This tweet filtered down my Twitter TL and got a HUGE response online:
I was surprised by the numerous visceral reactions from people with whom the tweet resonated, because if the pulse and temperature of social media are anything to go by: we’re all having the best sex of our lives, the orgasm gap has vaporized and the patriarchy has FINALLY been abolished from our sexual spaces. (Clearly, this is not the case and clearly, I need to diversify my follows.)
Full disclosure: I would not describe my current sex-life as encompassing any of the three aforementioned descriptors, for various reasons. I regularly have sex that does not culminate in orgasm (because I tend to die afterwards and pulling an ‘Old Guard’ every time I nut gets exhausting) and I’m certainly not having the best sex of my life. But this article isn’t about me, so let’s shelve that conversation for now.
In researching why this tweet hit such a raw nerve for so many women, I discovered that there are tens – if not hundreds – of articles that have been written on the topic about women who did not desire and/or were repulsed by their partner’s physical presence or sexual touch. There is a scientific term that defines the fear of physical touch called haphephobia, but its parameters are defined by the anxiety/discomfort/pain brought on by trauma. If I were to diagnose what @theofficialdi describes in her tweet, I believe the more appropriate term is psychological phenomenon known as The Ick.
So what exactly is The Ick? Definitions vary, however simply put, it’s that vomit suppressing, cringe-inducing feeling you get whenever your partner performs activities – including – but not limited to:
· Drawing breath in your general vicinity.
There are no known reasons why people develop an Ick for the person they were once unquestionably attracted to. All we know is that is happens…and happens often.
Touch is an important aspect of any relationship. Touch is powerful. It’s how parents bond with their babies. It’s how many of us are taught, through example, to convey and express desire and affection. Plato said, “At the touch of love, every person becomes a poet.” Opening yourself to not only being touched, but being willing to touch places both parties in a vulnerable space; and so that idea that contact with your body can (or does) cause your intimate partner revulsion can be devastating.
Though the inspiration for our inquiry today stems from an unwitting and irrational hatred for a partner, it still behooves us to take look at a few other definitive biological and social reasons for why close proximity to your partner incites discomfort.
Haphephobia (mentioned at the top) is a powerful disorder. Where sexual trauma is the root of this phobia, especially if it occurred during one’s formative years, the brain may link sexual arousal or sexual touch with threat, danger, anxiety, or pain.
If you grew up in an environment where you had little or no agency over your own body, you may feel out of control during intimate/sexual encounters. Therefore though you may have consented to having sex, it is still possible to experience a degree of vulnerability or powerlessness that come as a result of not fully embracing total ownership of your body.
Underlying (and unresolved) resentment towards your partner might trigger feelings of disgust.
I asked a number of women to talk with me about this topic and some were kind enough to share their observations and experiences.
“Sometimes you don’t like them [your partner], but you don’t know, and it manifests sexually,” said Nnenna Marcia.
W.U. agreed, opining from another angle:
“I like to say that, ‘Before you’ve fucked me in person, we’ve already fucked in my mind.’ We’re talking about the body knowing when you’re not attracted to someone and you’re forcing the connection. The same is true inversely. When there’s a natural mental attraction…a connection you can’t control…your mind already knows this and prepares itself for sex. You’re just waiting for your bodies to catch up and respond to what’s already happening in your head!”
(Turns out Jesus knew what he was talking about in that verse in Matthew 5. Y’all know the one.)
“I don’t think we give the skin enough credit for its intelligence,” W.U. continued. “The skin is the largest organ in the human body. It can sense danger. It can sense when someone is staring at you. Those little hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The body knows what it likes…or whom it doesn’t like way before you do.”
I could only agree. If the body can sense danger – or safety – it can certainly sense sexual compatibility (which is where pheromones come into play).
So we’ve talked about all these social and biological reasons about why you may hate intimate touch from your partner. But what if about if there is no reason at all? What if you genuinely, and without explanation, are no longer digging your (wo)man? Enter The Ick.
Vikki Stark, M.S.W., is a family therapist doing research on wives’ aversion to touch when there is NO history of sexual trauma. In this article she writes:
I’m presently working with multiple couples for whom this tension manifests in the woman not wanting to be touched. She may go ahead and “do it” from time to time when the guilt builds up too much, but it is unpleasant for her and humiliating for him to have sex when she really doesn’t want to.
I want to explore what happens when a woman’s body shuts down and is no longer receptive to her husband’s touch. I’m looking at women who have no history of sexual trauma. This “shut down” typically appears a few years into the relationship, often after the kids are born. Whereas, in the past, they used to have a fun, relaxed time in bed, now it has become a psychological wrestling match, with her avoiding and him bewildered and unsure how to proceed. This leads to her closing up and him feeling rejected and angry. And because she doesn’t understand and can’t explain what’s happening, it’s impossible to talk about.
The woman in this scenario may really wish that she could access that easy sexual pleasure that was so evident in her past. She wants to want it. But now his touch feels aversive and rather than turn her on, she hates it. Strangely, women have often told me that they can manage the vaginal part of things and find intercourse tolerable, but really don’t like having their breasts fondled. That stimulation is mixed—partly pleasurable but partly disturbing. It feels intensely intimate, flooding them with overwhelming feelings.
If this sounds like a horrible way to live, it is.
No one knows what causes The Ick – this feeling that everything your partner does suddenly aggravates you – but it’s a very real condition, for which there is no singular cause. I don’t believe there is a cure. I think it’s something you either manage and learn to live with…or like our heroine @theofficialdi just do away with the man entirely.
Have you ever experienced anything similar to this? How did you deal with it? What advice would you give to women who wake up suddenly hating everything about their partner?