Sexual aftercare is a common (and necessary) practice within BDSM—an umbrella term encompassing bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism, and masochism. Aftercare is, in its simplest form, a post-sex wind-down ritual. Sex involving BDSM dynamics can be intense. Sometimes folks are extensively tied up, hit, humiliated or otherwise physically and psychologically controlled. It can be incredibly immersive, to the point where it’s important to bridge partners back into the headspace of reality.
“Aftercare is basically the care-taking that is done by all parties involved after a sexual experience [in order] to check in emotionally and physically,” says certified sex educator Irma Garcia.
Aftercare rituals are different for everyone. What is key in an aftercare ritual is that one aims to address is the physical and mental well-being of their partner.
“The communication element is very important here,” says Garcia. “That’s when you find out what everyone needs to feel safe before, during and after a play session.”
Why practice sexual aftercare?
We should practice aftercare to ensure our partners can happily transition from the blissful headspace of BDSM play and back into the real world. It’s important that partners feel cared for, especially because we want to avoid dom/sub drop.
Dominants and submissives go through a lot during a BDSM session. Whether it’s mental lashes, physical ones, or adherence to a strict set of protocols, all of that intensity requires a come down period. Dom/sub drop may be linked to postcoital dysphoria, which is when someone feels sadness or anxiety after sex otherwise wonderful consensual sex. Often this reaction is linked to other stressors in the outside world (a history or trauma or existing psychological distress). This means it’s important to consider what headspace you are in before you approach a scene! Sometimes a negative headspace translates during and after sex, which may not serve you in the ways you’d like.
Aftercare is important for dominant partners and submissive partners. While there is a lot of focus on aftercare for submissives, it’s also valuable for dominants to unwind. BDSM and kink activity can come with shame that is difficult to unpack, and aftercare can aid in with that transition.
Aftercare is like a bridge to a less intense mind space. “After acknowledging [dom/sub drop], if you’re ready, let it go,” says Garcia, “This can be done by presenting the opposite of what your mind is saying (i.e. if you’re thinking you’re unworthy, think the opposite). And remember that your body is working as it should; it is normal to experience hormonal drops/imbalances after experiencing to much of one thing (i.e. adrenaline rushes), so nothing is wrong with you.”
Participating in sexual aftercare isn’t just for kinky sex, though. Because aftercare functions as an intentional check-in, it can aid in the steps toward healing from sexual trauma. Many folks use BDSM as a supplement to healing.
Here are ways to practice sexual aftercare.
This list isn’t all inclusive, and often, multiple of these activities are used within the same night! The goal overall is to return each other to a fair headspace, and make sure no one feels neglected or sensitive post-play.
Cuddling is known to have positive benefits on your body and your relationships, so naturally it’s a great form of aftercare as. Cuddling helps us release the hormone oxytocin, which can reduce stress and increase intimacy. Plus, cuddling is a low energy activity that can soothe a submissive on the receiving end of humiliation or impact play.
Rehydrating & Snacks
It’s important to drink water after a scene! The benefits of staying hydrated are plentiful, especially after physical activity. Some folks also like to snack on some comfort food, so keep your cupboards stocked!
Taking care of any minor injuries
While you shouldn’t be significantly injured after a session, some folks do indulge in the particularly intense. When it comes to blood and/or knife play, wounds should be disinfected and patched up. Any bruising should be iced.
Taking a nap or sleeping might be just what the doctor ordered! This works as a form of aftercare because sleeping next to your partner (especially if you’re cuddling!) is a way to foster intimacy.
Watching a movie
The opportunity to check out and lose yourself in something like a movie is a perfect aftercare choice! Watching something lighthearted or funny can give you the warm fuzzies and push off any potential dom/sub drop.
Recounting the scene
This is a great way to do a straightforward check-in. After sex, talk about what you loved, liked and if there was anything you didn’t like. Communication is sexy! And the more you know, the more you can improve.
“What was your favorite part about the scene we just did?”
“I really enjoyed X, but I don’t think I’d want to do X again.”
“Can we go over the scene? I want to know more about what you liked and what you didn’t.”
Kissing or slow sex
Sometimes the answer to sex is… more sex! Kissing makes us feel closed to our partners. Having slower, more sensual sex can function as aftercare in the face of humiliation or other rough play. It can allow partners to reconnect to who they actually are and disconnect from their roles as dominant or submissive.
Acts of service
Performing acts of service (of the famed Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman) as aftercare can be kind and reaffirming. These are things like cooking a meal together, letting your partner cuddle up while you bring them water and blankets, or brushing each other’s hair.
Words of affirmation
Affirming your partner that they are loved, valuable and wonderful is a fantastic way to partake in aftercare. If the relationship is less serious, it’s always a good idea to praise their performance or tell them how attractive you find them.
Nothing releases tension like a long, drawn out massage. Play some music, dim the lights, and take turns massaging each other. Both parties get to feel like they’re being pampered while also winding down with some physical connection.
What’s most important is that we plan ahead of time in order to make sure our partner(s) feel safe. This planning should be part of any BDSM negotiation, which is done before all the clothes come off. It’s good to ask about aftercare when you’re discussing safety practices, determining safe words and the like. If you’re bringing up aftercare in a vanilla situation, consider simply expressing to your partner what you would like. (“Hey, after sex, can we do X to wind down?”)
Aftercare is always going to be up into the individual. Some folks might find comfort in solitude, or a long bath, or checking out into a video game. When we take care of our needs like with sexual aftercare we create better, more fulfilling sex lives.
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