Aftercare: The Calm After the Climax

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.

Sensation Play: Blindfolds, Hot Wax, and Feathers, Oh My!

You hear a high-pitched ping to your right, a sound that reminds you of glasses being clinked together at a party. Instinctively, you turn your head, but you can’t see through the blackness of the blindfold. You wait, straining to hear something more, but nothing more comes. The bed shifts under the weight of your partner. As more time passes, you can feel your muscles tense in apprehension. A splash of ice-cold liquid falls onto your nipple. You inhale quickly and jump in alarm as the liquid rolls off your side. More drops fall onto your chest, along your sternum, and onto your stomach. Suddenly something feels different. You realize that the last one stings — not from intense cold, but from heat. More drops land on your skin as you struggle to distinguish hot from cold, doubting yourself as the sensation from the next drop begs for your attention.

Sensation play refers to a cluster of sexual activities that are focused on the exploration of physical sensation. Most often, sensation play is thought of as a BDSM activity. However, while it certainly can include pain for the masochistically inclined, sensation play can also just be soft and sensual. It’s a way to slow down and enjoy the different effects that you and your partner can have on each other’s bodies. It can also lead to creative experimentation with household items that are not normally sexualized.

Perhaps the easiest way to begin a journey into sensation play is simply by exploring touch. Consider the range of pleasurable sensations that you have felt — not only those that were sexual. Maybe you have an obsession with cashmere or fur, or you love the way that a chain necklace feels when lightly moved against your skin. Of course, there are also several sex toys made for sensation play, like ticklers made from chain or rubber. But the great thing about sensation play is that common items can be incorporated into foreplay. Feathers, makeup brushes, loofahs…take a quick run through your home and you’ll see that the possibilities are endless!

For those that may want to experiment with combining pain and pleasure, there are even more options. You may want to consider abrasive materials, like sandpaper or hard-bristled brushes. Sex toys for this sort of play include a wide variety of pinwheels (the most common being the Wartenberg), and clawed gloves, like these impressive bear paws. Impact toys like paddles and whips can also fall into the realm of sensation play. (A separate post on impact play safety tips is soon to come.)

Another commonly explored sensation, as described in my opening paragraph, is extremes in temperature. (This is sometimes specifically referred to as temperature play.) Cold water, ice cubes, and metal objects chilled in ice water are common ways to provide your partner with cold sensations. For the hot side of the spectrum, many people turn to melted wax. Be sure to do plenty of research into wax play safety before beginning. (Nobody wants nasty burns.) White paraffin candles are generally a good choice for beginners — as they burn at lower temperatures. However, for an even lower melting point, you can use massage candles. If those are still too hot for your enjoyment, there are also warming massage oils that barely get above body temperature.

The reverse side of sensation play, sensory deprivation or the absence of sensation, can also be fun. Some individuals enjoy total deprivation of their senses, while others prefer the impairment of one sense in order to enhance the experience of others. Blindfolds, earplugs, and/or earphones with music playing can all be deprivation tools. This places a person in a sort of bubble where they are solely focused on sensations of touch. Because blindfolds are a very successful crossover from BDSM to vanilla sex, sensory deprivation can be a great way to break into sensation play without feeling too intimidated.

No matter the type or intensity of sensations that you are comfortable exploring, sensation play can be considered as one more tool in your sexual repertoire — and an opportunity to spend an hour or two figuring out how to make your partner tremble.

Getting Handsy: Male Genitalia

Handjobs get a bad rap. For some reason, we’ve created a hierarchy of sexual activities: some are associated with juvenile sexual experimentation while others are viewed as more “advanced.” The handjob has ended up at the bottom of that sexual totem pole. (Despite the fact that some men do prefer handjobs to other sexual activity.) As we gain more sexual experience, we sometimes forget about the activities that aroused us at the beginning of our journey. For this reason, many people may consider it weird that a couple would “return” to handjobs after they have had intercourse.

“Couldn’t he just masturbate?”

While the mechanics may essentially be the same, you can give your partner a wholly different experience than he can give himself. Not only is there the perk that he’s not doing any of the work (which also means that he doesn’t know what sensation is coming next), but there’s also the intimacy factor. Don’t overlook this! A task that usually “gets the job done” can become a whole body experience if you’re also kissing and caressing other parts of his body.

“Isn’t he better at this than me?”

Of course he knows how to please his body the best; he’s had the most experience! But that doesn’t mean that you will never live up to his skills. It puts him in the perfect position to teach you what he likes better than anyone else. Ask him! If both of you are comfortable with it, watch him masturbate. This way, you’ll be able to learn the rhythm and technique that he prefers: where he puts his hand, what speed he enjoys, etc. If you’re concerned about the amount of pressure to apply (a common complaint with handjobs), ask him for a hand-over-hand lesson. With his hand overtop of yours, you’ll be able to feel firsthand what type of stimulation he enjoys.

“So, a handjob is more than just stroking up and down?”

I think this is a common misconception that women have and it helps to prevent them from giving more pleasurable handies. Become a pro at his personal technique (complete with any twists of the hand or changes in pressure), but also don’t be afraid to experiment. Try out different lubricants, and different amounts of those lubricants. Experiment with different positions. For example, do you want to be intimately cuddled up beside him or kneeling on the floor at his feet?  Find out if he enjoys his testicles being played with. Some men hate it, while some may cum at the slightest rub, tug, squeeze, or light smack. And most importantly, show your enthusiasm! Dirty talk can be a real plus here.

It’s not my intention to create a “handjob how-to.” There are plenty of those out there already. If you’re looking for more concrete techniques, I recommend Although the site has plenty of problems (a couple of broken links, some uneducated statements, and the sense that it hasn’t been updated since the ’90s), it also has some really strong points. For one, there’s no nudity: All techniques are demonstrated on a dildo, making this good for people who are uncomfortable with pornographic material. There’s also enough short videos that it should really get your creative juices flowing.

Bring back the handjob!

There are many reasons to make handjobs a reoccurring item on your sexual menu.  You could be in-between birth control methods, or find yourself without STI protection, and want a relatively safe way to share intimacy. Perhaps you aren’t quite in the mood for sex, but you still want to please your partner. Maybe you want to slow things down and pretend that the two of you are teenagers again. Or maybe you just want a wide variety of sex acts to choose from in your relationship. Our enthusiastic attitudes can ensure that handjobs are seen as a legitimate form of sexual intimacy — not just an activity reserved for the backseat of your car after prom!