Why Aftercare Is The BDSM Practice That Everyone Should Be Doing

You can read out all my articles for Refinery29 here. PHOTOGRAPHED BY ISA WIPFLI.

If you’re unfamiliar with the BDSM scene, you might think it’s all whips, handcuffs, and pleasurable pain, but there’s one important element that BDSM practitioners have built into their sex lives to make sure that everyone involved feels safe and cared for after play time is over: a practice known as aftercare. And whether you’re into BDSM or have more vanilla tastes, aftercare is something everyone should be doing.

In the BDSM world, aftercare refers to the time and attention given to partners after an intense sexual experience. While these encounters (or “scenes,” as they’re called) are pre-negotiated and involve consent and safe words (in case anyone’s uncomfortable in the moment), that doesn’t mean that people can forget about being considerate and communicative after it’s all over. According to Galen Fous, a kink-positive sex therapist and fetish sex educator, aftercare looks different for everyone, since sexual preferences are so vast. But, in its most basic form, aftercare means communicating and taking care of one another after sex to ensure that all parties are 100% comfortable with what went down. That can include everything from tending to any wounds the submissive partner got during the scene, to taking a moment to be still and relish the experience, Fous says.

“Specifically, with regards to BDSM, the ‘sub-drop’ is what we are hoping to cushion [during aftercare],” says Amanda Luterman, a kink-friendly psychotherapist. A “sub-drop” refers to the sadness a submissive partner may feel once endorphins crash and adrenaline floods their body after a powerful scene (though dominant partners can also experience drops, Fous says).

Of course, you don’t have to be hog-tied and whipped to feel sad after sex. One 2015 study found that nearly 46% of the 230 women surveyed felt feelings of tearfulness and anxiety after sex — which is known as “postcoital dysphoria” — at least once in their lives (and around 5% had experienced these feelings a few times in the four weeks leading up to the study). Experts have speculated that this may stem from the hormonal changes people (particularly those with vaginas) experience after orgasm, but many also say that it can come from feeling neglected. The so-called “orgasm gap” suggests that straight women, in particular, may feel that their needs in bed are ignored. And Luterman says that people in general can also feel lousy post-sex if they’re not communicating about what they liked and didn’t like about the experience.

Clearly, taking the time to be affectionate and talk more after sex — a.k.a. aftercare — can make sex better for everyone, not just those who own multiple pairs of handcuffs. So what does that mean for you? It depends on the kind of sex you’re having, and who you’re having it with.

Like we said, there are lots of guidelines for BDSM aftercare, specifically. If you’re having casual sex, aftercare can mean simply letting your guard down and discussing the experience, something that can be scary to do during a one-night stand. It’s definitely dependent on the situation, but Luterman says that you can just express that you had a good time and see if they’re interested in seeing you again (if those are thoughts you’re actually having). “People want to be reminded that they still are worthwhile, even after they’ve been sexually gratifying to the person,” Luterman says. If your experience didn’t go well, it’s important to voice that, too.

And those in long-term relationships are certainly not exempt from aftercare, Luterman says. It’s something couples should continue to do, especially after trying something new (such as anal sex), she says. Did the sex hurt? Do they want to do it again? What did they like and not like about it? You can’t know what your partner is thinking unless you ask them. Plus, it can be easy for long-term partners to feel taken for granted, so making sure to cuddle, stroke each other’s hair, and savor the moment after sex can make even the most routine sex feel special.

One thing we should all keep in mind? It can also be helpful to continue these conversations when everyone’s vertical (and clothed) and any post-orgasm high has faded.

At the end of the day, aftercare is just a fancy term for making sure everyone’s happy once the sex is over. And while communication needs to be happening before and during sex as well, having these discussions afterwards comes with an added bonus: You can learn from the experience so that the sex is even hotter the next time.

3 Easy Ways to Impress Your New Girlfriend’s Friends

Illustration by Cécile Dormeau, originally published in GQ.

