My first real BDSM partner was a full-on headfuck. Outside of play he was one of the most polite, affectionate, romantic people I'd ever encountered. During play, however, he was unabashedly sadistic. He'd happily beat me for hours on end. My fear got him hard. Humiliating me in front of others pleased him.
After I safeworded out of one of our more intense sessions, he watched me cry as I lay on his bed, black and blue and drowsy from the endorphin rush. His impassive glare melted into pout-lipped sympathy and he grabbed some ice to hold to my freshly won wounds. He stroked my hair and looked into my eyes while we talked. Kissed me slowly and tenderly. Held me while we slept afterwards.
If he'd left me by myself or treated me with indifference, I'd have felt used or even traumatized. But his attentive response to my vulnerability cemented the experience in my mind as one of my favorite memories.
O, the sorcery of AFTERCARE.
So, I'm a big fan of sustainability. And to maintain our relationships in BDSM, I believe we must protect the physical, mental, and emotional health of everyone we play with. Aftercare is a huge piece of this puzzle and a main aspect of BDSM best practices in the kinky community.
And I'll be damned, it's also the topic of this post. I'm gonna give you the rundown on what aftercare is, why we do it, and ideas for how you can effectively incorporate it into your partnership dynamic. Tally-ho, let's go.
Table of zie Contents:
I. What is aftercare in the context of kink?
II. Why do we do aftercare?
III. Do all BDSM practitioners do aftercare?
IV. What can happen if you skip aftercare?
V. Aftercare ideas and activities
VI. How to talk about aftercare with your partner
VII. What if you feel bad after a scene?
VIII. What if your partner feels bad after a scene?
IX. Is aftercare just a salve for abuse?
What is aftercare in the context of kink?
After finishing up a BDSM scene with your play partner, you'll want to ensure that you're both able to move forward feeling good about what you did together. Aftercare will help you achieve this.
("'Play'? 'A scene'? Whatchu talkin' about, Molly?" Check out my BDSM glossary for the lingo low-down.)
There's no single or 'correct' way to do aftercare. How this process looks in your dynamic will depend on your unique needs and those of your play partner.
Moving on from a session without this cool-down period can feel like having the rug ripped out from under your feet. This effect is both emotional and scientific in nature.
"Mmm, SCIENCE. Give it to me!"
And I will in just a bit, naughty reader. You must be patient. **wink wink, finger wag, where's my paddle?**
But long story short, the term 'aftercare' refers to the time and effort you'll dedicate to caring for your partner after y'all complete your kinky shenanigans, and skipping it is a very bad idea with potentially shitty consequences.
Why do we do aftercare?
Let me count the ways:
1. Aftercare prevents everyone from feeling used.
Your play partner may very well be aroused by the idea of being objectified or degraded. They may beg you to treat them like property during play. This might actually be the core of their fetish.
However, every healthy, real-life BDSMer I've ever met has wanted to feel deeply valued on a fundamental level. (Scratch that — every HUMAN desires this, no?)
Imagine you're a submissive who lives to please your lovers, even to the point of accepting extreme levels of pain and degradation. How would you feel if your dom peaced out immediately after a scene without any discussion, affection, or concern for your physical and emotional state?
I'm guessing that regardless of how masochistic you are, you'd probably see that as a dick move.
Now imagine you're the dom. Despite everything society's told you about being 'nice,' you've just put all your effort into playing the role of the hurter. You've unleashed your personal interpretation of The Dark Side on your play partner. How would you feel if they threw their clothes on and left without giving a single fuck about your feelings?
The point is, BDSM requires all of us to be incredibly vulnerable, and this deserves reverence. No one should have to walk away from a scene feeling like they've been treated as a thing. If you like your partner enough to play with them, then assuring that they feel valued has to be on your list of priorities.
2. We crave aftercare on a chemical level.
BDSM can produce altered states of mind, particularly when pain is involved. Some people practice kink for this reason alone. (Drugs are fun, kids!)
During play, endorphins are released into the bloodstream in response to pain and stress. They interact with opiate receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain and act similarly to drugs like oxycodone and morphine, producing a potent natural high in practitioners.
As pain begins to feel pleasurable, dopamine is also produced, triggering feelings of euphoria. However, when dopamine levels subside, our prolactin levels rise. Prolactin is a stress hormone that interacts with dopamine and has been linked to feelings of depression and alienation. It makes sense, then, that we and our partners would feel emotional or in need of support after play.
3. Aftercare reduces stress and builds intimacy.
During aftercare, affection and kindness are offered freely between partners, even if those elements were completely absent during the scene. Peer-reviewed studies like this one have shown that partners who had positive BDSM experiences involving displays of caring and affection "showed reductions in physiological stress (cortisol) and increases in relationship closeness" afterward. Noice.
4. It allows us to tend to the physical effects of play.
Sadomasochism is physically demanding. Both you and your partner will need water. (Crying, screaming, struggling, or even just heavy breathing can make subs very thirsty.) You may also feel hungry, cold, anxious, or exhausted after play.
