What is sexual “aftercare?”
Simply put, aftercare is a designated time for calm & comfort that occurs after a sexual activity. While this term is most often used in a BDSM-specific context, some light forms of aftercare are commonly practiced by vanilla couples as well. (Post-coital cuddling, anyone?) Although we often have very specific ideas of who needs aftercare (most likely female submissives), it should be a basic sexual right for anyone who desires it — regardless of gender, sexual orientation, level of kink, or one’s status as Dominant or submissive.
Although aftercare can be comforting during times of distress, it should not necessarily be viewed as reparative. This causes the preceding sex act to be seen as inherently damaging and reinforces the idea that some forms of consensual sex are scary or “wrong.” Rather, aftercare should be viewed as a way to enhance sexual encounters. It may be used to increase intimacy, reinforce positive emotions (such as self-esteem), promote sexual communication and/or express love.
Why is aftercare beneficial?
Sometimes sex (even vanilla sex) can get rather intense. Maybe it’s been a rough week and sex is simply more cathartic than you expected, or maybe you’re just feeling particularly insecure or self-conscious. Most of us have also probably done or said something “in the moment” that caused us to experience shame or doubt after our sexual arousal abated. There are a lot of reasons why sex can sometimes create emotions that are overwhelming — and perhaps not so pleasurable.
BDSM practitioners have these same concerns and more. Endorphins and sexual arousal are a heady mixture, capable of removing a person from reality in what we call subspace or Domspace. This can be a wonderful experience, but the ensuing drop may cause a scene to feel physically, mentally, and/or emotionally exhausting for all individuals involved. Limits may have been pushed, role-played humiliation may require positive affirmations, and yes — minor physical injuries may need to be attended to.
How can you provide aftercare for a partner?
First, talk with them about the concept of aftercare. Are they familiar with it? If they think that it will be a positive addition to your sexual activity, discuss what calms them down or relaxes them. This is different for everyone and can range from extended intimate discussions to simply being left alone. Without knowing what works for a particular person, aftercare may cause more harm than good.
Make sure that you consider a variety of aftercare options that target both physical and mental/emotional comfort. This will likely depend on the type of sexual play you are engaging in.
Here are a few ideas for various forms of aftercare…
- Attending to basic physiological needs: Have you been playing intensely or for a long time, warranting food or water? If you have engaged in S&M activities, are there minor injuries that need antiseptic ointment and bandaids? If bondage has been incorporated, this may also be a good time to remove restraints, allowing for a more comfortable body position.
- Providing comfortable surroundings: This can include temperature control (fan, space heater, blankets, warm socks) or more atmospheric enhancements (scented candles/incense, soft music).
- Reinforcing intimacy and other positive emotions: This will depend on what type of relationship you have with the person you are currently playing with. A couple that is both involved in S&M and vanilla sexual activity may find intercourse or sexual touching to be very comforting after more intense play. Cuddling and/or offering reassurance are also good ways to let your partner know that you care about them. If you and your sexual/play partner do not have an emotional connection for this type of aftercare, a close friend may be able to provide some third party support.
- Enhancing sexual communication: Some individuals use aftercare as a time to debrief by asking what was most/least enjoyable for their partner, what they’d like to do differently next time, etc. However, this can be complicated. One or both partners may be so satiated that conversing is momentarily impossible. If a power dynamic is in play, one or both partners may still be in their roles, potentially creating a barrier for open communication. Also, if not careful, post-coital criticism — even if constructive — can sometimes make vulnerabilities worse. (I-statements!) For some, this may work better if it’s used as a delayed “check-in” aftercare, allowing a few days for all partners to gather their thoughts.
Talking about aftercare can sometimes feel like you’re expecting the worst out of a pleasurable situation. In reality, it’s a great way to show your partner that you respect them and their needs. It communicates that you are there for more than just your own physical gratification. In a way, it’s the mature progression of not sneaking out immediately after the deed is done.