It happened. After seeing each other for a few months, your girlfriend has invited you to meet her friends, and you’re apprehensive. They’ve heard all about you (yeah, they know what your dick looks like). You’ve heard all about them: Ashley intimidates you. You’ve already met Molly through other friends and are worried you made a pass three years ago at a holiday party. You like your girlfriend—maybe you even love her. Now you need her friends to like you, too. Here’s how:

Show Up

Once I was dating someone we’ll call Trevor, who didn’t want to meet my friends. I was young and in denial. Of course, it turned out he had another girlfriend in another New York City borough. Before I figured this out, my friends warned me: “We haven’t met Trevor—is this an actual relationship? Are you sure he’s real?” Then one day, when I was taking Trevor to buy a coat (which is a major girlfriend request from someone playing me, by the way, Trevor), we ran into one of my friends on the street. She said out loud in complete disdain, “Oh, my God, you are real. Nice to meet you.” Women are smart. It’s a major red flag if someone doesn’t want to meet your friends. Don’t be like Trevor, who has since been banished from the city. If you’re exclusive and/or have been going out for more than a few months, you have to show up when your girlfriend invites you to meet her friends. And once you’ve shown up (on time), really show up: Make some jokes, ask sincere questions about her friends’ interests, and act affectionate toward your girlfriend. They’ll love you.

Know When to F*ck Off

Avoiding meeting your girlfriend’s friends is suspect, but not knowing when to step back and give her time sans boyfriend is even more annoying. No one likes a significant other who comes to every single happy hour or brunch. Sometimes women can be complicit in dragging their boyfriend everywhere, and if that’s the case, talk to her about it. She needs alone time with her friends. You need alone time with your friends. One of the secrets to a successful relationship is having time with your buddies to bitch about said relationship. Don’t be the clingy boyfriend at all social events wearing an Apple Watch that alerts you whenever your girlfriend tweets (I’ve seen this happen, and the relationship did not work out).

Know That They’re Watching You

Regardless of how amazing you are, your girlfriend is going to talk about you. There are glass-half-full people who can’t stop raving about their perfect relationship, but most of us are cynical assholes who only open our mouths when we want to bitch about something. If she finds out you’ve been texting with your ex, her friends will hear about it. If you come home after taking mushrooms with your friends and start humming “Your Body Is a Wonderland” during a hand job, her friends will hear. A measured appreciation of early-aughts John Mayer is normal. So is getting into a tiff over an ex. However: Acting controlling or overly jealous, or screaming at her, is neither healthy nor normal. If you act like that, she will tell her friends and they will tell her to dump you, regardless of how good your jokes were at brunch. The real secret to winning over your girlfriend’s friends is treating her with respect.


Sex Magic: How to Cast Spells with Your Orgasms

This article was originally published for Broadly. Illustration by Vivian Shih.

When people ask Kristen Korvette how she landed her first book deal, she normally responds with a predictable platitude: She achieved her dream through a combination of hard work and luck. In private, however, she attributes her success to masturbating under the full moon.

Korvette, the editrix of Slutist and a professor of the New School’s class “The Legacy of the Witch,” is a practitioner of sex magic, using sexual energy (often orgasm) for manifestation.”It happened to be a full moon on the evening I submitted my proposal, so I engaged in my usual practice”— which consists of “listening to my favorite erotically-charged music (which is always glam metal: Motley Crue mostly), lighting a candle that has been carved to symbolize my goal, and unsheathing my crystal dildo to consummate the spell”—”and exactly one month later, on the full moon, I received word that I was in,” she says.

Given the preponderance of love spells and evil-yet-seductive witches in pop culture, it’s understandable that sex magic is so often misunderstood. But according to those who practice the erotic craft, it’s just another form of magical manifestation. “You have an intention, and you’re using orgasms or sex as a tool to achieve that particular intention,” explains Cat Cabral, a Wiccan priestess who managed the East Village occult shop Enchantments for more than a decade. Bri Luna, owner of The Hood Witch, agrees with this characterization. “We’re not talking about how to be sexy or have an enhanced libido. We’re getting down to manifesting, talking about harnessing sexual energy to make very real results,” she says. “Sexual energy is just energy. It’s neutral.”

Neutral, maybe, but extremely powerful nonetheless. “With sex magick, all you need is to reach orgasm and you can change your world,” writes Damon Brand in Adventures in Sex Magick.

The history of sex magic as a whole is as expansive as it is elusive, and it’s often difficult to obtain records about it. According to Sex and the Supernatural by Benjamin Walker, sex magic and erotic mysticism were practiced earliest in Central Asia. The citizens of one area in particular, known as Urgyan, a “semi-mythical kingdom that fought for the rights of the Tibetan people,” and are said to have used rites involving tantra, the build-up (and avoidance to increase power) of sexual energy and orgasm. “[It] was a place of some notoriety, according to the Hundi Chronicles, where intercourse was regarded as not only pro-creative…but for the acquisition of magical power,” writes Walker.