Subs may also be bruised and sore after being hit repeatedly. Ice and lotion are always lovely gestures after sessions involving impact play.
5. It gives us a chance to thank each other for the experience we shared.
I hear some of y'all out there shouting "HIPPIE!!!"
But think about it: BDSM is a uniquely intimate experience that you won't have with the vast majority of people you encounter during your life. It involves a certain level of risk for everyone involved, and there is much at stake.
Wouldn't it be a shame, therefore, not to show appreciation to one another and honor these considerations?
6. It gives us a chance to debrief and talk about how we felt about the scene.
We can share what we loved and what didn't work well, especially with partners we plan to play with long term. This helps us aim for better experiences in the future.
Sometimes it's best to hold off and save those chats for later, however. You and your partner may just want to bask in the post-play glow and wait until your mind is clear before reflecting.
Do all BDSM practitioners do aftercare?
No, but it's expected within the kink community because it really is just basic manners.
Some practitioners I know do BDSM specifically for aftercare. I've also read about people who claim not to want or need it. When it comes to casual play partnerships or scenes of limited intensity, I can understand this.
However, I sometimes get the sneaking suspicion that some aftercare eschewers act tough to avoid appearing vulnerable in front of their partners.
"Beat me to tears and call me a cum dumpster! Hugs and kisses? Bleh! No thank you!"
And I just secretly want to tie these people down and cover them in a swarming gaggle of fluffy puppies until they cry tears of joy.
Anyway, the only good reason for skipping aftercare is if you specifically ask to and your partner is okay with it.
If you're someone who refuses to do aftercare, you should be up front about this during negotiation with the knowledge that it might be a deal-breaker for the other person.
Because honestly, refusing to do aftercare is a fat red flag. Think long and hard before agreeing to play with someone who won't take the time to attend to your needs.
What can happen if you skip aftercare?
Several unpleasant things:
1. Your partner might begin to question whether your encounter was consensual.
This is especially true if your scene ended badly for one reason or another. Your partner might think, "Wow, I wanted to do BDSM, but I didn't sign up to do THAT."
Now of course I'm not saying you should ever use aftercare to manipulate your partner's feelings or excuse nonconsensual behavior after a scene.
What I'm saying is that aftercare is an additional chance to touch base and communicate through intimacy. Use it to make sure your partner is okay.
Submissives who come out of a scene without aftercare are more likely to experience subdrop, a horrible condition that can cause physical flu-like symptoms or mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
Subdrop is caused by a sharp comedown from the rush subs can experience during play. This is similar to the sadness ecstasy users might feel the day after partying when their brain has just dumped its entire serotonin load. People suffering from subdrop will even out in a matter of hours, days, or weeks, but that fact doesn't ease the intensity of those negative feelings.
The first time I experienced subdrop was after a scene that went wrong in front of an audience, after which no aftercare was provided. I cried every day for two weeks. It was a strange chemical imbalance that took time and discussion with my partners to get over.
Aftercare can prevent this situation by bringing the sub out of the scene gently, in a context of affection and approval, which reinforces pleasure in the brain. It's the difference between a soft landing and a hard splat.
Many people talk about aftercare as if it's just for bottoms, but it's important to understand that tops need it as well.
Tops can experience a condition similar to subdrop after scenes. Additionally, they may struggle with feelings of guilt. They need assurance from their partners that their actions were wanted and enjoyed.
4. People in the community will think you're a dick.
Aftercare is considered so vital to members of the BDSM community that some will be quick to scream "Abuse!!" if they hear you walked away from a scene without providing aftercare to your partner.
The respect you receive in the BDSM scene isn't solidified by how much pain you can take or dish out, or how impressive your skills may be. You can be the best bondage guru in your city, but people will still think you're an asshole and talk badly behind your back if your partners don't feel cared for. No bueno.
Aftercare ideas and activities
Now that you know how important aftercare is, let's talk about some ideas for how to do it. As I mentioned before, there's no single way to approach aftercare because everyone is different, so you'll have to think about your partner's specific needs, and your own.
1. Be there.
First and foremost, the most important thing is to be there and stay emotionally connected to your partner right when you finish your scene if it ended well and ESPECIALLY if it ended badly.
Leaving the room right away or pulling out your phone to check Instagram is a great way to make your partner feel awful. They may be feeling extremely vulnerable and the best way to assure they transition out of the scene in a positive way is simply to make them your priority. Give them your full and complete attention.
You have every right to stop a scene at anytime. You're entitled to any feelings you have about how the scene went. If you want to keep your play relationships healthy, however, you can't just leave when things go wrong or feel uncomfortable. Your partner deserves your presence when play is done.
2. Attend to physical considerations.
If you're topping, you'll want to have some items on hand to offer your sub when the scene is over.
Additionally, you'll both probably be tired. It's best to have a comfy spot set up so you can sleep or rest. You may also want to take a bath, give your partner a massage, cuddle, kiss, or whatever else will help them feel good physically.
