Health

13 Ways to Practice Sexual Aftercare After BDSM or Vanilla Sex

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WHETHER IT’S A QUICK cuddle or some long, relaxing pillow talk, aftercare is a common practice when it comes to hooking up. Think of it as a post-sex wind-down ritual—something you do to ground yourself and support your partner(s) after getting it on.

“Aftercare is basically the care-taking that is done by all parties involved after a sexual experience [in order] to check in emotionally and physically,” explains certified sex educator Irma Garcia.

If you’ve heard the term before, it might because aftercare has historically been associated with BDSM—an umbrella acronym that encompasses bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism, and masochism. This is because sex involving BDSM dynamics can get pretty intense. Sometimes folks are consensually tied up, spanked, hit, humiliated, or otherwise physically and psychologically controlled. It can be incredibly immersive, so aftercare is used to bring partners back into the headspace of reality.

But aftercare isn’t just important for people who prefer chains and whips. Everyone can benefit from the ritual since aftercare can make the bond with your partner(s) stronger and up the overall intimacy of your sexual experience. What’s key here is establishing an aftercare routine that addresses the physical and mental well-being of your partner. The goal is to take care of each other so you both come down from the experience happy, connected, and safe.

From the reasons to incorporate aftercare into your repertoire to our best aftercare ideas, here’s everything you need to know.


The Benefits of Sexual Aftercare

The main purpose of aftercare is to ensure our partners can happily transition back into the real world from the blissful headspace of sexual pleasure and/or BDSM play. It’s imperative that partners feel cared for since feelings of safety and intimacy go hand-in-hand.

Sexual Aftercare and BDSM

If you’re practicing BDSM, aftercare is especially vital to avoid Dom/sub drop: the uncomfortable physical, mental, and emotional sensations that sometimes come up in the hours and days after an intense scene.

Dom/sub drop may be linked to postcoital dysphoria, which is when someone feels sadness or anxiety after otherwise wonderful and consensual sex. Often this reaction is linked to other stressors in the outside world, such as a history of trauma or existing psychological distress. (BTW, it’s also essential to consider what headspace you’re in before you approach a scene; sometimes a negative headspace translates during and after sex, which may not serve you in the ways you’d like.)

As you’re navigating the dynamics of your partnership, it’s important to note that aftercare is essential for both dominant and submissive partners. And because aftercare functions as an intentional check-in, it can aid in the steps toward healing from sexual trauma—in fact, many folks use BDSM as a supplement to healing.

Others may find that BDSM and kink activity come with shame that’s difficult to unpack, in which case, aftercare can be a helpful transitioning tool; it’s like a bridge to a less intense mind space. “After acknowledging [Dom/sub drop], if you’re ready, let it go,” says Garcia, “This can be done by presenting the opposite of what your mind is saying (i.e. if you’re thinking you’re unworthy, think the opposite). And remember that your body is working as it should; it’s normal to experience hormonal drops/imbalances after experiencing too much of one thing (i.e. adrenaline rushes), so nothing is wrong with you.”

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The Best Ways to Practice Sexual Aftercare

The overall goal of aftercare—whether you’re having BDSM, kinky, or vanilla sex—is to return each other to a comfortable headspace and make sure no one feels neglected or sensitive post-play. In order to do that, you’ll want to talk about your ideal aftercare situation. “The communication element is very important here,” Garcia says. “That’s when you find out what everyone needs to feel safe before, during, and after a play session.”

This list isn’t all-inclusive, and often, multiple of these activities are used within the same night. Consider these ideas a jumping-off point for connecting and caring post-sex:

Cuddling

Cuddling has positive benefits on your body and your relationships, so naturally, it’s a great form of aftercare. Cuddling helps us release the hormone oxytocin which can reduce stress and increase intimacy. Plus, cuddling is a low-energy activity that can soothe a submissive on the receiving end of impact play or anyone who’s feeling a little overexerted from all that extra cardio.