Sex magic through tantra dates back to the middle of the first millennium. The diversity of tantric practices has made it difficult to pinpoint the precise origin, the first record of tantra is likely the Śaiva Mantramārga tradition during the fifth century. While today tantra has often taken on associations with new age sex workshops and Sting, it’s also about harnessing power, and even achieving enlightenment, according to Essence of Vajrayana: The Highest Yoga Tantra Practice of Heruka Body Mandala By Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Unfortunately, many early tantric texts were destroyed by crusaders. The Gnostics, a collection of ancient religions and sects, found in a range of regions from the Middle East to China, also performed sex magic rituals, such as blood rituals and mantras to invoke sexual energy.

The most notorious sex magic practitioner in recent history is Aleister Crowley, a famous 19th century British occultist who viewed sex as “the supreme magical power.” A high-ranking member of the secret society Ordo Templi Orientis, which uses sex rituals heavily in its initiation ceremonies, he went onto write several books on the use of erotic magic. His views were extreme, as was his desire to experiment with new forms of sex magic. In Sex and the Supernatural, Walker writes: “In seeking to enlarge his tantrik-oriented experiences, Crowley advertised for females of all kinds, deformed women, dwarfs, hunchbacks, and as he put it in his characteristically unfeeling way, ‘freaks of all sorts.'”

Contemporary witches dismiss much of his work. “It veered on the more racist and sexist and just really weird,” says Luna. “I feel that a lot of his work, for what it was, was very self-serving and low vibrational, very demonic in a sense where you’re working with things that if you have no idea what the hell you’re doing, you could fuck yourself up. I’ve never felt compelled to go any further with studying him.”

Modern sex magic users have a myriad of historical, cultural practices to draw inspiration from, and many of them emphasize the importance of finding what works best for you. In ways, sex magic is similar to any other form of energy work, which harnesses energy, with the practitioner often tapping into their own spiritual energy to heal. the only difference is that the energy being harnessed in this case is the release of orgasm. “The first step is to have a clear goal and an intention of what you want,” says Luna. “I find for me that sex magic works best when your intention has to do with sex, love, confidence, power, strength.”

“Not, I need a new car, I’m gonna masturbate—that’s just so silly,” says Cabral.”

Other techniques involve repeating mantras during orgasm, focusing on sigils (a magical symbol) to help focus your energy, and invoking certain deities. Hathor, Isis, and Aphrodite are common goddess to invoke, but you can use whatever deity appeals most to you since sex magic is so personalized and intuitional. “I think everybody needs to find deities or mythology or archetypes that relate to them. So for some people that’s staying within their own heritage or culture,” says Cabral. “Personally, I love working with Venus or Aphrodite.” Intuition, she adds, is “the most important thing.”

Indeed, most witches will say that sex magic is one of the most intuitive practices. “I came to sex magic pretty intuitively,” recalls Korvett. “As a young girl, my mother taught me the power of manifestation, but in a G-rated way, of course. Somehow I made the connection between that and all the self-pleasure I was engaging in, and realized it could be used in a more powerful and productive way.”

Another, perhaps less intuitive, component of sex magic involves the use of bodily fluids. An early example of this is Abbe Guibourg, a French Roman Catholic occultistknown as a “renegade priest,” who in 1683 performed a Black Mass, a corruption of the traditional Catholic ceremony. Such ceremonies involve the nun figure urinatinginto a chalice, often as a demonstration of opposition to strict Catholic beliefs. Period blood is another useful liquid in sex magic, and according to Luna, there is a long folkloric history of women putting period blood into coffee or tea or red pasta sauce (because it is easy to hide!) often for binding spells, to cause sexual attraction, as in the Hoodoo tradition. Some practitioners also do spells with a concoction of semen mixed with period blood, which is considered very powerful. The mixture typically obtained and placed in a chalice, or swapped through kissing after oral sex, in a ritual believed to “seal” the magic performed, or create whatever manifestation the practitioner desires (again, sex magic goals don’t have to be about sex), according to Brand.

“Blood is life, especially menstrual blood; it nourishes life, you grow humans,” says Luna, adding that you can use bodily fluids to dress candles and talismans, meaning coating a candle, often carved with a sigil, with a substance whose properties are believed to help one achieve their goal.. (If you are going to work with bodily fluids, please be aware of the health risks. Feeding and eating bodily fluids carries the same danger as oral sex, so get tested, discuss it with partners beforehand, and become educated on dangers. “You’re playing with someone’s will and health. You can transmit diseases and all kinds of icky things,” cautions Luna.)

