How can I stop being so ticklish?
February 13, 2009 11:14 AM   Subscribe

How can I stop being so ticklish?

As far as I know, I've always been incredibly ticklish. As in, will scream and flail about if my skin is lightly touched. I haven't conducted any major research or anything, but it doesn't seem like I get more or less ticklish when any sort of conditions change (tiredness, drunkenness, whether I know it's coming, changes in weather, phase of the moon, level of intimacy with the tickler, how long I'm being tickled). It's pretty much all over my body, except my breasts (reduction), calves, feet (weird!), hands, and very occasionally my neck. Since it will probably come up, I do have PTSD, which would suggest hypervigilance, but I've always been this way.

The tickling sensitivity has officially become A Problem because it's interfering with my ability to be physically intimate with my partner, who I really, really like and would prefer to not instinctively swat away.

So, what are my options here? Also, is there a name for this, and that's why Googling has failed me?
posted by giraffe to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Dry skin will make you feel more sensitive. Rub some moisturizer on commonly tickled spots.
posted by nikkorizz at 11:26 AM on February 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have the same problem, so I'll be watching this thread for answers, but I will say this (since I know your partner is the bearded type): things are much, much better when I can get Mr. WanKenobi to shave his beard. Beard hairs are little better than feathers for me. Fingers cause a reaction, but not nearly as violent of one.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:31 AM on February 13, 2009

Best answer: My friend always said, "I'm an apple, and apples aren't ticklish." He would be ticklish until he made that statement. So, at least for him it was a mind over matter thing, YMMV.
posted by schyler523 at 11:41 AM on February 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

You have something along the lines of tactile hyper/hypo sensitivity. My boyfriend's like that, I've just had to get better at touching him firmly.
posted by lizbunny at 12:01 PM on February 13, 2009

My feet were ridiculously ticklish before I got to college. Once there, I met a nice boy who enjoyed giving foot rubs. That naturally led to problems, since I would kick and thrash and flail if anyone got near my feet.

It took several months of DAILY foot rubbing to get me to calm down a bit and get to the point where I wouldn't almost instinctively kick him in the face when he reached for my foot. Different sensations, salt scrubs, lotions, moisturizers seemed to help to acclimate my feet to being touched in different ways.

Then we broke up and nobody touched my feet for a long time and years later I'm ticklish again to the point of almost kicking people upon being touched. That tends to indicate to me that there is no permanent solution except for constant touch-based desensitization.
posted by greekphilosophy at 12:03 PM on February 13, 2009

It is essentially an innate condition and will not change due to training, age, etc. Some of the treatments for sensory integration dysfunction may help.
posted by caddis at 12:15 PM on February 13, 2009

Two things:

First train your partner: Sit them down and say "we're going to teach you how to not tickle me" First make sure they know tickling is -not- fun and will in no way be considered a play-time activity. Make sure they know you're dead serious about this, but that you're not mad at them or anything. In fact you're trying to make things all kinds of sexy. Then explain that a firm touch will not tickle and a light one will. Then have them practice on you. Yeah, this will take some nerves on your part, but first touch your partner in a way and place that would tickle you, then touch the same place in a firmer, non-ticklish way. Then have them do it to you. (Only the last part, not the first tickle part of course.) Move through a bunch of different places and ways of touching. And ... you know... let whatever happens happen.

Second, train your self. I like shyler523's story about the apple. It might sound silly, but in my experience it works. When I was young my brothers used to sit on my and tickle me until I nearly passed out. The solution was for me to steel myself and say (to myself) "I know this is coming, it does not tickle, it's just a finger touching me in a non-painful way." and while it wasn't fun, I wasn't spasming and screaming any more and pretty soon my brothers had to find a new way to torture me. So say to yourself "This is my lover touching me. This isn't anything to be afraid of, this is loving and caring and sexy," and you'll be much more tolerant of it.
posted by Ookseer at 12:18 PM on February 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

My wife, a massage therapist, tells me that ticklishness is often a baseline for pain. As in, a vulnerable area will tickle when touched lightly but may hurt when touched harder. In my experience (very ticklish from a light touch in many places) this can definitely be psychological as well - I don't really like my face to be touched at all, lovingly or otherwise, even by my wife. It's not ticklish so much as it just skeeves me out. Also in my experience, it does help to practice - grit your teeth and bear it, it small doses, with an understanding partner. It can get better.
posted by attercoppe at 1:29 PM on February 13, 2009

After tickling my daughters and my nieces to exhaustion (me, not them, never them), I would then teach them how to not be ticklish.

