Taking Time to Care: Empowered by Aftercare
You’re with a partner, or maybe it’s a new person. Hot breath, emotions, blood pumping, fluids–it’s all happening, and it’s happening fast. Everything becomes a rapid blur. You can’t differentiate between your emotional feelings or physical ones, but then, just like that–the experience is over. You or your partner hastily leave, and you’re alone with your thoughts.
Drop. Le Petit Mort. After-sex blues. Post-nut clarity.
It goes by many names, but a lot of us know the sensation it describes: that sunken-pit feeling, indescribable and unexpected yet potent, choking you up moments after what you thought was a joyful tussle with your playmate.
Why is it that after consensual, pleasurable sex so many of us experience what the French call “a little death”? In one study conducted by the Journal of Sexual Medicine, a staggering 46% of women polled reported having felt depressed after sex at least once in their lives. In another, 41% of men polled reported similar feelings. Although these studies were only focused on a small part of the population, they highlight a widespread issue that a lot of us face.
Sometimes, even when sex feels good, we don’t feel so good afterward. And often, it’s not clear why. Sex is one of the most basic pleasures in life. So why can it make so many of us feel so…weird?
“After sex, we can be flooded with many kinds of feelings ranging from bliss and relaxation to confusion and a feeling of overwhelm,” writes Alex Jenny, LCSW and educator. “It is important to be aware of our body's reaction to sex and what we need after sex to care for ourselves.”
Let’s be real: sex can get intense! Even if you are with someone you know, or been with before, or maybe it’s completely casual, being intimate with someone can bring up unexpected feelings. Nerves, emotions, and fluids begin flying all over the place. And sometimes, trauma from past sexual abuse can be triggered by the experience.
It can be a lot. And when it happens, you’re just not sure what you’re feeling. But what you do know is that the door is calling your name.
The end of sex can feel sudden and shocking. It can set off other uncomfortable feelings that might be related to other issues or memories. But by incorporating aftercare into your sex practices, those feelings can be diminished or alleviated. Not only is aftercare beneficial to your overall pleasure, it’s an important aspect of ethical and respect-based sex.
It’s important to remember that it just feels good to feel good. Sharing space and feeling free enough to be silly and safe together are things that just make humans happy. Practicing kindness and recognizing each other as playful, fun beings who simply enjoy pleasure is beneficial for your sex life, sure, but it’s also just enjoyable!
So what exactly is aftercare?
The concept of aftercare has been practiced by many people and many nooks for quite some time. Rehab centers, psychologists, and kinksters alike have found this concept to be hugely beneficial.
In the world of BDSM, the term “aftercare” is the practice of extending care after a scene or sexual activity has ended. Tops, bottoms, subs, and doms alike are all expected to aid each other in transitioning out of their roles and into a more comfortable, stable state of being. After an intense scene, it is considered widely unethical and immoral to simply abandon your partner. Especially when name-calling and demeaning acts of service are involved, it is crucial to take time to care for each other when the play has come to a close.
For those who think that BDSM is a culture or practice which endorses pain or a lack of consent, it might seem strange it would value the emotional well-being of a person after sex. While a world that includes cat-o-nine tails and harnesses may look intimidating, it is often be a space focused on pleasure, wellbeing, and empowerment. “Consent and an in-depth discussion of boundaries and physical safety are the absolute hallmarks of BDSM,” writes Dr. Emma Michelle Dixon, writer and mindfulness coach. “Safety—physical and psychological—is what allows BDSM to be everything it can be: fun, consciousness-shifting, and even healing.”
Because the BDSM culture highly values a sex-positive space, individuals are able to explore their curiosities in a safe and satisfying way. And while every encounter may not involve cold cement floors and whips, aftercare is a valuable sex-positive practice for everyone to use–even if you’re just playing by yourself.
“A sex positive mindset can empower individuals by helping them release shame and reclaim their pleasure. It is about giving yourself permission to center your sexual pleasure and the agency to seek out and communicate your desires without apology,” continues Jenny.
Sex positivity recognizes individuals as free agents, and creates a space where people can safety explore themselves and other people. The core of this idea is explicit consent and mutual respect. Sexual desires in and of themselves are not unethical–it’s when we are inconsiderate of other people and treat them as a means to an end that we’re being unethical sex partners.
Basically, it is fundamentally disrespectful to treat your partner like a discarded tissue after sex.
Intimacy requires us to shed a mask and be truly vulnerable with ourselves. It is crucial to respect that intimacy and take time to stabilize each other after the experience you’ve shared. By allowing each other to be free in your vulnerability, you are able to be more playful, more centered, and ultimately, more satisfied.
Ways to practice aftercare
It doesn't need to be an exchange of vows! The important thing to remember is that afterplay is play. This is a simple time of transitioning into a stable, comfortable state before departure.
For some, this could be applying salves, taking baths, or eating a luxurious snack. For others, this could simply be comparing playlists with your legs intertwined. And for still others, it might look like watching a new episode of a show you both enjoy. It might even be that your version of aftercare is enjoying time to yourself!
Here’s a list of ideas, but ultimately it’s important to do what feels right for you and anyone else involved. In order to really find out what makes you and your partner feel comfortable after sex, try to discuss preferences before sex.
- Cover your partner with a nice blanket, or making sure the temperature is comfortable for them
- Provide each other with water or snacks
- Take a bath
- Apply lotion on each other
- Sleep, nap, or cuddle
- Clean up each other and the space
- Light a scented candle
- Watch a funny show or lighthearted movie
- Listen to music
- Engage in conversation about non sex-based topics
- Check in to reflect on the experience
- Tell each other anecdotes or jokes about yourselves
- Learn about each other
Sex doesn’t necessarily have to end when explicitly sexual activity does -- the time afterwards can be just as pleasurable. Ultimately, it really just comes down to respect, but also remember that we have sex because it feels good. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that!
How to ask for aftercare
Sometimes, the idea of talking about something can be a lot scarier than actually just talking about it.
It might feel awkward to ask your partner questions about their feelings, especially if you are still learning a lot about each other. But…the truth is that if you are not comfortable talking about the realities of having sex, maybe you and your partner just aren’t ready for it yet. And that’s okay too! Sex becomes harmful when we use each other as objects with no consideration for each other’s comfort levels or emotional wellbeing. But by taking a few moments before sex (or even after!) to simply check in on each other with a little “How are you feeling?” can work wonders.
Even if you are in a shared dorm room, or only have limited time and privacy, communication is the key to practicing aftercare. While a good cuddle session might be exactly what you want, sometimes a conversation might be all your schedules and lives allow.
Aftercare is a time of playfulness, enjoyment, and unwinding–it doesn’t need to be more complicated than that!