In general, when practicing with a partner, communication is very important. Luna says that you should either work together completely or keep your partner entirely in the dark about the fact that you’re manifesting magic during intercourse. “Either they know what it is that you’re doing, or they shouldn’t know at all. Because any person who kind of knows and isn’t really into it they can fuck up the whole flow of energy,” she explains. “So either keep them ignorant altogether, or they know and they are going to focus on that energy as well, so it makes it that much more powerful if you are going to come together.”

Even those uninterested or skeptical of practices such as magic can attest to the intimacy and intensity of coming at the same time. “With a partner, it becomes really cool and exciting when you can trust someone, and the both of you can work together. You know, staring at each other in the eyes, maybe slowing down an orgasm, breathing together,” says Cabral.

For many practitioners, though, the fact that sex magic can be practiced alone is one of its main draws. “Although I’ve experimented with partnered sex magic, I find the solo spells have worked better for me thus far,” says Korvette. In a world that’s traditionally punished women for freely enjoying both sex and magic, combining the two can feel revolutionary—and taking matters into one’s own hands only heightens that sense.

“Witchcraft in and of itself if very empowering for women… you know that all of your power is just innately within yourself,” says Luna. “One of the most powerful aspects any women can have is owning her sexuality, and not being afraid of that power, and not being afraid to use that power.”

3 Things You Should Add to Your Tinder Bio If You’re a Short Guy

Did I mention I’m writing for GQ now? Dream come true. This article was originally published on GQ.com. 

Short guys: I’m sorry. The stigma against you is unfair, especially when it comes to Tinder. When the next option is simply a swipe of a finger away, it’s too easy to dismiss a potentially perfect partner based on shallow attributes. Women don’t really give a fuck about height IRL, but then we jump on Tinder and we’re faced with all these giant men boasting about their heights (“6’3”, because apparently that’s important to you”) and it starts to feel like a priority. Height is important to some women, but they’re usually the ones looking for one-off sexual encounters, rather than a love stronger than superficial requirements. Perhaps you’re thinking: “This is some bullshit, women should love me for me, not my height, and I’m not going to mention it.” But if you’re shorter than the average U.S. male height (5’9”) there are actually benefits to listing your height on your Tinder profile—at least, within a few inches. Calling 5’5” 5’6”, for example, seems relatively harmless. Just don’t outright lie, by using photos that aren’t you or by calling yourself an entire six inches taller than you actually are. Lying will start your first date off on a bad foot, and no one wants to fuck a liar.

A soothing FYI: I’ve dated guys who are 5’5” with much bigger dicks than guys who are 6’5”.

A cautionary FYI: Never brag about your dick size on a Tinder profile.

If you play it right, you can appear suave and confident right out the gate. Here are some non-douchey suggestions to put in your Tinder profile if you’re short.

“I’m 5’4” but don’t give a fuck if you wear heels.”

Unless you have reached enlightenment—Gandhi was 5’4”—if you’re a short guy you likely dogive a fuck if the lady standing next to you wears heels. Non-Gandhi straight men typically want to be yuge-er than their mate (can you even imagine how extra awful Trump would be if he was short?) This dates back to caveman roles where the man was expected to protect his kin from saber tooth tigers (probably). Therefore, for many short men a woman of equal or lesser height should be an ideal match. But ugh, heels. In my experiences dating shorter guys, their prickly discomfort when I wore heels (Doc Martens don’t work at an upscale holiday party, sorry) was my biggest beef. Owning your height and acting secure enough to be okay with women wearing heels is a stepping stone to fantastic sex.

“I’m 5’5″ so we can’t ride everything at the fair unless you bring a large trench coat.”

This Tinder bio suggestion came directly from my friend Dave, who has used it with success. Being funny and irreverent gets you laid. Confidence gets you laid. You know who I’d like to swipe right with? Al Pacino. Sure, he’s 5’7”, but he’s Al Pacino (Al Paci-YES). Confidence is everything. Add this to your profile because it shows you don’t give a fuck; you’re so dope you’ll sit on a chick’s soldiers in a trench coat like you’re in The Little Rascals.

“I’m the same height as Gael García Bernal.”

Not only is Gael García Bernal hot as hell (holy Motorcycle Diaries) but you’re shifting the short-guy association away from the Tom Cruises and Napoleons of the world. The dreaded Napoleon Complex implies that as a short guy, you suffer from insecurities that lead to brutal war crimes (or, you know, being rude to waiters). That stereotype is often inaccurate, but we’ve all heard it. Redirect her attention to a sexy, successful, non-war criminal. Daniel Radcliffe is 5’5” and who doesn’t want to fuck Harry Potter? Prince (RIP), the man capable of delivering the most powerful orgasm on the planet, was 5’2”. By using celebrity comparisons rather than numbers, you’re also allowing for useful (and erotic) visualization.

