'Aftercare' Is The BDSM Practice We Should Use For Vanilla Sex, Too

This ritual can improve your sex life, whether you're kinky or not.
Practicing aftercare is considered essential in BDSM circles. But anyone can benefit from adding it to their sexual repertoire.
Frank and Helena via Getty Images
Practicing aftercare is considered essential in BDSM circles. But anyone can benefit from adding it to their sexual repertoire.

When sex is over, does your partner just roll over, reach for their phone and zone out? Maybe they doze off right away while you lie there, wide awake, looking for connection. Perhaps they’re the kind of person who finishes, gathers their things and heads straight for the door. If any of this sounds familiar, you could probably use some aftercare in your sex life.

In the world of BDSM, aftercare is a post-play ritual in which partners exchange physical or emotional comfort following an intense sexual experience. And it’s high time we make it a standard part of vanilla (i.e. non-kinky, conventional) sex, too.

Aftercare might involve offering your partner a snack or something to drink, cuddling with them, giving them a compliment, having a good conversation, watching a movie or tending to any minor injuries sustained during the BDSM “scene” (that is, the time in which two or more partners are participating in agreed-upon BDSM activities). You might also talk about what you each enjoyed — or didn’t — about the experience. What you choose to include in your aftercare practice may vary depending on your individual preferences.

This kind of nurturing helps both partners gently come down from the heady neurochemical high of the BDSM scene, and avoid the low emotional state known as “drop” in kink circles.

“BDSM play is inherently risky, whether physically or emotionally,” sex educator Kenneth Play, creator of the “Sex Hacker Pro” series, told HuffPost. “It involves a higher level of vulnerability and trust than normal sex.”

“Taking care of someone after this is an act of protection and care, helping them ease back into normal consciousness,” he said.

Even folks who engage in regular ol’ vanilla sex can benefit from the soothing, grounding feelings of tenderness and affection that aftercare provides. (And if you’re already in the habit of doing this, then props to you!)

“Aftercare is definitely not just for BDSM scenes or sex,” Play said. “It’s also something that should be done in casual sex, in my opinion.”

Good sex, no matter how tame or wild, requires intimacy, vulnerability and lowering our inhibitions. And it’s not unusual for people to feel a little down, anxious or otherwise “off” after it’s over.

“Post-sex, people are often flooded with intense emotions and neurochemicals like oxytocin,” Play said. “Showing someone love during this time ensures that they feel safe to get vulnerable with you — or someone else — again, and protects their heart. If you want to bond with someone, this is the time to do it.”

It's important to discuss your aftercare preferences with your partner <em>before</em> sex happens.
Willie B. Thomas via Getty Images
It's important to discuss your aftercare preferences with your partner before sex happens.

Aftercare isn’t just for people in committed relationships (or those who wish to be). Even if you’re in a friends-with-benefits situation or having a one-night stand, you can practice these principles.

“While it may seem odd to engage in aftercare with someone you’re not seriously dating, it’s still important,” sexologist Gigi Engle wrote in 2019 for MindBodyGreen. “It’s not about making someone fall in love with you or trying to make a more serious relationship out of something casual. It’s about making sure everyone is cared for with respect and tenderness so that they can leave a sexual experience feeling good about themselves.”

“Thoughtful aftercare Q&A, cuddling or taking a walk together afterward can help to create a deeper connection.”

- Hudsy Brooke, retired professional dominatrix

Hudsy Brooke, a retired professional dominatrix turned lifestyle coach, said that practicing aftercare can make all sexual experiences more fulfilling and connected.

“Thoughtful aftercare Q&A, cuddling or taking a walk together afterward can help to create a deeper connection,” she said. “Nonverbal actions such as bringing your lover a glass of water, running a bath, or even rubbing one another’s feet can inspire more open aftercare discussions.”

Another benefit of these comforting post-coital rituals: They can help alleviate any feelings of sex-related shame that may arise. A sexual experience that ends too abruptly can exacerbate these negative feelings and leave some people feeling “used.”

“Women, in particular, have been socialized to feel that [sex for] sexual gratification only is a shameful act,” Gail Saltz, associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell School of Medicine, told MindBodyGreen. “It is, of course, not, but nonetheless, being cared for in some way afterward often mitigates those feelings of shame.”

The best time to ask your partner about their aftercare preferences — and to share your own — is before you get down to business, Brooke said. If you’re a little apprehensive about being so upfront about your needs, know that it’s normal to feel that way. But having these honest conversations ahead of time is worth it.

“It’s difficult to guess correctly or read minds, especially when we are in the heat of the moment,” Brooke said. “At the end of an encounter, we are usually left to our own thoughts and interpretations of what went down. When we have some information going in on how to return safely back to normal, everyone wins.”

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