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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.