A final soothing FYI: I’m still not entirely sure how tall my current boyfriend is, and we live together. He’s somewhere around my height, but I’m not even entirely sure how tall I am. Further proof that women truly DGAF about height.

 

I Got Botox in My Scrotum and My Sex Life Has Never Been Better

I wrote this for Cosmo! Originally published here. The lovely artwork is by Katie Buckleitner.

Wanting to smooth forehead wrinkles is one thing, but men, whose use of cosmetic fillers has risen 355 percent from 2000 to 2015, have begun to inject Botox into an unlikely place: Their scrotum. The procedure is called “Scrotox,” a term made famous by a 2010 Saturday Night Live sketch. While injecting Botox into the scrotum has gone viral for cosmetic reasons, actual medical research is slim. “There’s literally only one peer-reviewed manuscript on Scrotox, and it wasn’t for cosmetic; it was for scrotal pain,” says Dr. Mary K. Samplaski, resident scrotum expert at the University of Southern California, Institute of Urology.

Men looking to smooth their sack often seek out plastic surgeons like Dr. John Mesa, who has performed Scrotox (solely using Botox for its reliability) on 10 men in the past year. Botox relaxes muscles, allowing the testicles to drop lower, which can make your balls look bigger. According to Mesa, Scrotox mimics the effect of a warm day: the balls appear lower and look smoother with fewer wrinkles. The cost of Scrotox is the roughly same as regular Botox, or $520-$800 per session.

While the procedure is believed to be as safe as Botox anywhere else on the body, injecting neurotoxins into your scrotum can seem daunting. If testicles become too hot, a man can risk becoming sterile. As Dr. Mesa explains, however, since Scrotox causes the balls to drop lower rather than closer to the body, “…I would say Botox in the scrotum would be more beneficial because it keeps the temperature of the testicles lower.”

Cosmopolitan.com spoke to one man who received Scrotox for cosmetic reasons. Here’s what he had to say about the procedure.

“I’m a 29-year-old man, I live in Manhattan, and yes, I got Scrotox. I’m a physician myself, an internist. Botox, especially on your scrotum, can still have some stigma depending on who you are talking to, so because I’m a physician, I wanted to be confidential. I do have a bunch of friends who have been getting Botox or plastic surgeries, and some of them are actually guys. I can sense that it’s an increasing trend for guys to be more open to plastic surgery and procedures such as Scrotox.

Dr. Mesa has done Botox for me before, about a year and a half ago. I had some done on my forehead because I have wrinkles and I wanted to avoid them getting worse as a preventative measure.

I learned about Scrotox through my girlfriend, who is also a physician. She said that she heard a friend talking about it. She had never mentioned or complained about how my scrotum looked before, but after hearing about the procedure from friends she became curious, and started joking around about me getting it done. She’d say, ‘You know what, what do you think about this?’ At first, I was like, ‘That sounds pretty crazy.’ But she just kept joking around that it could be good for sex, so I began to become curious myself. We began doing research together about the procedure, and read user reviews that said since Scrotox makes the balls hang lower and looser, my [scrotum] would make contact better with her skin during sex. In particular, [it would] stimulate the clitoris more. We also were curious about it making sex better for me, as looser balls could feel more comfortable for me as well.

We’re a couple who enjoys trying new things together, and since we’re also both physicians, we’re comfortable with medical procedures. After reading comments on plastic surgery online forums, and noticing a consistency (no one wrote that they had regretted it) and then discussing with friends in the medical field, I decided to go for it. Honestly, it was curiosity, and a desire to try something new with my girlfriend, that lead me from originally thinking the idea was crazy to wanting to give it a shot. Why not?

So in July, I had the procedure done. The day I went into Dr. Mesa’s office, my girlfriend told me she was excited, and my thoughts were mostly nervous excitement. It’s an invasive procedure, and obviously the genitals are a sensitive region, but then again so is the face, and I’d already had Botox done there with no problem.

Compared to Botox on my forehead, the procedure was similar; but yes, as it turns out this is definitely a more sensitive area. Honestly, though, I was expecting it to be a little bit more painful. At the beginning when they apply the anesthetic you can feel that, and that’s uncomfortable for a few seconds, and then you don’t really feel any pain during the actual injections. While the procedure feels like 10 hours due to nerves, it actually only takes about 10-15 minutes. My doctor engaged me in small talk the entire time to help distract me.

