex-starved husbands and boyfriends.


To date, I'm yet to see a single piece of compelling research that suggests having a vagina decreases your interest in getting off.

Conversely, I've had way hornier partners as a lesbian than I ever did dating men. I've also had more women propose threesomes, invite me to sex parties and reveal extensive collections of eye-openingly X-rated toys in the few years since I came out as gay than in over a decade of sleeping with men.

Women are just as sexual, if not more, than men. And this isn't anecdotal; a 2016 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found men in heterosexual relationships drastically underestimate how much sex their partners want.

But we'd rather pathologise women than admit they do really want sex. Just not with their husbands.

Because, frankly, marriage is about as big a lady boner killer as it gets for straight women. Married heterosexual women perform double the domestic labour and child-rearing duties as their male counterparts and report higher levels of stress as a result (something which has been repeatedly backed up by Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia reports).

They also take on an additional burden known as "the mental load" – a term used to describe the cognitive tasks women constantly perform in their families, like remembering their husband's mum's birthday, scheduling his doctor's appointments, planning holidays, and keeping a tally of household items that need restocking.


In a 2019 study looking into the cognitive workloads of 35 couples, men acknowledged this disparity, referring to their wives using terms such as "project manager", or noting they were "keeping track of more".

It's almost as if, the reason so many women don't want to have sex with their husbands is because they're exhausted? And maybe they don't want to be intimate with someone who feels more like an additional child than a partner, and only expresses interest in them when they want access to sex?

It shouldn't really be controversial to say this, but straight women need to stop gaslighting themselves into ignoring their internal alarm bells in service to men who view them as live-in nannies, cleaners and sex workers. 

Freezing up when a partner touches you isn't a sign you need to work on the relationship. It's a sign you need to run.

We have to normalise the idea that being miserable with a husband isn't actually better than having no husband at all. Because until that happens, straight people will not be okay. Not even a little bit.

Nadia Bokody is a queer sex columnist, YouTuber and professional over. Follow her on Instagram for more.

Feature Image: Instagram/TikTok

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