Rehydrating and snacks

It’s important to drink water all the time, but especially after sex. The benefits of staying hydrated are plentiful, and they’re even more so when physical activity is involved. Some folks also like to snack after getting it on, so keep your cupboards thoroughly stocked.

Going on a date

If you practice ethical non-monogamy or polyamory, reconnecting with your primary partner(s) after a group sex experience or outside hookup is pivotal. One of the best ways to do this is to plan a date directly afterward. This gives you the chance to meet up in a public space to talk, connect, and each get back to a neutral headspace before returning home together.

Honoring post-sex communication needs

Another important aftercare tool ethically non-monogamous folks should consider is their partner(s) needs regarding information. Some people want to know who their partner was with and what they did (in varying levels of detail), while others would rather skip any and all mentions of the sex had outside of the relationship. Come to a clear understanding of how much your primary partner(s) wants to know in order for them to feel cared for after hookups with secondary partners.

Taking care of any minor injuries

While you shouldn’t be significantly injured after a session, some folks do indulge in the particularly intense. When it comes to blood and/or knife play, wounds should be disinfected and patched up. Any bruising should be iced.

Showering together

Washing each other is such a sacred act, and it’s the perfect way to a) get clean after getting dirty and b) reconnect with your partner after any type of intimacy. This is an especially great option for ethically non-monogamous or open couples as a way to reconvene after outside sex. Also, if your BDSM scene involves bodily fluids or scorching temperature play, relaxing under the water together will feel incredibly refreshing.

Sleeping together

Taking a nap or sleeping might be just what the doctor ordered. This works as a form of aftercare because sleeping next to your partner (especially if you’re cuddling) is a way to foster intimacy.

Watching a movie

The opportunity to check out and lose yourself in something like a movie is a perfect aftercare choice. Watching a lighthearted show or funny film can give you the warm fuzzies and push off any potential dom/sub drop or postcoital dysphoria.

Recounting the scene

This is a great way to do a straightforward check-in. After sex, talk about what you loved, what you liked, and if there was anything you didn’t enjoy. Communication is sexy, and besides, the more you know, the more you can improve. If you need some inspiration, here are a few ways to get started:

  • “What was your favorite part about the sex we just had?”
  • “I really enjoyed X, but I don’t think I’d want to do X again. How did you feel doing X or X?”
  • “Can we go over the scene? I want to know more about what you liked and what you didn’t.”

Kissing or slow sex

Sometimes the answer to sex is…more sex. Having slower, more sensual sex can function as aftercare in the face of humiliation or other rough play. It can allow partners to reconnect to who they actually are and disconnect from their roles as dominant or submissive. If you’re not up for full-blown intercourse, outercourse or kissing makes us feel close to our partners too, so pucker up!

Acts of service

Performing acts of service (of the famed 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman) as aftercare can be kind and reaffirming. These are things like cooking a meal together, letting your partner cuddle up while you bring them water and blankets, or brushing each other’s hair.

Words of affirmation

Affirming your partner that they are loved, valuable, and wonderful is a fantastic way to partake in aftercare. If the relationship is less serious, you can still affirm them without being super mushy. Praise their performance or tell them how attractive you find them to make them feel seen and content.

Massage

Nothing releases tension like a long, drawn-out massage. Play some music, dim the lights, and take turns rubbing each other’s bodies. Both parties get to feel like they’re being pampered while also winding down with some physical connection.

diverse couple sitting on bed hugging and black young man leaning his head on partners back

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Plan Your Aftercare Ahead of Time

What’s most important is that we plan ahead in order to make sure our partner(s) feel safe. This planning should be part of any BDSM negotiation, which is done before all the clothes come off. It’s good to ask about aftercare when you’re discussing safety practices, determining safe words, and the like. And if you’re bringing up aftercare in a vanilla situation, consider simply expressing to your partner what you would like. (“Hey, after sex, can we do X to wind down?”)

Aftercare is always going to be up to the individual. Some folks might want lots of cuddling and contact while others find comfort in a long (solo) bath or checking out with a video game. Either way, when we take care of our needs with sexual aftercare, we create better, more fulfilling sex lives for everyone involved.

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