It’s a little bit sore and sensitive for a few hours after, but by the next day I felt fine. The results don’t happen right away, but within that week or so I did feel like my scrotum was more relaxed than before. They are not loose all the time, which is one of the things I was not expecting. It was after the results had set in, about five days afterward, when I showed my girlfriend and we had sex. She was pleased with both the results and that I was open-minded enough to try the Scrotox. The sex was great! It did make the sex more enjoyable. While it doesn’t make sex last longer, along with the aesthetics, my lower-hanging, relaxed and looser balls were more stimulating for my girlfriend. For her, she says it does stimulate the vulva region more and perhaps even the clitoris [when we have sex in certain positions]. As they are lower, they can reach places on her body better.

I think overall, the biggest effect the procedure had on our relationship is that I showed I was willing to be being open minded and giving it a shot for her; that was a very positive outcome of the procedure. Trying new things together sexually is something that both of us enjoy a lot, and that has positively affected our relationship and my self-confidence.

If you are considering this procedure, do your research. I have friends who are plastic surgeons, and I asked them: ‘What do you think about this procedure?’ They said, ‘We think it’s safe, we think it can help, but it’s relatively new, so we are still learning the long-term side effects. But it appears to be safe, so if you want to give it a try find a good plastic surgeon.’

I was happy with his procedure, and I’m happy with the results, and so is my girlfriend. I’m scheduled to go back in two weeks for another injection.”

HOW VANITY CURED MY DEPRESSION

I wrote this for Harper’s Bazaar

Down the street from my cluttered Brooklyn apartment sits a high-end nail salon that helped to save my life. Filled with aspirational pink cushions and soft notes of jasmine, the salon’s manicurists would paint my short, round nails an O.P.I black onyx—or, if it were a cheerier day, a dark purple.

For two years, during 2013 and most of 2014, I was deeply depressed. After experiencing a sexual assault, a breakup, and my parents’ divorce, the structure of my world slowly began to give way. I was held captive by a distinct powerlessness that sucked me into a vortex of dark disappointment; and eventually, the cruelest depression I had ever experienced.

I sought out a psychiatrist and as expected, my blood was soon filled with sex drive-killing antidepressants. Though they helped, I quickly learned that what I really needed at the time, what I actually wanted, was slightly simpler—I wanted someone to take care of me.

It started with the manicurists at my nail salon. I learned that having appointments to show up to (especially those that included a massage while my nails dried) helped to get me out of bed. I dyed my hair an oxblood red that, coincidentally, needed several visits to the hair salon. Gradually, I began to put more effort into my appearance at home: I tried winged eyeliner and I discovered eye cream. Before I knew it I had found a bonafide beauty routine, which, rather than cover up what I was going through (although a YSL red lipstick is a terrific tool for camouflage), became a daily reminder that I was a living, breathing person who was worthy of being considered—worthy of being paid attention to. And apparently, I was onto something.

“Self-care is enormously helpful during depression,” explained Dr. Marlynn Wei, a New York-based psychiatrist and psychotherapist. “Depression often causes isolation and withdrawal from all the things that you normally do to take care of yourself and feelings of low self-worth, so making sure to focus on being kind to yourself to allow yourself to heal is so important during this time,” she continued. “Beauty routines, if done mindfully from a place of self-compassion, can also enhance your mind-body connection.”

In my experience with depression, the enemy is not unwanted thoughts dancing for attention (as with anxiety), or even daggers of self-hatred. What you’re fighting is a nothingness set on sucking your ambition, and in later stages, a will to live. It’s a faceless enemy that fights dirty. For me, the act of self-care was retaliation. It helped me to feel alive. It wasn’t so much about the discovery of night cream—or the lasting power of Kat Von D’s liquid lip liner—it was the “Hey, you! I know you want to die right now, but still you’re beautiful, and worthy of being taken care of.”

Today, in an age where women are shamed for their makeup routines and their want to look beautiful as much as they are for daring to appear disheveled, engaging in vanity was an act of triumph I didn’t know I was capable of. The maintenance required to obtain my red hair and perfectly-manicured hands might not be for everyone (for you it might be long hot showers, a new hairstyle, or wearing high heels again), but somewhere along the way, I began to see glimmers of my old, buried self. What’s more, I wasn’t choosing a beauty routine to please a perspective romantic partner, I was doing it for me.

During this period I moved out of my ex-partner’s apartment and into my own. I dove into writing. And, over manicures, I turned Twitter friendships to new, real-life friendships with fellow writers. Slowly, I got better. Through therapy I dealt with the sexual assault and the pains of the breakup, which faded and eventually morphed into a friendship. Now I live with a new partner who is not scared of my occasional depressive proclivities. And at one point, with the support of my doctor, I simply stopped taking my anti-depressants—and nothing happened. I didn’t need them anymore.