3. Attend to emotional considerations.
Here are some ideas for inspiring positive emotions in your partner after play:
Praise them for the amazing job they did during your scene. Let them know they've pleased you.
Thank them for what they've done for you.
Mention specific things you liked about how the scene went.
Tell them they look gorgeous (even if they look like a total fucking mess.)
Tell them you love them.
Ask them if they want or need anything.
Put on a happy movie or show you both like.
Put on some relaxing music.
You get the idea. Feel free to get all mushy and gushy.
4. Debrief about your scene.
As I mentioned before, the time to talk about what went well and what didn't might not be right after you finish play. If it's better to wait to have this conversation, do so, but don't neglect having it altogether if there's anything that needs to be said.
How to talk about aftercare with your partner
Many of us feel uncomfortable asking for what we need or desire in our intimate relationships. However, your partner won't know exactly what you want unless you open up and tell them.
Negotiation is a great time to talk about what you want or need during aftercare, and to ask your partner about their needs.
Waiting until after a scene to say "What kind of aftercare do you need?" isn't a great idea because your partner might be a bit out of it and have trouble speaking or thinking clearly. Try to chat before playtime while you're both feeling good and levelheaded.
What if you feel bad after a scene?
You may be experiencing the effects of subdrop or topdrop. It happens to the best of us and I assure you the feeling will pass. Don't worry too much!
My advice is to take some time to cool off before all else. Do whatever you have to do to feel better. Relax, splurge on a massage, eat five gallons of ice cream, and TREAT. YO. SELF.
Once you're feeling a bit better, talk to your partner about your feelings and what's causing them. If they did something that upset you during your scene, try to let them know without sounding accusatory or judgmental. (This is really fucking hard sometimes.) Chances are they didn't do it with the intention of making you sad or pissing you off.
Keep in mind also that BDSM is a continuous learning process. No one is born with the ability to pull it off perfectly. It takes practice and experience to get it right, so try to be patient if your partner is new to power exchange.
Ideally you'll start to feel better after you've talked through the problem and your brain chemicals have evened out a bit.
What if your partner feels bad after a scene?
In most cases, providing good aftercare will help you avoid this. If not, however, be supportive and help your partner get back to a good headspace.
First off, ask whether or not they'd like some time to themselves. They may be in need of some space if they're feeling angry or sad about what went down during your scene. If they don't want space, stay and be patient until they're ready to talk.
While they tell you what's up, actively listen and try not to take their criticisms too personally. We all make mistakes in BDSM and whatever went wrong isn't a reflection of your value as a human being. Additionally, feedback will help you improve your kinky skills and do better in the future, whether that's with the same partner or another.
Next off, I recommend apologizing, even if you don't feel like you've done anything wrong. This doesn't have to be an admission of guilt, but more of an acknowledgement of your partner's feelings. It can be as simple as saying "I'm sorry you're feeling this way and I'll do everything in my power to make sure it doesn't happen again in the future."
The absolute worst thing you can do is brush off your partner's concerns or get angry with them for sharing their feelings with you. They need to feel comfortable giving you feedback and if they suddenly don't, it'll be impossible to keep practicing kink together. I've permanently walked away from play partners who got aggressively defensive after a scene went badly. Don't sabotage your relationship by doing this.
BDSM's easy when everyone's having fun, but how you respond when difficulties arise will tell your partner a lot more about your character. If you can work through problems as a team, your bond is bound to become stronger.
Is aftercare just a salve for abuse?
Renowned BDSM writer Clarisse Thorn addresses this question in this post about aftercare. If you're familiar with the cycle of abuse, you know that abusers follow up their shitty behavior with kindness and affection to brainwash their victims and keep them coming back for more. A commenter wrote to say that BDSM play followed by aftercare seemed to mimic this process.
It's a great point to mull over and discuss. As practitioners of kink, it's crucial that we consciously avoid straying into abusive territory with our play partners.
I was once in an abusive relationship with an ex who had anger management issues. When he felt upset over something, regardless of the cause, he'd explode and find a way to make it my fault. After he'd cooled off he'd be extra sweet and buy me expensive gifts. Over time I felt worse and worse about myself, convinced that I must be a terrible person. By the time the relationship ended and I dragged my ass to therapy, I barely knew who I was anymore.
Good BDSM partnerships don't feel like this. After playing with awesome partners I feel sexy, empowered, valued, and calm. I walk down the street with pep in my step, constantly turned on by thoughts of all the mesmerizing, nasty shit we did the night before.
The pain we feel during playtime is real, but your kinky relationship should make you feel fantastic overall. If it feels bad, it is bad. Trust yourself and get out. There are plenty of BDSMers in the world who won't make you feel like shit or turn your life into a nightmare. Go find them!
If you do encounter an abuser in the BDSM scene, consider letting others know so they can avoid getting involved with that person. Accountability is one of the best things about the kink community. We can look out for each other's safety and well-being.
That's the long and short of it! Thanks for reading and have fun getting sexy out there.