The trick is to relax and stay relaxed. Deep breathing helps. The more relaxed to you the easier it is to not react to the tickling.

It does take some practice.
posted by trinity8-director at 1:31 PM on February 13, 2009

The only way is to practice enduring through it. Of course you're ticklish if you always swat away anything that touches you! The tickling feeling comes when you experience something a little weird that you're not used to! Unfortunately for you, this means the only way to get rid of it is to endure some tickling. Get someone to tickle you in a place gently, and see how long you can bear it. Then do it again, in the same place, in the same way, and see if you can bear it for 4 more seconds. Repeat. Repeat. Then change where or how you are being tickled.

I also suggest getting someone to give you a good minute of the most ticklish tickling they can muster, and you have to put up with it... after that, other types of tickling will be more bearable. Sounds absurd, but my girlfriend had this problem and it worked on her, she isn't nearly as ticklish anymore, and I can even give her back rubs now. :)

BTW, don't just try a few times and stop. You got to keep at it, you know!
posted by brenton at 4:02 PM on February 13, 2009

Supposedly people can't tickle themselves, and I don't know if that's actually the case or an overstated generalization, but it doesn't apply to me. Thankfully, as an adult I can handle the sensory problems that probably made my mom want to feed me to the wolves as an overstimulated little kid. For me, repeated firm touch is what makes touching bearable. For example, when I was maybe fourteen I had acne on my back, and my mom rubbed Retin-A or something on my back every day. Initially it was very hard to stay still and be subjected to it, but after a month of it it was OK. As far as my husband and I are concerned, he's had many years to get used to my quirks -- he thinks it's funny that he can wiggle a finger a half inch away from my neck and I thrash and cry out as if I'm being assaulted by feathers all over, but really he knows, and I know, that he won't push it, he'll never hurt me and he'll stop immediately if I say to. (With these facts in mind, I'm to the point where he can pretend to tickle my neck and I'm quite calm about it.) I think that when we were first together, regular firm touching tickled me, but now I'm more used to it and we've both adapted. If regular firm touching was still problematic for me, I'd probably try something like having him apply moisturizer to me daily, just like greekphilosophy: I'd get used to being touched, and he'd get used to the kind of touch I can bear more easily. And frankly, there are just some touches I can't abide, and that's OK, we avoid them. He can't skim his fingers lightly over my belly -- I can't whisper sweet nothings in his ear when he's got his hearing aids out. It's just the way our bodies are, and as long as there are other ways of being intimate, we're fine.

I asked my husband to test the apple mantra with me. He laughed and said "An apple? I want to watch you trying to be an apple." So I laid back and thought my best apply, non-ticklish thoughts. He encouraged me to think that I was hanging from the tree by my little apple stem. Then he simulated the apple leaves blowing in the wind, brushing against the apple all over. By the time he created the caterpillar sloooowly inching its way over the apple's delicate skin, I was a goner.
posted by shirobara at 6:18 AM on February 14, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for your answers, everyone!

I haven't had nearly enough time to try everything, especially anything that involves long-term work, but the apple thing totally works. It's just distracting enough when you know tickling is imminent.

Will do more testing to see what works for "surprise" tickling.

shirobara, I can tickle myself too. Not nearly as badly as someone else can, but I can make myself shudder and scratch if I'm spaced out enough.

Anyway, I'll check back in to report more findings as they happen. It's good to know I'm not the only crazy person that doesn't like to be touched.
posted by giraffe at 11:26 AM on February 14, 2009

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