When I look back at the person sitting in that Brooklyn nail salon, I hardly recognize her. But I do thank her for teaching me how to properly apply a red lipstick and the value of a night cream. And while I still haven’t learned to do my own nails (I lack the dexterity), I finally found the important person I needed to take care of me: myself.

 

How to Stay Kinky After You Have Kids

New for VICE! Illustration by Heather Benjamin.

Having children changes your life, plain and simple. The newfound responsibility of caring for an infant will bleed into all aspects of your existence, from your career and social life, to your home and personal life. It probably goes without saying that your sex life will be as affected as your sleep schedule during the first few years of being a parent.

As they grow older, you’ll hopefully regain some semblance of your former lifestyle, but what if aspects of your identity are at odds with what people tend to consider a “child-friendly environment”? For parents who embrace kink and consider BDSM a core aspect of their identity and sexuality, how far should you go, if at all, to hide your adult interests from your mini-yous?

“Sex is for consenting adults, sex toys are for consenting adults—that doesn’t need to be around kids. Kinky stuff or non-kinky stuff, it doesn’t matter,” says New York City-based kink-friendly therapist Dulcinea Pitagora.

VICE spoke to several parents who embrace kink and BDSM. Though they had various takes on the limits of privacy, the most consistent attitude was that maintaining happy, true-to-themselves sex lives keeps them happy parents, which makes for happier families.

James from Wisconsin
31-Years-Old
Two Kids, Ages 2 and 7 Months Old

VICE: Will you introduce yourself and tell me a bit about your sexuality and kinks?
James: I identify as straight, but truthfully I’m heteroflexible. I like people who are feminine with little regard to what genitals they have. I’m a dominant male, with some sadistic undertones, but I spend 99 percent of my time as just a vanilla dad and husband.

Do you have any stories about the two worlds intersecting?
The older boy is in his explorative stage. Once he found my spouse’s steel butt plug, and couldn’t wait to show it off to our vanilla guest. My spouse didn’t skip a beat, and with a gleam in her eye explained that was mommy’s toy and to give it back. Our guest got red in the cheeks and was obviously interested in the idea of the plug, but was quick to state she had never tried one.

We spend a lot of time in front of our kids nude. Our son has seen marks on his momma, and points to them and says, “Owie!” We nod and say, “Yeah kiddo; that’s momma’s owie.” That’s the end of it. I’m sure once he reaches school age, we would be more discreet with our bodies, but honestly, that’d be more to let him know he can’t just run around naked in front of guests. We want our children to be comfortable in their skin and to know they are beautiful and not to be hidden in some weird standard placed by Puritans hundreds of years ago who would stone us for enjoying sex if they had their way.

How do you explain things to the kids when they find toys?
Our son is of an age where he finds things even if we try desperately to hide them. As such, he often finds things that aren’t his, but he knows when we tell him something is Dad’s or Mom’s to leave it alone. My spouse and I have always said we will be in a sex-positive home. Even as our kids learn what a vibrator is and that those Velcro straps on our bed are for momma. We never had the intention of hiding them, but rather wanted to keep them out of sight at a responsible level without inconveniencing or acting like such toys are shameful.

What advice would you give to other kinky parents?
Be true to yourself. Your (legal) kink isn’t something to be ashamed of, and your kids will respect honesty more than a person who is afraid of themselves and their needs.

J. from Texas
45-Years-Old
Four Kids: Ages 13, 16, 19, and 21

VICE: Tell me a little bit about your kinks. You’re a dominant-switch, correct?
Jay: I didn’t start out as a switch, but that happens a lot to people in the kink world: you start out as one thing and then keep evolving. [My husband and I] evolved together; we are partners in pretty much everything. We live in a small town where my husband has a very prominent position, so [our sex life] is not an open thing. He’s the financial earner in our household. Eight years into our marriage, I went from being a sub or bottom [to a dominant switch]. As far as fetishes, we play with temperature, texture, and do food play. When I had kids, we started incorporating adult nursing in the bedroom. I’m up for trying anything. It’s worked for the 23 years we’ve been together.

