There’s a long list of reasons why BDSM is part of my identity. (BDSM stands for bondage and discipline, dominance/submission, sadism, and masochism.) For starters, it takes me out of my body and non-stop thoughts in my mind, on my terms, and allows me to hand over control – with consent – to someone else. These encounters require a high level of trust and communication, which enable me to explore pain and power dynamics, safely and pleasurably.
What is Aftercare?
Bondage, roleplay, impact play, and D/s situations aside, one of my favorite aspects of BDSM is aftercare. Aftercare is the time spent holding space for partners after playtime to attend to each other’s mental, emotional, and physical needs. It’s a time to check-in, come back down safely, and make sure everyone’s happy with how a scene played out.
“Sex, especially rough sex or sex involving kink, can be very intense both physically and emotionally,” says Kate Sloan, author of 101 Kinky Things. “This intensity can create physical and mental effects that manifest after sex – whether immediately after or sometime over the next few days – that may range from mild grogginess or disorientation to deep sadness or shame. This is often a result of physical factors like dehydration and low blood sugar, as well as the steep drop-off of endorphins and the ‘return to reality’ that happens when a sexual encounter ends.”
“Sex, especially rough sex or sex involving kink, can be very intense both physically and emotionally.”
Aside from making your partner feel safe and seen after a scene, there are other times when aftercare is necessary. “Aftercare is also important in cases where an injury has occurred during sex, such as if a heavy sadomasochistic scene leads to broken skin,” Sloan says. “Administering first aid should be part of aftercare in those cases.”
Aftercare can look very different for every individual and dynamic. “Aftercare is as subjective as desire and while some people are tuned into their needs prior to play and even in the moment, a lot of people don’t know how they like to be cared for after sex or even that it’s an option,” says Court Vox, Somatic Wellness Coach and founder of The Body Vox and Squirm. “In essence, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’”
Do I Need Aftercare?
When Christine from Rhode Island first began as a submissive (about 10 years ago), aftercare was something she’d never heard of. “I was under the standard misperceptions of what being in a D/s relationship (or BDSM) meant and did not really understand the dynamics,” she says. She was fortunate to meet a Dom who carefully curated her first experiences and still does so today.
For Christine, aftercare creates a safe space where she can gently float through subspace energy and return to the present. “It is also an acknowledgment by my Dom of the gift of consent I have given to be a part of a scene and experience it fully,” she says. “By pampering me, rubbing me gently, bringing me water or a snack, I feel like the energy circle is completed.”
Ideally you would have healthy lines of communication set out well before play starts. An extension of that would be that each partner feels safe communicating their aftercare needs too. When it comes to figuring out what you and a partner need from aftercare, Vox thinks it’s important to ask the question, “Who is this for?” Are you the person creating and fostering aftercare or are you the recipient? Can the aftercare be for both parties, and can it look different for both of you?”
For the folks who have not experienced aftercare or provided it, or simply don’t know what you want, Vox offers the following options to consider and test. “There is no wrong answer, and your choice can and may change from day to day, moment to moment,” Vox says. “And, that’s ok.”
Ideas for Aftercare
Vox offered the following ideas for aftercare:
Holding: You might love warm, affectionate holding following play. Holding is so underrated and it goes against our cultural messaging that we should be “doing”, so notice your urge to scratch, tickle, kiss or massage and simply hold. Focus on your partner’s breath and see if you can match it, notice their heartbeat and your own. Stay present.
Gentle Touch: Especially after very physical, passionate, and heart rate-inducing sex, soft gentle scratches, caresses, and light massage can be a great way to come down from that high in a way that still provides contact, connection, and presence.
Savoring without Touch: For some, there is power and pleasure in removing touch following play, and more specifically orgasm. This is not an invitation to get up or leave, but rather separate, removing physical contact but keeping an energetic presence between you, allowing yourself and your partner/s to steep in your individual pleasures. Given time and space, often there is residual energetic orgasm remaining in the body, even after the big release, and when you get up to use the bathroom right away, you cut off the flow to experience it.
Bathing: I love bathing with a partner after sex. Get out the fragrant soaps, oils, scrubbers and if you’re a real go-getter use flowers, petals, and glow-in-the-dark bath crystals (yes they exist). Turn this time together into a ritual or simply create space to care for one another.
Affirmation: Aftercare might include words of praise and affirmation: “I love when you ____. It drives me wild when____. The way you _____ is the best. You are so beautiful right now.” You can also use this time to make small pivots but I caution that this is not the time for big critique. Treat this time as a celebration of what you’ve just shared. An affirmation with a pivot might sound like this, “I loved when you spanked me, and you know what, I can take it harder next time.” In this way, you are offering praise while asking for a pivot that will increase your pleasure next time.
Left Alone: Depending on the scene, aftercare might look like being left alone. You may request this or in a D/s container, your Dom may decide this is punishment time or a moment for you to contemplate without distraction.
Lastly, Vox says it’s ok to ask, “is there anything you need/want from me in this moment?” Even if the answer is “no” being asked is sometimes enough.
Depending upon the intensity of a scene, aftercare needs may vary. Sure, it may take many different forms, but the bottom line is, after a BDSM scene, aftercare is non-negotiable. One time, Christine participated in a flogging scene at a Fetish night and there was no aftercare (not her regular Dom). “I feel adrift, spacey, and alone, not in a good way,” she says. “Aftercare is a critical coda to a scene in my opinion.”
Aftercare is Not Just for Kinky Sex
Whether you’re having vanilla sex or begging for your life before being gagged and spanked, it can be physically and emotionally taxing. “You’re often exerting a lot of energy, being deeply vulnerable, and doing things you may have some lingering shame or guilt about, and all of that can catch up with you after sex in the form of ‘drop,’ a feeling of physical and emotional malaise,” Sloan says. “Even if the sex you had was totally vanilla, you might still need a Gatorade, a cuddle, and a loving chat with your partner (or whatever else you like to do for aftercare) in order to feel ‘normal’ again when it’s over.”
Sloan points out that it’s also just kinder to your partner(s) if you assume that they might need some extra love and care after sex. “You might feel fine, but you can’t always assume the same is true of the person/people you had sex with, and so it’s good to get into the habit of discussing each person's aftercare needs and trying to give them what they want if you can.”
Every sexual encounter no matter how mild or wild is worthy of a post-play check-in to help make the transition from blissful headspace back to the real world as smooth as possible. Aftercare is the BDSM practice that belongs in every person’s sex life – whether you’re kinky or not.
Ryn Pfeuffer is a versatile print and digital writer specializing in sex, lifestyle, and relationship topics. Over the past two decades, her work has appeared in more than 100 media outlets including Marie Claire, Playboy, Refinery29, The Globe and Mail, The Washington Post, WIRED, and Thrillist.
She adopted a pseudonym and was AVN’s (Adult Video Network) first female porn reviewer – while penning children’s books at the same time. More recently, she is the author of 101 Ways to Rock Online Dating (2019). She lives in Seattle with her rescue dog, Mimi. You can find her on Twitter @rynpfeuffer or IG @ryn_says