Do you have to worry about keeping sex toys hidden from your kids?
We are into spanking, but with belts and stuff that is part of our household. I don’t wear a collar, never have. I have hair that’s down to my waist. My husband doesn’t need a leash; my hair is my leash. I have a toy chest that’s filled with silk restraints, blindfolds, candles, and other BDSM toys. Our kids have been aware for a long time that mom and dad have a sex life. I always wanted my kids to see a good physical relationship. That’s something we don’t hide from our children. You get the sense they are slightly embarrassed but like it too. You have families who are in crisis, and, to my kids, I’m like: “This is for you too so you can see that everything is OK.” I think our openness with our children really developed from that. I’m the crazy mom that goes out and buys my 16-year-old condoms, cock rings, and lube. If they’re going to explore this, I want them to do it safely, with some forethought to what they’re doing.

Have you talked to them about kink?
My oldest one, who’s 21, is definitely into kink. But she didn’t express so until she went to college and got into a situation where somebody took her boundaries past the level of consent, so we started having those conversations then. I think if we had talked [earlier on] maybe she wouldn’t have been in that relationship, but when my daughter needed support she felt like she could talk to us because she knew that we were into kink. She didn’t know specifically what we did, but there was enough evidence that she knew.

What happened after you spoke? Do you talk to your other children about kink?
I learned she was very much into choking, which for me, is not a hard limit because we do it some, but it is a soft limit. My therapist was into kink, and she died in a scene because her trachea was crushed. The more you do it frequently, the softer the trachea becomes. Hers collapsed, and her partner couldn’t bring her back. So we talked about that and choking and the different kinds of holds.

My 16-year-old and I are very close, and he is a submissive male and into bigger girls. I’m like, “Do your friends make fun of you?” And he’s like, “No mom, I make fun of them for the skinny girls they date!” We’ve also talked about male submission and doing it in a healthy way.

Our 19-year-old daughter is more conservative in her views of sex. We are perfectly fine with that. In my household, your kinks are your kinks and your non-kinks and your non-kinks. As long as you’re not hiding from yourself who you are.

Chris from New Jersey
35 Years Old
Two Kids: Ages 3 and 19 Months

VICE: You and your wife were high school sweethearts. Did you discover your kinks together?
Chris: I am kinky by nature. I had these urges before I knew what they were. The process of me coming to grips with them took a very long time because I grew up in a rather conservative household. By my 20s, I had accepted who I was, but only now recently have I truly become proud of it. My wife, ironically, is from a household that has the motto of letting your freak flag fly, but she didn’t know much of anything about kink until she met me.

What are some of your kinks?
I’m bisexual, but I haven’t actually had sex with another man. I’d love to do it. I am a sexual bottom and the best term I use to describe my sexuality is “sensation slut.” I like being on the receiving end of things and not able to control it. I like pushing myself to the limits of the sensations I receive, good or bad.

What’s your at-home kink setup like?
We live in a three-floor Victorian house. At the moment, all of our kink activities occur in our bedroom. We have a large plastic foot locker in our bedroom closet that we keep all of our toys in. I recently got over $200 in electrical eStem equipment, which has been a joy. I finally got an actual gag after all this time because I’m very noisy. I picked up a new hood, a pair of latex briefs with a built-in anal plug, a spreader bar, and a couple different whips.

Have your kids ever seen your toys?
My son had a dentist appointment on Wednesday and the dentist gave him a toy, one of the infamous latex gloves blown up into a balloon. He thought it was the greatest thing in the whole wide world. Unfortunately, he ripped it open after coming home and was crushed. I went upstairs, and he followed me to said footlocker of things that shall not be mentioned. I grabbed another latex glove, since we have those. I came back down, and he happily had another glove to play with. My wife looked at me and was like, “You did not show him what was in there… Our Rain Man son is going to remember that that item came from that location, and in three months we’re going to be in that room, and he’ll be asking for a glove balloon.”

Would you be open with them about your kinks if they asked?
Jesus, they’re three and one and a half. In another ten years, I’m going to have to have a conversation with them that’s a little more serious. I hope to be as honest as I can without providing specific details.

Any words of advice for someone kinky considering having kids?
Just because you have kids doesn’t mean kink is over. You may have to slow down for a minute; you may have to put in on the side, but you’re not going to forget it. Sometimes innocuous black luggage is the best place to hide things with a little lock because no one ever thinks to look there.

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Parents who embrace sex-positive, kinky relationships may create a more open and healthy environment for children to grow up in. BDSM requires a certain level of openness and honesty, and practicing that behavior could even help parents teach their children about the importance of topics such as consent or keeping an open mind to non-normative taste and not being ashamed of what you’re into. “Not that [kids] need to be privy to the specifics of what you are negotiating or consenting to, but the kind of relationship that kinky parents might have could be a great model for communication and setting boundaries,” says Pitagora.